5 Acting Techniques to Speak with Presence and Charisma
You’re about to give an important presentation. You want to be good—really good.
Where do you turn to find the best techniques for engaging, entertaining, and moving your audience?
As an actor my choice is biased, but I still think it’s the right one: the world of acting.
When I founded The Genard Method of performance-based public speaking training, I was delighted to see how many people understood the connection between theater and effective public speaking performances. In fact, public speaking and acting are the closest of cousins. And so it stands to reason that learning the techniques of the theater are among the fastest and most powerful tools for becoming a more dynamic speaker.
(To discover the theater-based techniques that can make you a more exciting speaker, gohere.)
Below are five ways you can use the skills of an actor to improve the impact and influence of your own speaking:
1. Learn the Art of Speaking with Presence. This means developing “audience sense”—an awareness of how your audience is responding. Naturally, actors cultivate this attribute until it’s a finely-tuned instrument. But you can benefit from awakening this awareness in yourself.
How can you do so? Practice the ability to present information while sensing how that information is received. You may find this challenging at first, since as speakers we’re used to conveying content to the exclusion of almost all else. When the receipt of what you’re saying becomes your primary aim, you’ll find that you’ll be far more present for your audience. The other way to say this is, you’ll have presence. Only then will you accomplish the true purpose of a speaker: to add something to the occasion that the material can’t contribute on its own.
2. Learn How to Use Body Language in Performance. You already know that body language is a powerful tool of communication. But how can you use it productively in public speaking, going beyond gestures to truly have an impact on an audience? Here are 6 skills building exercises for effective body language you can use, as well as these suggestions:
First, learn how to use space. Try to decrease the distance between you and your listeners, for instance. And think about how your position in your “performance space” can be linked to your content. — Can your stage position be tied to the item you’re talking about at the moment? Something as simple as moving to one place for each talking point can help. Most important, ask yourself this question: “How can I find physical expression of what I’m saying?” It’s at this point that you will truly begin to use body language effectively.
3. Learn How to Use Your Voice. Is your voice fully expressive? It needs to be, if you’re going to convey the subtle meanings of the points you’re making. If you don’t know the 5 key tools of vocal expressiveness, you can find them here.
To practice vocal improvement, record your presentations in audio only. That way, you’ll be 100% mindful of your voice and nothing else. Work on one vocal tool at a time, isolating each until you hear improvement. Then go on to the next, and so on. Finally, practice your selections using all of the tools, since that’s how we speak when we’re invested in what we’re saying. And don’t stay in the world of business—fiction and poetry offer the best material for stretching your vocal apparatus until it’s fully at your command.
4. Learn How to Lead Your Audience’s Response. Wrap yourself too much in the cocoon of your content and you may as well be speaking to an empty room. Think of it this way: Your content is actually one of the two engines of an audience’s response. (The other is you.) So you should be constructing your message not only so that the audience can follow it, but in a way that allows them to respond in the right way, at the right time.
Here’s an example: I recently coached a client who had to tell his team about a directive that had just “come down from corporate.” New accounting procedures were being implemented that his team had to follow. He was ready to dive right into details. But I pointed out that he really needed to land hard on the “we-have-to-do-this-guys” aspect of his message at the start.Then the details could follow, because his team’s response had to be: “Oh, I guess we’d better pay attention to this.” It was the audience response he needed at just that point in his remarks.
5. Discover the Spotlight for Speaking with Charisma. Every actor knows the expression “Find your light.” It means that if you’re in the dark on stage, step into the light source so you can be seen. Audiences find it hard to pay attention to actors they can’t see!
Let’s tweak that idea slightly, and say this: When you present, you need to become comfortable being squarely in the spotlight. It means accepting your central role—and the exposure that comes with it—as a speaker. Some presenters are uncomfortable with that level of scrutiny, and it shows. But public speaking is performance. If you don’t like it—if you don’t learn to love it—you’ll never achieve the influence you’re capable of. So go out there and shine.