performing like an actor

Practice How You Look, Not Just What You Say

Chances are your audience will remember how you look and your expressions more than what you say. Make sure you devote as much time to practice your body language as you do your speech.

Chances are your audience will remember how you look and your expressions more than what you say. Make sure you devote as much time to practice your body language as you do your speech.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s eye roll at the G20 Summit became an instant online sensation. It also is a reminder that how you look can speak volumes and is more likely what people will remember rather than what you say. That’s especially true in crisis situations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s expressive eye roll went viral, letting everyone know her exasperation with points being made by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s expressive eye roll went viral, letting everyone know her exasperation with points being made by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Merkel rolled her eyes while Russian President Vladimir Putin was mansplaning some topic with his finger. Merkel’s reaction was absolutely clear without uttering a word. That shows the power of body language.

Communications coaches focus on key messages, elocution and clarity. They also encourage good posture and eye contact to convey confidence. That may not be enough.

Unintended or inappropriate expressions can undo whatever message you intend to deliver. Smiling while announcing job layoffs sends the wrong message. Folding your arms while someone asks a tough question is a sign of defensiveness. Speaking without expression about a damaging environmental spill seems cold and unfeeling.

Well-conceived media training that includes video-taped simulated interviews gives speakers a chance to take a long and often painful look in the mirror. That long look can reveal annoying ticks, slumping shoulders, wandering eye contact and fidgety hands. With training and practice, speakers can cure those faults. However, it’s harder to identify and mediate impromptu expressions.

There is no magic wand or secret alchemy to ensure engaging, respectful and appropriate reactions for every kind of situation. Good speakers recognize the need to train themselves to be ready for the unexpected. Like actors, they understand what their body actions say is as important as the words they speak. Like actors, they train their bodies as well as their voices.

Actors generally don’t have to deal with interruptions, except for an occasional cell phone ring or someone with a loud, persistent cough. Stand-up comics, on the hand, have to deal with hecklers. The best comics learn how to turn heckling into laughs. The late Don Rickles relied on insult humor. Jim Gaffigan uses deadpan expression. In both cases, their body language matched their words, underscoring the comic effect. It’s worth paying attention to comedians to take a few pages from their acts on how to train to respond with the intended effect.

Performing in public, whether as an actor, speaker or spokesperson, demands discipline, practice and confidence. That can mean overriding your natural tendencies and substituting a studied response. Think of a politician being pummeled by angry constituents at a town hall meeting. There is little upside for a politician to show visible frustration or anger. They can’t really deflate the tension with humor, so they have to maintain an engaged, sincere visage and do their best to answer questions and ease anxieties.

Experienced speakers learn how to use facial expressions to underscore a point and sustain rapport with their audience. Sometimes an effusive smile, a wink or a positive gesture can say what words can’t.

The omnipresence of cell phones that can capture unguarded moments ups the ante on solid preparation. When you speak, you are literally on camera, whether you know it or not. Don’t let an eye roll turn into a viral sensation by accident, only by design. Spend as much time practicing how you look giving a speech as the words you will speak. Your expressions, like Merkel’s eye roll, may be all that people remember and share.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Media Training, Crisis and Self-Confidence

Media training is more than just learning the techniques of giving a great interview. It is about gaining the self-confidence to give a great interview.

Media training is more than just learning the techniques of giving a great interview. It is about gaining the self-confidence to give a great interview.

The value of media training isn’t in memorizing what to say in advance, but achieving the confidence to say what needs to be said in an actual crisis situation.

Media training includes tips on how to craft and deliver a key message in a media interview. Trainees learn about crisp phrasing and avoiding jargon. They see themselves on video so they can self-correct distracting mannerisms and weed out excessive “ums” and “likes” in their speech. They recognize the benefits of practicing instead of winging interviews.

However, the most profound value of media training is building self-confidence. The most common comment I receive after media training is, “Now I feel confident that I can do it."

Being a spokesperson is not rocket science, but it can be nerve-racking. The best words and clearest delivery can be undone by a shaky countenance or an inappropriate facial expression – failures usually attributable to a lack of confidence.

Being a spokesperson is like being an actor. No matter how marvelous the script and staging, what counts is your performance. And great performances usually flow from actors who have meticulously prepared and go on stage with the relaxed confidence to awe an audience.

Actors spend time in front of mirrors to master how they look and practice their lines so the words fall off their tongues naturally. Spokespersons should follow suit. Media training gives them the basics. Their self-confidence carries them to the higher plateau of success.

Self-confidence can easily migrate to over-confidence. One successful interview doesn’t guarantee another. A self-confident spokesperson remembers what gave them self-confidence, even up to and including follow-up media training. You can never be too well prepared.

A key part of self-confidence is being comfortable with your role, and spokesperson roles aren’t monolithic. Giving an interview to a print reporter can be very different than giving one live to a television reporter. Appearing on a news talk show or an online forum are very different experiences and require different kinds of preparation to build confidence.

The variability of spokesperson roles is a cue to seek customized media training that offers a realistic experience like the situation you will face. We have provided media training to public officials who routinely were subjected to ambush interviews, to high-profile business leaders who speak in a wide range of settings and to nonprofit  executives appearing on talk radio shows.

While the challenges vary, one thing is always the same – you want to leave a media training session with the confidence you can be the spokesperson who does the job.

To be honest, sometimes trainees realize after the experience that they can’t do the job. That’s important to know, too. It takes a lot of self-confidence to have the courage to say you aren’t the right person to be under the hot lights. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Speaking Without Words

Good speakers are like actors, artfully blending verbal and nonverbal expression to engage an audience.An audience is more likely to listen to what you say if you project confidence in how you say it.

We perhaps misleadingly refer to a talk to an audience as a "speech." In reality, the words that are uttered are just a fraction of what an audience consumes. 

Audiences watch you speak and form judgments about you based on your body language and voice intonation, as well as on your words. Some estimate an audience impression is based on 80 percent of what it sees and only 20 per cent on what it hears.

So instead of preparing a speech, prepare instead a performance.

When you give a speech or make a presentation, you may literally be on stage. Take that motif to another level and conceive of yourself as a performer on stage. Think like an actor who blends his lines with body movements and positioning.