Live in the moment. That’s what actors spend years learning to master—and it’s what anyone who’s ever given a speech or on-camera interview knows too well. If you’re worrying about the next question or kicking yourself over a bungled answer, you’re missing your mark.
Before I began working in communications, I was a reporter and columnist. Before that, I was an actor. During my four years of conservatory training, I studied many techniques—some of which even translate into the PR/communications work I do now. As a side note, I’m still looking for a chance to flex my superb rapier-and-dagger skills.
If you’re a top-level executive, chances are you’ll need to speak in front of groups from time to time. Read on and learn how to nail your next speech or on-camera interview with these tried-and-true acting techniques.
1. Find Your Intention. When working with a script, the first thing an actor does is break the scenes into beats, which are essentially blocks of emotion. Actors will then get to work marking up their scripts, identifying their objective (what you want), tactic (how you get it) and obstacle (what’s stopping you). Public speaking doesn’t warrant the same level of detail. However, it is helpful to go through your prepared remarks and identify objectives and tactics. Be specific. Choose active verbs—to inspire, to reassure, to console. Find moments when your tactics shift. This will help you vary your tone and ensure that your delivery is not a flat, one-note affair. Also, think about who you are speaking to. We speak differently to different people. Deliver your remarks with a specific person in mind—this will also help you narrow down your objective and tactics.
2. Always Warm Up. As an actor, your body and your voice are your instruments. A musician wouldn’t play before tuning up, nor should an actor (or public speaker) walk onto a stage or up to the podium without warming up voice and body. Get moving. Roll your head and neck. Move your shoulders back and forth. You should warm up every part of your body, including your face (open your eyes, mouth and tongue as wide as you can—like a lion—and then scrunch it like a tight ball). Massage your jaw to release tension. Vocalize. Recite vowel sounds—ee, ay, ah, oh, ooh. Trill your lips. Forget about looking or sounding silly. Loosening your muscles, warming up your voice and filling your body with energy is what you want to do.
3. Watch Your Diction. There’s nothing worse than trying to decipher a speech that sounds like a jumbled mass of words. You can sharpen your diction and enunciation by practicing some common tongue twisters. Try these: red leather, yellow leather; unique New York; a proper copper coffee pot; toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.
4. Practice Listening. Acting is reacting. That’s why listening is such an important skill set for actors and speakers. A good way to hone your listening skills is to sit back-to-back with a partner. This position forces the actor or speaker to focus on what they are hearing without the benefit of facial cues. Have your partner read some lines of poetry and recite what you remember or answer questions related to the text. This is also a great way to practice for interviews.
5. Find the Mind-Body Connection. As actors, we look to find meaning and intention in all we do. The same is true for speakers. There’s nothing more distracting than a speaker who is wildly flailing his arms or moving around a room haplessly, or stiff as a board for that matter. If it’s possible, spend some time in the space prior to your presentation. Move around. Make yourself comfortable. In school, one of my favorite acting exercises was “before the door,” where we would imagine ourselves preparing for various situations: meeting an old friend, confronting an ex-boyfriend, interviewing for a dream job. When you walk through the door the scene ends. The idea is to understand how emotions affect you physically.
All of us have an actor hidden deep inside. Executives who want to improve their stage presence and deliver a more powerful presentation will incorporate these classic acting techniques into their preparation.