Sunday, October 5, 2008

Theater Tools for Speakers (Part 3)

Don’t just stand there.

When you are standing in one place you should stand at the ready. If facing the audience full-front, your feet should be shoulder width apart, knees slightly flexed, ready to move in either direction, much like an athlete. If you do slouch, slouch on purpose.

To face forty-five degrees left (quarter-front), step forward slightly with your right foot while pivoting on the ball your left. Stand with slightly more of your weight on your right (downstage) foot. If the move were toward stage right (quarter-front) you would do the opposite.

This is easier done than said!

This movement is most helpful when you have a story in which two characters converse. As character one you turn forty-five degrees left and speak as character one to a specific person in the audience. Then turn ninety degrees to the right (so that you are turned forty-five degrees right) and speak as character two, again to a specific person. You can continue this way throughout the conversation. To end the conversation, simply face the audience full-front again.

This method is simpler, more elegant, and clearer to your audience than what I often see: a speaker dashing between two spots, first facing directly stage left, then directly stage right.

If you wish to move toward stage left, just begin walking with your left foot and stride so you can continue facing slightly toward your audience. For stage right, begin with your right foot. Easy-peasy!

Moving in this way helps you move gracefully while keeping you faced toward the audience.

Do you have to memorize your speech?

“You must be able to stand there not thinking of that line. You take
it off the other actor’s face.”

-- Michael Caine, Actor

Your speech should be second nature to you, words, meaning, and movement.

Does that mean a speech should be memorized?

I’m going to say definitely, maybe. That’s my stand.

When you give your speech in its final form, whether that is at your Toastmaster club, a conference, a service club, at work, or as a paid appearance, you should know your material so well that you need not rely on notes.

Does that mean you’ll say it the exact same way that you planned every single time?

Well, no, unless your speech is very short, like a five to seven minute contest speech. This is another area where public speaking differs from a play. You don’t have to be letter perfect but, in the main, you should be able to replicate your speech every time.

Your speech should be internalized so that the ideas and movements flow, with little conscious thought on your part while performing. Like driving a car to the grocery store -you know where you are going, and you know the route you plan to take, but you can change lanes, avoid road hazards, or even detour if needed.

There are a number of methods to do this but I prefer to learn my script right along with its blocking. Learning a speech this way coordinates your internalization of the material with words, meaning, and action making it all easier to remember. This is known as kinesthetic coordination (using body movement to aid learning) and works much easier than just trying to memorize words on a page.

Once, while waiting for my cue to enter a scene in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, I thought that I had forgotten my lines. But as soon as I entered and walked toward the other actors, my character’s words were suddenly coming out of my mouth. That is the power of learning words, meaning, and movement in context.

This isn’t just some touchy-feely new-age folderol. It’s brain science.

According to John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, in his book Brain Rules, “The more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory.” Also, “Retrieval [of the memory] may best be improved by replicating the conditions surrounding the initial encoding.” Whew!

That’s why I suddenly remembered my lines when I walked onstage. I had returned to the context in which I learned the lines. This method can work for your speeches, too.


What can you and I learn from the theater? Well, here are five ideas:

1. Rehearse thoroughly and often.

2. Get objective feedback from video, your speaker buddies, or a coach.

3. Plan your movement in a speech just as you would plan your words. Don’t wing it. Plan purposeful, powerful movement.

4. Adopt a modified athletic stance on stage. This will keep you balanced and help make your movements fluid.

5. Internalize your speech more easily by learning your words and movements together.

These ideas will increase your confidence, help you connect with your audience, and focus the power of your message.

Now, go “break a leg”!

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