In 2012 I wrote and directed a musical called “Pirate Lives!” with the Flat Earth Theater Company. It occurred to me as I chose the words for my smarmy-rogues that the process of writing a show, or indeed any kind of presentation, is deciding what to say, how to say it, and of course, how to look amazing doing it. Utilizing the same principles that deliver a lively “comedy of mariners” can help make you a better presenter and more compelling speaker.
It’s easy to know what to say when you have a script. The playwright has kindly laid it out for you. But how do you remain articulate and cool when you are pitching to a client, asking for funds or doing anything else that requires personable extemporaneous speaking? Write your own!
Unless you are meeting your nautical adversary on the high seas for the first time, you almost always know something about the person you’re talking to – a boss, a client, a direct report – and you adjust your “performance” based on that. Experience has taught you, for example, that the joke about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter might get a better reception during couples game night than it would at your executive staff meetings. You might talk more formally with your client than you would a peer. That’s because you know your audience.
Ask yourself, “What do I want to say?” and write the answer in plain and simple language. What is your main point? What are your supporting statements? What are key phrases? (“Avast, me hearties!)”* No need to memorize your script, unless that’s useful to you, but use it to solidify essential points.
This will force you to not only clarify what you want to say, but also remove what you don’t want to say. Most scripts go through multiple drafts. Characters might have a lot to say, but audiences can only take so much, no matter how much they sing about yardarms and pirate booty.
In an interview, if you are surrounded by enthusiastic, high-energy people, you might want to lean forward a little more and smile a little brighter. Likewise, if you are the loudest person in the room, turn that frenetic energy into warmth and everyone will be much more receptive.
TThe captain of the ship in “Pirate Lives!” commands attention from his crew as you should from your audience, minus the threat of flogging, of course.
When you are “on stage” – giving an interview, delivering a speech, presenting a report – everything you do says something about you. If you are trying to convince someone you are “the best person for the job,” fidgeting with your pen will certainly diminish that impression.
Like an actress heightening the parts of her that are most honest and compelling, the trick is to leave behind the things that make you look unfocused or inaccessible. This is often done by identifying the offending foible and then using self-correction techniques until the new behavior is so integrated into your style it is no longer a problem.
You might not have a full cast and crew backing up your power point presentation or networking event, but you should still put on a mini performance of your own by following the same principles. What do you want to say, who are you speaking to, and how do you present yourself to be the most compelling person you can be?
Whether you know it or not, you are on the stage. You might as well take the spotlight.
* Despite its use in popular movies, “avast” actually means stop. The phrase "Avast, me hearties,” typically meant, “Stop what you are doing, crew, and listen up!” http://www.wisegeek.com/to-a-pirate-what-does-avast-mean.htm