I have been asked to reprise the role of a horrible headmistress in a hit Channel 4 comedy series, and so, last month, the whole cast of all 6 episodes were gathered in one room to read all the scripts.
This is a scary event for any actor; there are not only ‘stars’ in the room, but casting agents, producers, directors, as well as lots of other actors, and eventually your ‘bit’ will come up. Will you get laughs? Will you crash and burn? Will you get a tickle in your throat and find yourself unable to speak? Or will you just be terrible, and never work again?
What I noticed on this particular day was a young actor; clearly terrified, he effected a kind of arrogant ‘I just don’t care’ attitude. He wasn’t making eye contact, he coughed and spluttered through his words. Nobody could hear him, and all in all he made a sorry sight – in fact he drew much more attention to himself through his terror, but NOT for the right reasons. It is a subtle thing, body language, and we are all reading it like hawks all the time, even when we are not aware of it. This young actor was not truly ‘present’, and the rest of us knew it.
Where are the parallels with the courses I run? Well, I often come across people who clearly wish they were anywhere rather than in a ‘Speaking with Authenticity’ course, and I feel for them, I really do. The tell-tale signs are there right from the start: little or no eye contact, often they don’t introduce themselves when they first come in the room, they slump in their chair, overly attached to their phone or laptop, hoping that somehow I just won’t see them.
Actually, all of these behaviours make it worse, for you, as well as everybody else. Not only are you sending adverse body signals to the rest of the group, but you’re sending these signals to your own body and mind, and will be feeling less and less inclined to engage with the world around you. Amy Cuddy in her brilliant book ‘Presence’, has shown that when our bodies are in these defended and unassertive states, the cortisol levels rocket, and the testosterone levels drop, the implication being that – unless you pull yourself out of it physically – you are going to drop further and further into a state of withdrawal. When it comes to any business situation, these behaviours are, obviously, not at all helpful.
Here are my 5 top tips:
- Breathe. Breathe slowly and deeply into your whole body, not just as far as your shoulder blades. This gets you out of your head and therefore distracts your mind, which may not be telling you very useful things right now! It also brings you physically in contact with your whole body.
- Feel the strength in your core; use this to help you to step over the little barrier of fear.
- Stand up straight, and feel your feet on the floor.
- Make Eye Contact.
- Be Curious; what do they need? Who are they? How can I serve this situation? This takes the attention away from you, and puts it in the right place, on them.
And 1 more tip: if, like many people, you want to develop more confidence and be more impactful when presenting your ideas, your research, your recommendations , ask us about the Presenting With Impact Masterclass.
As an extra, watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk : https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are