I had a light bulb moment about 10 years ago when I was teaching a college course titled: Acting I. Typically, on the first day of class, I asked my students why they’d registered for the course and what they hoped to learn during the semester. As I settled back in my chair, anticipating the usual: “I did a lot of musicals in high school and now I want to concentrate on acting vs. singing” or “I audition all the time and I never get cast so I’m here to learn to audition better,” or “(Dramatic sigh) Acting is my LIFE.” Stuff like that.
This day, though, the responses were different. The first student whispered, “I’m really shy and my advisor recommended I take an acting class to help me be more confident in front of a group.” The second student nodded her head: “Yeah, that’s why I’m here, too. I’m a Physics Major and I have to do a lot of presentations in class so I’m hoping this class will teach me to be more comfortable giving presentations.” The majority of the students shared similar hopes.
I was stunned. I was looking at a group of students who had signed up for the wrong course! The right course for these students was a course in Public Speaking, which at the time, the College did not offer. I explained to the students: “Acting will teach you how to create characters. You will learn how to be believable as somebody else, wear costumes that the character would wear and go through situations created for you by a playwright. Public Speaking, on the other hand, ideally teaches you how to present authentically as ‘you.’ Indeed, the most you you can be! It’s about you – not a character – looking at and engaging with an audience.”
That moment prompted me to create and teach a course in Public Speaking. I used my background and experience from decades in the theatre to help address the needs of students who were struggling with how to communicate their authentic selves to an audience. I shared skills that actors use to relax and focus and engage, and my students learned how to use what was unique about themselves to present to an audience in an authentic and engaging way.
Many of us have been given the advice: “Just relax and be yourself and you’ll be great!” Easy advice to give but very challenging to accomplish. How do we “just relax?” How can we “be ourselves” if we don’t even know who we are? Over the last decade, I have been helping others by focusing on this important work. My “students” now include CEO’s and college presidents, doctors, data scientists, authors and animal communicators, prisoners, priests and a single mother of 8 kids. Currently, in our world today, we need to be credible speakers. We need people to trust us, to believe us, to be moved by us for the greater good. We need to engage and connect. We need to relax and be ourselves.