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Thursday, December 9, 2010
What it takes to be a tree
Yesterday I read a tweet from the author of Be a Tree, a presentation pointer. Wonderful advice about how to come across as though you stand for something. Here is some of what he said:
Stand still as a presenter. Get your weight on both feet. Balance yourself. Do not stick one hip out like a pop singer. Instead, be the tree. But do not sway. Stand as if you are guarding something sacred, as if you stand for something important. Then, after holding this position for a reasonable time, move to another spot and stand still again. Stillness and movement is very near the crux of any performance art.
Sorry, somehow I lost the author of the post. Yet with my background in theatre and my current focus in presentation, I applaud how he illustrates the quality.
One of my clients has experienced the difference between waffling around ideas and how to express them and in being solid and practiced in her ideas, language and movement. She feels an incredible boost in confidence as she stands with purpose, sharing an idea and its illustration, then moving into her next point, ending with purpose on a thought.
I recall the time I was auditioning for a role that many contemporary actors would call an "actor's dream" part. The Guys was Harvest Theatre's new focus in 2006, the 5th year anniversary of the tragedy on Twin Towers and the many engulfed in fatalities. The show features the captain of the fireman unit that lost all their lives during the rescue attempt. Also filling out the cast is the journalist he partnered with to write all the eulogies he would have to deliver.
The journalist role is meaty - rich, dramatic, funny and real. During auditions I had a wealth of experiences to call on as I stood in front of the casting committee. Unfortunately, I didn't simply stand. When many of us are before a group and not hiding behind a podium or desk, we tend to fidget or pace or gesticulate like crazy. That's what I was doing. And in that process, my voice was loosing control. Not to say that I was screaming - instead I was underselling the script because my body was overselling it.
The director said to me, "Let's try this again. Stand solidly, without movement and take it again." Immediately I understood. In my second attempt I got connected to the monologue. The words had depth, the moment had meaning and I got control back. It worked - for I not only ended up with the part. The performances were rich and true. We learned how to move as well as how to stand and deliver. We were trees.
It takes a few simple things to be a tree:
focus, energy and trust
Certainly with focus we understand the "through-line" of our message. We know the set-up, the connection to the audience and the end result. This doesn't come to us immediately. It takes time to play around with the message enough to clarify where we're going. Then the delivery requires feedback, or at least the observance of people's feedback. Focus is the first step in becoming a tree.
Doesn't it sound odd that it also takes energy? Well it does. One cannot hold themselves solidly without breathing deeply and often. Mental alertness is jazzed with energy. Similar to singing and holding a note, the ability to hold a stance is "rooted" in the energy it takes to stay solid. Mentally we must pump up ourselves for the effort. Relax and the tree-like properties sag.
Amateur speakers seem to believe they are hampered by not trusting the audience's reactions to them. It's actually just the opposite. Those we must trust when speaking or performing is ourselves. We can handle it. We can still ourselves in the moment and create an engaging connection. When the other two properties are mastered (focus and energy), trust is a ready quality.
Tough times require being a tree. Whether on the phone with a customer, whether talking in front of a group or whether performing a rehearsed production, plan and practice focus, energy and trust. Prepare to be a tree.