Friday, October 3, 2008

Theater Tools for Speakers (Part 1)

When I first started as a Toastmaster, I used my experience in Community Theater as a guide. That experience was invaluable in helping me prepare and deliver my speeches.

I’m not talking about singing and dancing, or doing improvisation exercises, or method acting, although all of those disciplines can help your speaking as well. I mean more basic concepts like rehearsal, learning your speech, and moving on stage. These theater techniques will help you better prepare your speeches and deliver them with power.

Let me share with you some ideas and practices from the world of theater that have helped me that can help you as well.

Frequent and thorough rehearsal is essential.

Plays are rehearsed for weeks in advance. In rehearsal, every detail of the performance is addressed - words, meaning, movement, everything.

Guy Kawasaki is a legendary business speaker. In his book The Art of the Start Kawasaki says, “As a rule of thumb, the twenty-fifth time you give a speech is when it gets good. Few people will practice or give the same speech twenty-five times. That’s why there are so few good speakers. Ironically, the more you practice, the more you’ll sound spontaneous.”

I’m not suggesting that every speech project should be rehearsed twenty-five times before you give the speech to your Toastmasters club. Sometimes, a club speech should be part of your rehearsal process. If you are preparing to use your speech outside of your Toastmasters club, then one or more of your rehearsals should be at your club. Your club is a place to explore, try out new ideas, and to grow. Sometimes you may even give a speech with little or no chance to prepare. But most club speeches would be better, and better learning experiences with more, and more thorough rehearsal.

Ample rehearsal has another benefit. If you get nervous, or suffer from stage fright, then being prepared will help reduce those problems. In my experience most of the fear from public speaking comes from feeling unprepared.

Acting is not the same as public speaking, that’s true. But even where the disciplines differ, knowledge of theatrical concepts, practices, and roles can help a speaker.

One difference between theater and speaking is that, as a speaker, you perform three major roles that are usually accomplished by three different people in the theater: actor, writer, and director.

You are the actor, the writer, and the director of your speech.

As the actor, you must interpret the speech to make its meaning clear to the audience.

As the speechwriter, unlike the usual practice in the theater, you will find rehearsals offer opportunities to refine and rewrite your script.

Of the three roles, the most difficult for the speaker to fill is director. You need a way to get an objective view of your speech and your delivery. One way to do this is to record your rehearsals on video.

Alternatively you could find a speech coach. Your coach will perform the director’s role for you. This would be someone you respect who has more experience and expertise in public speaking. Often this is done for pay but you may find someone willing to help you for free.

A third way is have speaker buddies who watch your speech and give you comments. Hmmm, sounds like a Toastmasters club, doesn’t it?

Getting others to observe and evaluate your speech helps you avoid The Curse of Knowledge. That’s what Chip and Dan Heath call a particular problem in their book, Made to Stick. This curse can be worse than The Mummy’s Curse for your speech.
The problem is, you know too much. That’s right! You know too much about your speech, its subject, and what it’s supposed to be about.

Sometimes it helps just to have someone say after your rehearsal, “I don’t get it!” Then you can find a way to make your speech clearer.

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