Nothing taught me more about public speaking and facilitation than studying clown. Ironically, clown is a practice that involves very little talking.
In clown, we listen closely to how we are feeling because we know the audience will pick it up. It’s vulnerable, but also the key to wrapping the audience around your little finger.
This step in listening – first to ourselves and then the audience – is possible after ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’, which I covered in the last post.
‘Fake it until you make it’ only takes you so far
What I learned in clown about listening goes against much of the advice I see given to public speakers. If the clown ever fakes something (which she often does) she let’s the audience in on it. This brings the audience in to the show – think engagement. Faking it, by contrast, sets up a divide.
Listeners know when you’re genuine
While starting with a smile can work magic, actively covering up your discomfort on stage can look a little weird. It’s like trying to convince a good friend you’re fine when you’re not: either your friend will pick up your true mood, or interpret your behaviour as a sign you aren’t happy to see them.
Tune into your audience
If you’re trying desperately to look tough and happy when you’re very, very nervous, you’ll get tied up in your own thoughts. Get comfortable with the discomfort, and then turn your attention to your audience.
Break down the fourth wall and let the magic happen
The fourth wall is the imaginary line between actors and audience in a stage production. Clowns break down that wall, by being part of the audience and vice versa. Develop your skill of listening to bring your audience past that wall. They’ll get more out of the talk, and you will feel it.
Delve more into this topic in one-on-one speaker coaching with Rachael West. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
I’m yet to coach a speaker who isn’t worried they will forget what they’re saying. I personally don’t think it’s a massive problem if you do forget your words – or fall off the stage for that matter. The audience will get over it.
But if you are worried you will do something stupid, you can end up doing some weird stuff on stage.
Now, one argument says you should stand up straight and smile and no one will know you’re shaking inside. It’s not a bad tool to have up your sleeve. But I’ve found a more powerful option:
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Imagine this scenario:
You forget your words mid-talk.
You pause and it feels awkward.
Half a second passes. For you, it feels like an hour.
You still haven’t said anything.
You don’t want the audience to suspect you’re uncomfortable so you try to mask your panic and push on.
In a bid to stay composed you talk faster to fill the gap.
In fact, this can happen when you haven’t forgotten your words. It can happen when you’re worried you will.
Instead, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s normal. But most importantly, the moments where you are comfortable with uncomfortable are the moments you can listen to your audience, playfully feed off their energy and deliver a really engaging talk. Not just one where you look confident.
Delve more into this topic in the upcoming Speaker Coaching course. Email email@example.com to find out more.
Quieter types in my speaker workshops are usually a bit nervous. They think I am going to make them be loud and vivacious. But if would be a very boring world if everyone had the same mannerisms on stage.
Being an engaging speaking is less about trying to ‘do’ something, and more about bringing out what they already have. In my Engaging Presentations Workshop, one of the first things we practice is “presence”.
“Presence” starts when you tune in to who you are – in fact how you are – before you’ve said a word.
It can be pretty scary to notice how you feel on stage, what you’re thinking about, and how you move (some of the first things we practice) – which is why most people avoid it.
Most of the time, though, the way you move when you are enthused by what you are talking about (which, quite frankly, you should be if you are going to get up and talk about it in front of lots of people) will be a delight to watch. Lots of people I speaker coach are worried they wave their arms around too much; often because someone once told them they should be perfectly still when speaking.
There’s a power in stillness, but when you are moved to move, and you follow that impulse – your audience will see you. (Which is, after all, why they are there.)