Monday, May 24, 2010

Surround Sound

I love first-time performance experiences. I had one yesterday.

This was a performance of Rumi poetry in which some of the poems used piano and vocals. Both the reader and the singer are my clients.

During one of the poems I heard the word “waiting” coming from behind me. I always sit in the back row so that I can feel the audience response, so I thought someone standing behind me had said “waiting.” I turned around–no one there.

I heard it again, turned around again–no one there.

Then I realized that the words had been said by the singer on stage, even though the sound had seemed to come from behind me. So I checked to see if there were a speaker on the floor or mounted on a wall–there wasn’t one.

I’ve never encountered that phenomenon before, and am not sure how to explain it. She had been trained not to “project,” so she wasn’t consciously bouncing the sound off the back wall.

My guess is that she had gotten more deeply into the poetry and the music by that time, and had involved us, the audience, more deeply, so that the words seemed to be “happening” among us rather than recited and sung to us.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An Interview is a Performance

I had an e-mail this morning from a friend whose son, with a brand new MBA, is having trouble with interviews. “He gets anxious, can’t seem to talk, or to get his breath.”

My daughter had trouble with interviews when she first graduated. She had bought a navy blue suit for the process, had wiped her wet, sweaty hands on her skirt and discovered, to her horror, that her hands were blue.

The anxiety symptoms may be different, but the antidotes are the same. Here are two:

Breathing: The body has 2 modes of breathing; the normal mode, when sleeping, say, and the stress mode. When we're in the stress mode, our breathing is intended to close off the throat in order to give us upper-arm strength. Then we panic, and concentrate on where we feel the constriction - in the chest and throat. This is NORMAL - THE BODY IS GOING TO DO IT DESPITE US. However, we can override that breathing mode.

At home, lie on your back and observe your breathing - observe, don't try to do anything - feel the abdominal muscles expand and contract. Then sit on a chair, place your elbows on your knees and observe your breathing - feel your back muscles open and contract. Now sit up in a chair, as you would in an interview. Find a posture in which you can feel both sets of muscles expanding and contracting. Practice this breathing, and your muscles will remember how this feels - you'll be able to move more quickly into this mode eace time you repeat it. Then, before you go into an interview, practice your breathing. If your mind switches into "what am I going to say?" switch it back to breathing.

Objective: If you focus on the interviewer, rather than on yourself, your anxiety will be reduced. If your objective is to find out whether this job would be a good fit for you, rather than to prove that you will be a good fit for the job, your anxiety will be reduced.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

I am audience oriented. Performance is audience oriented. If there’s no audience, there’s no performance.

I used to be focused on technique. I learned the hard way that no one cares that you dance well, or sing well, or that your band has created a new genre, if you’re not communicating with your audience.

Why don’t conservatories get this? Or business schools and universities, for that matter?

When my first public speaking book came out, I was paired with a communications professor from Rowan University for a radio interview. He told me before we went on the air that Rowan had just established a course in public-speaking as a graduation requirement.

“Marvelous,” I said.

“Where do you think I’m going to find that many adjunct public-speaking professors for $2,000 a semester?”

That was fifteen years ago, so the situation must have improved, right?

Except that I recently found a blog where professors who had just been told they were to teach a public-speaking course at various institutions of higher learning were asking, “Anybody out there know a good book I could use?”

We have a communications industry that contributes over half a trillion dollars a year to the U.S. economy. Universities have recognized that preparing their students to communicate might be a good idea. But those same institutions are not regarding public speaking as a discipline; they’re assigning professors from other disciplines to teach that “necessary” public- speaking course.

About a third of the answers on that blog, presumably written by public-speaking teachers, were variations of, “You don’t need a book; they just need to practice.”

Excuse me? Practice what?

A piano teacher doesn’t say, “This is a piano, kid. Now sit down and practice.” A football coach doesn’t introduce his team to each other, and then tell them to go on the field and practice.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thank You's

When I write my monthly column for Community Arts Cafe, I try to be positive–writing about what works in front of an audience, rather than what doesn’t.

But it occurred to me this morning that perhaps I could be as negative as I feel when blogging.

So, I get irritated when performers say, “Thank you,” as soon as they’ve finished a song or a speech, before the applause begins. What are you thanking us for? For listening to “poor little you?” Ugh!

Applause is the traditional way for an audience to say, “Thank you.” They get to say it first.

Then you get to bow, or applaud back, or say, “Thank you” back. Not before.