Thursday, July 21, 2011

Going Too Far is Almost Enough

“That was a great exercise. Why didn’t we start with that one?”

This was a comment at the end of a workshop on “Presenting Yourself.” Made after an exercise in which I’d asked the participants to exaggerate all the presentation techniques they’d learned in the last 6 weeks. “Go too far,” I’d said, knowing after 35 years of teaching that they wouldn’t.

At some point in the process of becoming members of a functioning society, each of us has been warned “to quiet down,” “to be seen and not heard,” “don’t draw attention to yourself,” and the like. Those are the demands of the schoolroom, sometimes the family dinner table, and enforced when we’re part of many audiences. But not when we’re on stage.

There the opposite is true. No audience will be comfortable unless their leader, the performer, is larger than the audience. Unless the performer’s energy is larger, gestures wider, voice more authoritative.

Fortunately, all the workshop participants understood, after the exercise, that “going too far” was only the beginning of a good performance.        

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Being as Big as You Need to Be

I was multi-tasking yesterday–eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, and listening to my local NPR station–when I heard familiar words. Oh, that was me I was listening to, reading an essay I'd written last fall and recorded at the station a few months ago. Although I had an e-mail afterward from the station asking when I could record a couple more essays, and another e-mail complimenting me on the essay's content and my "clear, beautiful voice," it wasn't a great performance.

Which is always a learning experience. Why wasn't it a 10? After I heard the playback at the recording session, I realized that I hadn't connected fully with my imaginary audience on the other side of the microphone. I had confined my energy to the tiny recording studio. I thought I had learned that lesson 50 years ago.

I didn't remember, until I began this posting, that just prior to recording I had spent 4 hours answering phones for the station's spring fund drive. And using my energy to shield myself for 4 hours from the woman across the table from me, one of the most socially inept–or actively obnoxious, take your pick–women I've ever met.

Lesson learned. Again.