Are actor skills necessary for successful public speaking?
Working with a group this week, the question of authentic speaking versus ‘acting’ came up. The question of weather or not to use actor skills frequently arrises. The attitude is often “How can I be myself if I’m performing?”
I would like to reassure that the two are not mutually exclusive! You can be authentic and understand the needs of a performance at the same time, but not if you don’t have the actor skills to execute that performance. That is where actor skills come in very useful.
It is undeniable that public speaking is a performance that requires a level of self-awareness – at the same time as giving outward (audience focused) attention, so that we can respond to the audience in the moment. There is a balance, according to the size of the audience and the context (both the venue, and the formality or scale of the occasion) between the types of performance we might use.
Part of the reason I became fascinated with public speaking, when I was working as an actor at large conference venues, was the enormous variation in the speakers’ ability to use the stage and to keep their delivery alive and engaging. This is not contrary to being authentic. I would argue that until we have the core skills under our belts, we struggle to make choices that enable our ‘real’ voice to be heard. These are the skills that a good actor learns, no matter what school of training they come from.
Some of the actor skills we might want to adopt as speakers include:
• voice production that enables us to use appropriate volume, to be clear and to make choices about pitch and tone to fit with our purpose, and to look after the instrument.
• good body use, so that we look confident, comfortable in our own skin, and that movement is purposeful rather than distracting or random.
• use of the space: understanding that positioning – or use of the stage – is important, and that this requires more energy than ‘normal’ communication.
• interpretation of text: keeping it fresh no matter how many times you’ve said it before, and using variety of pace, pitch, punctuation and tone to engage the ear.
• improvisation: staying on track while allowing for warmth, humour and stories (what Bill Clinton calls ‘approaching it like a jazz piece’. This also means the ability to react: great acting takes great reacting.
• the use of rehearsal, to refine the content and the delivery OUT LOUD. This is a very different experience from reading or thinking it silently! It’s also the point at which we start to gauge the ‘flow’, or say-ability, of what we have written.
• knowing how you want the audience to feel, or knowing your purpose (motivation). An actor will approach this through their character’s eyes, whereas the speaker of course approaches it through their own.
When we can do all of this without having to worry about it, we are not slaves to habit. When we’re not concerned about running out of breath or having a shaky voice. Then we can be present and make choices that are right for us, for this moment, with this audience – so, in my view, allowing us to be more fully ourselves.
What are views on using actor skills? We are always interested in your feedback.
If you want to see how our actors can help you develop your actor skills have a look at our Forum Theatre page