PUBLIC SPEAKING
AND
PRESENTATION SKILLS

 

TECHNIQUES

So what do we do in an acting class?

First, we learn how to be our most authentic selves—even under pressure and in the spotlight.

We work on physical discipline (voice and speech, breath, gesture, posture, body language) and storytelling (framing the message, choosing a point of view, fostering confidence, using language to move rather than to alienate).

Here are some techniques I often bring into a session or workshop. Try them yourself and see how they improve your own communication.

 

Lura has distilled her decades as a leading stage actress and teacher into fun, nurturing, effective practices for unleashing your voice, your body, your words and your personality to better connect with your audience. She shows you that presenting, like acting, is a conversation between you and your audience. She¹ll improve your communication skills quickly and forever, and you¹ll love learning how.

  —Marc A. Meyer, CEO, Activeweave, Inc.
 
Lura is amazing! Her techniques distilled from 20 years of professional acting and directing experience make speaking to a crowd of hundreds feel as natural as convincing the gang around the water cooler.
 
—Nicole Lazzaro, President XEO Design, Inc.
   
 

Using Verbs
An acting “verb” is a manner of influence—a psychologically active term that implies a specific method of persuasion. When you choose a manner of influence, you are on your way to persuasive speech.

Exercise: Say the following sentence as if you were trying to comfort your listener: “It doesn’t really matter.” Now say the same sentence as if you were trying to humiliate your listener. What did you do differently? What did the difference feel like?

Exercise: Identify the verbs that people use to get you to do things in your life—for example, “cajole,” “bully,” “tease.” Which verbs work on you in what situations?

Connection
Too often people pronounce all words with the same or no emotional connection. Or they use jargon and technical terms that confuse and alienate their listeners, killing any hope of persuading people of the validity of your message. Why should they care if you don’t?

Exercise: Say the sentence, “The child was heartbroken.” Now say each word in reverse order slowly several times and think about each one. Think about the word “heartbroken” Make the words mean that her “heart broke.” Now replace “child” with “worker” and repeat the sentence. Does it sound different? Replace “child” with “father.” How does it sound now? Mean every word—with all your mind and heart.

Exercise: Think of a jargon or technical term you use frequently—“breaking and entering,” perhaps, or “leverage.” Now imagine explaining these terms to an intelligent elderly relative. How does your vocabulary change? Did you say, for example, “ransacking her home” instead of “breaking and entering?” How did that choice change the effect of your message?

 

 
 

Voice and Volume
If your voice is timid or you run out of breath at the ends of sentences, you may seem to lack commitment to your message. If you don’t vary your vocal tone, listeners may not know when you’re asking a question or making a declarative statement; they may understand your words but be unable to decipher your message.

Exercise: Get a large, strong rubber band. Hold one end in one hand, next to your chest, and take a deep breath. Now use the other hand to stretch it out while you speak one sentence. Finish strongly as you pull the rubber band to its full extension on the last word. Repeat, using a longer sentence.

 

Exercise: In English, we normally ask questions with an inflection that rises at the end of the sentence. Yet professional speakers often forget this simple rule. As an exercise, use upward inflection every time you ask a question today. You may be surprised by how much more completely people answer your questions, and how glad they are to talk to you. (Caveat: You may feel strangely vulnerable. This is a good thing: you are letting down a bit of armor.)

Stage Fright
Stage fright can cause you to become tense, muddled, and even physically ill; your voice may become unnaturally high or monotonous and your gestures nonspecific and distracting.

Exercise: A lot of stage fright disappears when you articulate your moment-to-moment goals. We call this “identifying the objective.” Ask yourself what you want your listener to do. Now state that objective in terms you can see. “I want you to let this person go free.” “I want you to buy this product.” Repeat the sentence with even more conviction.

Exercise: For one full day, concentrate on listening for subtext—the objective behind the words your friends, family members, and colleagues say. What do they want you to do? It is virtually impossible to sustain stage fright when you listen deeply.

Warming Up
Professional actors wouldn’t dream of going on stage without a physical warmup and rehearsal. You shouldn’t, either.

Exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart, hips aligned over feet and shoulders over hips. Think of your spine as a rope and the vertebrae as knots in that rope. Pull up the rope so you increase the spaces between the knots. Now place your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder. Without changing anything else, bend your knees slightly. Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let the weight of your arms help release your shoulders. Take a deep breath and sigh audibly. Do this for two minutes. Listen to all the chatter in your head—your inner monologue—but try not to follow thoughts. Open your eyes gently, unbend your knees, and release your arms. You are on your way to a more relaxed presentation.

Story
Human beings, alone among all the species on earth, tell stories to communicate the complexities of life. Our brains are hardwired to process information through stories, analogies, and metaphor. It doesn’t matter how technical or sophisticated your message is: If you aren’t using story to tell it, you’re losing your audience.

Exercise: Think of a truism such as “What goes around comes around. ” “Children deserve care and protection.” “Hard work pays off.” Now think of an experience in your life that supports this belief. Tell the story of your experience, from beginning to end, five times. Each time you tell it, increase your conviction with heartfelt language and an investment in the words. Each time you finish your story, slowly say your truism—your “theme statement”—aloud, thinking about each word. Mean each word, and the full thought, more fully each time you say it.

Exercise: Use the story from the first exercise to begin a speech. In this exercise, you are not a lawyer, politician, or business leader, but simply a person who cares deeply about his or her message. As you tell the story, notice that you become increasingly at home with your message. Your language, breath and gestures become more natural, more human, and more deserving of trust as you move away from an artificial version of yourself and come home to your authentic self.

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