Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August
Back to Basics
BY JOE KEEFE
Drama Lessons for Speakers
These theatrical tricks work wonders at the podium
Theater and meetings have a lot in common - an audience, a
message, a design, inadequate budgets and petulant stars. And both
industries have been around for a long time: Imagine the requests
to the planner who coordinated the Last Supper - "I want to sit
next to the Messiah." Later, of course, the wine runs out and you
have to go to the client to ask for another "little miracle."
Theater has been around just as long: Cro-Magnon man used
elaborate sets in his cave to dramatize his "hunter/gatherer" act.
At its peak, Rome's Coliseum ran two shows a day, six days a
Here are some tips for marrying the professions.
Rehearse. Okay you've heard this before - but I
mean really rehearse the speakers. In theater, we use dress
rehearsals to work out all the variables. Form a similar system for
your speakers, offering them the chance to work out the kinks
before showtime. A fly on the wall also might catch remarks that
are inappropriate for your group. For your own speeches, form a
core of friends to review each other. Have the group create
spontaneous interruptions: The mike goes out, the slides aren't
working, your jokes bomb, etc. This builds skill at handling
Warm 'em up. I can't tell you how many times
I've seen speakers in corners with their scripts, mumbling their
lines. This is a fabulous technique to teach you how to whisper and
mumble your lines. Get them out where they can fill their lungs.
Encourage them to get their blood flowing through movement, using
the conscious part of the brain to stretch the body. When speakers
are comfortable, it's easier for the audience to feel that way,
too, which helps them absorb the material.
Tell speakers to sleep. Not during their
presentations, before them. Actors expend enormous amounts of
energy to achieve the emotional levels demanded in their
performances. Adequate sleep enhances their abilities. Personally,
after 25 years on the road I can nap anywhere - except Des Moines
for some weird reason.
Public speaking can be a terrifying, physically draining
experience, causing many presenters to sleep badly the night
before. Coach them to nap the day before, and have them rehearse
when they're awake and pacing in the hotel room.
Visualize. When rehearsing, have speakers
imagine themselves in the process of a wonderful presentation.
Coach them to see the audience, the too-bright lights, the stage
setup. Have them build to a peak performance in their
visualization. Have them practice being really good, charming,
knowledgeable. Most people practice being normal, adequate,
competent, but we become good at things we do a lot, so practice
being good a lot.
Be ON when you're on. A speaker's function is
to communicate to and interact with the audience. The audience's
function is to get the message. Attendees will analyze the speaker
from the moment he saunters onstage, so coach speakers to gear up
backstage. I teach actors to be "in character" - active and ready
to go - well before they enter the stage.
Script the event, not just the speech. Which
would you rather attend: a speech or an event? You've got a big
world of theater out there, so use it. We worked recently with the
CEO of a major communications company. In the past, the meeting was
a dry review of annual sales and marketing objectives. This time,
the CEO introduced the information as usual, pulling out a huge
annual report. Suddenly he tossed the report away and announced:
"Let's have a financial picnic instead." Room dividers opened to
reveal a hot dog picnic ready for the group. They reviewed the
materials, munching on lunch. Attention was grabbed in a unique,
entertaining manner, making the information and event more
Use less time than allotted. Start by telling
speakers to use a minimum of words to get their point across - then
cut out a few more. For example, before Descartes said, "I think,
therefore I am," he said, "I think too much, therefore I am too
much." The edit helped a lot.
Another effective old trick: If they've got 45 minutes to
deliver the speech, get them to use 38. Time it to the minute and
rehearse it to the second. Audiences will love them and you for it.
For example, they allowed me 1,200 words to complete this article
and I only wrote about 750.
Joe Keefe is executive producer and monsignor of comedy
at Chicago's Second City Communications.
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