Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are You Flat Lining on Stage? Express Yourself!

"I hate you," I said angrily.
"I'm so happy", I exclaimed, and a wide grin took over my face.
"I had to trudge 10 miles in the snow - my legs felt like frozen anchors."

For those of us who actually learned to write in school, the above phrases, and similarly constructed statements, may not be that uncommon when you write your speech. I'm not sure about kids today - I think there's a limit on school papers of 140 characters, and emotions are all expressed with the smiley faces shown in last week's post...

For writing, it's fine. For speaking, it's death, at least for the audience.

How many times have you watched an emotionless speaker tell you with vivid vocabulary how angry or happy they were. How sad they felt after their dog died, truck got stolen, and wife left 'em? (Darn, gonna miss that dog...) - and yet nothing in their face, voice, or body language was congruent with what they were saying?

How many times has a speaker told you what they did, instead of, in the case described above, actually showing you the trudge to give you a stronger image in your mind?

There are several reasons speakers do this beyond just not being taught otherwise. First, we typically write the way we've been taught to write, and the way the authors we read write. I pity the audience listening to a Stephen King fan who doesn't learn to write like they speak, instead of how they read!

Second, it feels silly to emote on stage. You're not an actor, right? You're just an accountant who's been forced to give a speech you don't want to give, and you want to sit down as quickly as possible. Your audience no doubt feels the same way if you're delivering lines with no discernible emotion.

Third, we're too busy trying to remember our lines to emote, and if anything interrupts our flow of memory, the only emotion we'll be showing is plaintive helplessness.

Fourth, you knew you wouldn't remember your speech, so you're just reading it right off your notes. Ugh. Where are the fire exits?

You are no longer 13 years old reading a book report in front of a class of peers who could care less. You are an intelligent individual with a message you want your audience to understand and take action on, that, granted, may also be filled with a group of peers who could care less. The difference now is that you should care MORE.

It seems like a basic lesson, and it is one of the first items of business I cover when coaching a new client. Don't tell me how you feel or what you did, SHOW me. Instead of describing your smile, SMILE. Instead of telling me how angry you are, let your voice, volume, facial expression, and posture leave no doubt. Instead of just using flowery language to tell me about your trudging - start trudging!

It doesn't make you an actor, or a speaker going over the top - it makes you a human being having an enhanced conversation. When we have lunch with someone and tell them how angry we are that our spouse left the toothpaste cap off for the 1000th time, our voice and face has emotion. Most of you naturally tell stories to one or two people with more expression and vigor than ever makes it onto the stage. It is the stage, though, where you need it the most, where you must amplify it and demonstrate it to reach the audience. The bigger the audience, the further the distance between you and your listeners, the more important Expressing Yourself becomes.

It's ok to emote, to demonstrate, even to act a bit on stage. Your audience wants some entertainment value. It keeps them engaged, and enhances understanding. Let your inhibitions go, prepare enough to keep your notes to a minimum, and give the audience what they want - and before you know it, you'll have climbed another rung as you learn to Speak...& Deliver!

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