I can’t tell you how many speaking clients complain to me about their inability to hold people’s attention while they’re giving a presentation. I tell them, “You get back what you put out.”” And then I turn on my trusty camera and videotape them doing their thing. During playback, my clients get to see themselves as they actually come across: Well meaning, usually articulately, but often lacking energy in body and voice. Which, as speakers, makes them about as compelling as a leaf of wilted lettuce.So, how to solve this dilemma? The answer lies in a sentence from Gary Zukav’s wonderful book on Quantum Physics, THE DANCING WU LI MASTERS. In a discussion of spectral analysis, Zukav explains that “exciting” an element (like a particle of sodium) means literally adding some energy to it. The key word there is ENERGY! Excitement creates ENERGY! And a speaker or actor who walks onto the stage in a body that is energized and alive commands attention and inspires an equal amount of energy in her audience. In acting class, we weren’t allowed to begin to do our scenes or exercise work without warming up our bodies and our voices so that we were relaxed, alert and energized. We understood that if we were willing to stir ourselves up, emotionally and physically, we could also stir up our audience. As an actor, and I made a commitment to bring my most energized, alive self to the stage. Which is a commitment I also bring to my work as a speaker. You can do the same. Here are four simple suggestion to help you think like an actor (and a physicist!) by energizing yourself so you can energize your audience:
- GET PHYSICAL: Before you go onstage, run in place, do a set of jumping jacks or push-ups, or do five minutes of a Tai Chi form. It will get your blood flowing, and your heart beating. Afterwards, make sure you give yourself enough time to center yourself by inhaling and exhaling deeply three times before stepping up to the platform.
- WORK WITH INTENTION: Give yourself a purpose you can get excited about. “My intention is to convince audience members to support this new initiative” will keep you much more physically and emotionally involved than “my intention is to tell audience members about the new initiative.”
- SPEAK ON SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT: I know, I know, I can hear you now: “but I’m delivering the year-end financial statement at our annual conference? How can I get passionate about that?” Actors deal with that dilemma all the time. They have to get up on stage and say the same lines, night after night after night and make them seem fresh. Or they have to find a way to play a character they don’t necessary like. Follow their lead: Do your darndest to find something about your speaking topic that excites, energizes, or moves you. If you can’t, then find a way to deliver it that excites you: Bring elements into your speech or presentation that you’ll have fun doing, like poems, songs, music, personal stories you love to tell, or hidden talents (juggling?) you’d love to share. The more turned on you are, the more you’ll turn on your audience.
- ACT LIKE ROYALTY: Would King Arthur or Queen Elizabeth have schlumped in their thrones or hunched over and shuffled their feet as they as they greeted their loyal subjects? Of course not! Think and act like royalty! Practice walking, standing and entering a room like a king or queen, knowing –and liking –that all eyes are on you. Imagine that you’re wearing a crown, and want to show it off in all its glory. Hold your head high, keep your shoulders back, let your voice ring with energy and intention as you direct it to specific members your audience. And let the energy that flows through your body continue like a beam of light through your extended arm and fingertips whenever you make a gesture.You’ll inspire more people into action, keep more people from doodling on their handouts, and help more people remember the key points of your content when you are willing to stir yourself up and energize yourself, body and soul.
Remember: What you put out you get back. And isn’t that, too, a law of physics?