Speech? Presentation? Five Tips to Learn from All-Time Great Actors

You have been asked to make a public speech or make-or-break presentation for your business. Doing so is uncomfortable for you and makes the palms sweat. That’s okay. A lot can be learned from all-time greatest actors that will help you come across like an Academy Award winner.

Here are five ways to ensure your speech and presentation will have you succeeding like a Hollywood star:

  1. Embrace being out of your comfort zone. Outside of his acting, Robert De Niro is known for his shyness and disdain for small talk. If you didn’t know better, you would think he would be the last person who would be one of the greatest actors of all time. But, instead of convincing himself he could never be a great actor, he always embraced the opportunity to go beyond his personal comfort zone.  Look forward to the opportunity to extend beyond your comfort zone and convince yourself that you (yes, YOU) can become one of your company’s (or the world’s) best public speakers and presenters.
  2. Enjoy the adventure. Don’t be afraid of a challenge you have never faced before (or maybe not accomplished as well in the past as you wanted).  Look forward to the opportunity. Think about Al Pacino, who at 81 is still working hard and pushing himself to take on new challenges in his career. His iconic roles included Michael Corleone, Frank Serpico, Sonny Wortzik, Tony Montana, Ricky Roma and Tony D’Amato.  He wasn’t afraid to put himself and his reputation on the line when he played the role of Shylock in the Shakespeare production of Merchant of Venice – first in on film then later on Broadway, with eight shows a week no less.  Who cares if you have never made a public speech before or conducted a presentation as important as the upcoming one? Think about stretching yourself and how rewarding it will feel when you have accomplished something bold and new.
  3. Prepare. Prepare. In his day, the acclaimed actor Sir Daniel Day-Lewis was known for an immense level of preparation for every role he accepted. He went well beyond the preparation of even the best actors. He would study, work and “get in character” longer than most thought possible. Without extensive preparation, we don’t know if he would have been just an average actor.  But he knew his preparation was a competitive advantage for him and the key to winning industry and fan adoration, three Academy Awards (plus six more nominations) and a boatload of other recognition (including knighthood from Elizabeth II). Think about Sir Daniel Day-Lewis when you have a public speech or presentation on the horizon. What will the audience want to hear from me? What do I want them to know? What do I want to achieve (i.e., my goal)? How can I structure the best speech or presentation possible? When will I rehearse it so I know it so well that I can deliver it instinctively – like a great actor – without getting in my head with negative or tangential thoughts that have me straying from achieving my goal? Public speakers will find that preparation can help diminish or eliminate altogether any anxiety and actually launch them to become renowned and respected in something many or most people find difficult.
  4. Listen intensely. Great actors make acting look easy. And, the best actors are all intense listeners. Watch Bryan Cranston, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman what makes their acting so captivating. Yes, they deliver their lines in a realistic, believable and interesting manner but watch how they listen to those with whom are in the scenes with them. Highly effective public speakers and presenters first will ask lots of questions when first provided the opportunity so they can prepare knowing exactly the audience’s needs and expectations. If possible, the best speakers will interact with some who will be in the audience before the speech or presentation to ask other questions. And, during the speech or presentation, it won’t be delivered mindlessly and over the tops of the audience but communicated with solid eye contact and connection – just as great actors will engage with another in an important scene. Listen, connect, respond and engage.
  5. Act like you are confident. During my sessions to teach public speaking and presentations, I discuss the importance of body language, posture and proper breathing. The natural tendency for timid or inexperienced speakers is to wish they didn’t have to do it and can’t wait until it is over. The best speakers convince themselves that they can’t wait to connect with the audience and look forward to communicating the message and really connecting.  If you fall in the former and not the latter, try to convince yourself otherwise. It is sometimes said in training an actor, “The body is dumb; the mind is smart.” This means in acting – and the same is true in public speaking — that you can’t fake an action without your mind knowing it is fake and then showing it in the acting or speech/presentation.  Great speakers express the confidence and charisma of George Clooney or Helen Mirren – strong posture, self-assured stride in the walk and a smile that radiates, “I got this.”  Now, none of us really knows how Clooney or Mirren feels on the inside. Even world-class actors likely feel insecure and unsure at times but we sure wouldn’t know it by looking at them. So, the next time you have to make an important speech or presentation, hold your shoulders and walk like George Clooney or Helen Mirren if he or she were in your shoes. And, your mind likely will tell itself that all is well and you will be amazing.

The next time you have an important speech or business presentation, keep these five tips in mind. And break a leg.

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Jeff Caponigro, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Trion Solutions (www.relyontrion.com) and author of THE CRISIS COUNSELOR:
A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis.

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