Many people believe that actors are great liars when, in fact, the opposite is true. Actors practice — they rehearse — to one end only: to be truthful. They spend countless hours in the rehearsal room connecting the dots. Dissecting the emotional life of the play until it makes sense to them. Not in their heads but in their bones. So that when they get onstage they can connect in the most truthful and unobstructed way possible. They practice and perfect authenticity. That is what they call technique.
We believe that these techniques can help anyone be more confident when speaking in any forum (networking, interviewing, pitching, presenting). But when the stakes are high, some of us have trouble connecting not only to others but also to ourselves. Nerves, bad past experiences and racing thoughts take over and we know — in our bones — that we are not being our most authentic, best selves. And that prevents us from connecting (it’s a pretty viscious cycle) when speaking in public. So, how can we learn from actors, who have been practicing and perfecting authenticity and connection in high pressure situations for thousands of years?
The performer-audience connection is unique and powerful. Actors know that the stage is a magnifying glass — ideas delivered through words and movement must be precise, concise and clear. Actors train in the least realistic environment of all — the stage — where the stakes are high, the lights are hot, and hundreds of strangers are watching you. Actors tirelessly develop their muscles — voice, body and mind — so that they can speak from a place of truth, clarity and distinction and train their bodies to be open and responsive.
We studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in a method that encourages each actor to use their unique perspective to imagine the world of the play so completely that they are not acting at all but merely existing in a set of circumstances given to them by the playwright. Stella Adler believed that drama depends on doing, not feeling; feeling is a by-product of doing. You can’t do anything with a feeling — that’s why those feelings of nervousness, anxiety and tension can only hold us back when speaking in public. Stella’s approach relied on connecting strongly to each other by way of actions and creating a connection between “I and thou,” not between “me and myself.” In other words, we develop, practice and ingrain physical, practical techniques to jumpstart a connection between ourselves, the actors, and our audience.
But here’s the thing — an actor has to do the work to manifest an emotional connection to words and feelings that aren’t his but you don’t have to do that. You feel the connection. You know the words. It’s your story. You just need to tell it better. Clarify your intention. Articulate your ideas. Shape your message. Find your voice. Harness your strengths. Get out of your own way. Make a connection. Leave an impression. Own the room.