Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bad Advice

As I troll through websites on public speaking and stage fright, I see and read appalling stuff: Videos of public speaking coaches waving their hands wildly for no perceivable purpose. That awful advice to “look each person directly in the eyes, make a statement, move to the next person, look them . . .”

The worst advice of all? “Imagine your audience naked.” “Imagine your audience in their underwear.”

If I thought that a speaker or performer were imagining me naked or in my underwear, I’d walk out of the room.

What about the job interviewee with performance anxiety? Is he supposed to imagine the interviewer, who’s perhaps a potential boss, naked?


Friday, August 27, 2010

Ourselves as Product

I wrote my column for Community Arts Cafe this month on “Choosing Your Audience.” I mentioned that we ought to start by viewing ourselves and our performances as a product. How do we know who are audiences are if we don’t assess what we’re offering them?

How do we do that? By listening to our audiences–what they say; what they applaud.

A former client told me this week that what I do is “teach people to be a strong presence.” I had thought I was teaching people not to be afraid of their stage fright or their audiences. But, of course, the result of losing those fears would be a stronger presence.

The title of the new book, Speak Up (available now from Press 53 and Amazon and . . .), turns out to be a perfect fit, too.

That one phrase has changed the audiences I’m looking for.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Third, the interviewee liked the idea of creating a “performing persona.”

In his case, he was switching careers–from finance to marketing–and he understood that he needed to think of himself and be a marketer now in interviews.

We’ve created different personas for different relationships all our lives. You learned, at least by the age of 5, that who you were on mommie’s lap was not who you were in kindergarten, and vice versa. Successful social relationships depended on your making a distinction between who you were as a son and who you were as a student and who you were as a playmate.

Pity the high school cheerleader who never learns another role–never becomes a wife when she marries, a mother when she has children–and is still a cheerleader at 65. Pity, too, the high school brain who tried to imitate the cheerleaders instead of learning who she herself was.

Paradoxically, we create ourselves, learn who we truly are, by shifting from role to role. In each role we have different responsibilities and different benefits, display and use different strengths and weaknesses.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Second, the interviewee liked the idea that the “performer is more powerful than the audience.”

Which sounds all wrong. The interviewer has the power to give or withhold that all important job.

Not exactly. The interviewer’s job is to fill a vacancy. He wants to hire someone, has to hire someone, hopes that you’re that someone. The interviewer’s interests, like those of any voluntary audience, are best served if you do well

Where an interview differs from other performances is that your resume takes the place of your lecture, and we jump right to the Q & A. The questions are just prompts; your answers become the performance.

As in any Q & A session, some of the questions may seem obvious, odd, or plain squirrely. As the performer, you have the right to rephrase the question, ask for clarification, take a moment to think about your answer. In other words, turn the question to your advantage.

In a recent interview, an applicant was asked the usual, “What do you bring to this company?” The usual response, if she had assumed that all the power lay with the interviewer, would have been to regurgitate the job description and how her qualifications fit it.

That’s not what she did. A pie chart was lying on the desk, with a large piece of the pie labeled “Intangible.” The applicant put her finger on that piece and said, “That’s what I bring.”

“Wow! That’s the best answer I’ve ever heard.”

She, of course, went on to list some of the intangibles that no job description can cover.

(to be continued)

Friday, August 6, 2010


Where to begin? So much going on, so many ideas circling round my head.

First, a revised version of my public speaking book, is being published next month by Press53 with the title, Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer.

And I’ll be doing a workshop on the book at the Bookmarks Book Festival in Winston-Salem on Sept. 11.

What comes up first, amidst all these goings on, is Interviewing. One idea from the book that’s been helpful to an interviewee is: “performance is a creative activity.” He says that going into an interview with a creative mindset and understanding that mistakes are a part of any creative process helps put nerves at ease.

An interview is a performance. The audience may be only one person, but all the aspects of performance apply. The spotlight is on you; the interviewer expects to be entertained (that is, for you to hold his or her attention); in order to do that, you’ll need to fill the room with your energy.

An interview is a creative process. No two interviews will ever be the same, even if the interviewer begins with a list of prepared questions and you’ve rehearsed some answers. You’re bringing something new into the process just by being the unique person you are.

(to be continued)