Tuesday, November 28, 2017


 Confidence posing had a big following for a couple of years. Based on the old maxim, "Fake it till you make it," a study purported to prove that you could achieve success in job interviews and business meetings if you adopted this or that posture that others perceived as confident. Fortunately, that study hasn't been successfully replicated, and has therefore been debunked. 

Another study promised success if you wrote a confident statement before an interview or meeting. It was that study that cured me of writing a "helpful" letter to such authors, explaining why the positive effect faded after several usages, and how to improve the study's methodology. I finally understood that no one who had labored over a grant proposal to finance a study, and had then spent hours and hours on all the nuts and bolts of conducting it and writing the final paper, wanted to hear that he'd been working from an incorrect theory.

In both studies, the subjects were asked to create a mask, to apply a pre-determined posture or statement. In neither study were the subjects asked to display or write a statement about their own physical sensations of confidence.

Not until Thanksgiving Day dinner did I realize the difference between a pose and a signal. The conversation had turned to attitudes toward gender in Germany versus the United States. One of the female guests had worked in Germany during the '60s and '70s. A math whiz, she was often the only woman in her group or department. Early on in her career, she was given this advice:

"If you want people to listen to you in meetings, don't sit with your hands in your lap. Prop your elbows on the table." 

In this country, she had been taught that proper women never put their elbows on the table. But in Germany, elbows on the table signaled engagement and hands in the lap signaled withdrawal. Nothing to do with gender, nothing to do with a confident pose, just a culturally accepted signal.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It's All About The Audience

I recently joined my first Linked-In group. Speechwriters and Public Speaking Coaches (or something like that). The first post I read was from an Australian speechwriter who claimed that his people could speak at 125 words per minute, versus the usual 100 words per minute. Why? The larger our audiences, the more slowly we need to speak, and the fewer ideas we can expect them to absorb. But he didn't mention audience.

Nor has any other post, or comment, in the group mentioned audience. But what are we doing on stage if we're not communicating with our audience?

On Friday, inauguration day,  I participated in "Artists Unite! for Peace and Diversity." On stage, as part of Christina Soriano's IMPROVment participatory dance improvisation. An intergenerational, multi-ethnic group of us were to be models for the movement instructions Christina was giving the audience.

As could be expected, not everyone in the audience joined in with "Let your fingers be raindrops waking up your skin." But by the time she told us to "Let your right thumb dance with your left ankle," people throughout the theatre were laughing as they waved hands and feet. By the end of our allotted 15 minutes, every single one of us were shouting and stomping.

I had thought all my life that I couldn't dance. Reinforced in college when, after one rehearsal as a Flower Maiden in Parsifal, I was recast as a Page who was supposed to kneel (and NOT move) during Gurnemanz's long aria. And yet, there I was,  at 85, modeling dance improvisation before a couple of hundred people.

This dance project was obviously intended to involve the audience, but I've been dancing on stage for several months now. I've dared to do so is because I've learned that the intention of every performance—and every book, every painting, every play—has to be audience involvement.