I had the pleasure last night of being invited to a small dinner party for two extraordinary young performing artists who are touring the US from Europe. Carolina Ullrich and her pianist, Marcelo Amaral, will be performing tonight at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, Vermont. After playing the Paramount, Carolina, who has just won the Alice Rosner Foundation First Prize in the 2008-09 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, will debut in New York City and Washington DC.
Our dinner conversation was fascinating. So much of what we talked about relates to presence, not just for performing artists but for speakers as well.
Marcelo spoke about the process of being recorded for a CD. He said that in a recording all the human mistakes are eliminated so that all we hear is the perfection of the performer. But the truth is that all performers make mistakes in their live performances. And that the experience of a live performance is far richer than the perfection that comes from a sound studio recording.
There’s something really important here for speakers. What often creates the most anxiety around speaking is our feeling that we must be perfect. That we cannot make any mistakes. That just being ourselves is not good enough. But how can we relax and be comfortable speaking if we are trying to be more than who we are?
The way many people try to guarantee perfection is by reading their talk, memorizing a script, or using densely worded slides that they read from. Each of these strategies, though, is deadly for the audience.
What would it be like, instead, to simply think of speaking naturally, off the cuff, warts and all? How much easier that would be. And so much more fun for you AND your audience!
Carolina spoke about how important it was to truly connect with her audience. She feels that what is truly gratifying about her singing is that she is doing a social service. That if through listening to her sing, people find themselves transported into a different, more emotional realm, even if only for five minutes, she has added value to their lives.
She also spoke about how every live performance is a dialogue between her and her audience. It’s so much more difficult to sing to a non-responsive audience than to an audience who is clearly engaged and involved in the music. And that, in part, this dialogue happens when the artist is not playing or singing just for themselves, but is most concerned with reaching out and touching each person in the audience through their music.
Public speaking fear arises when we are so focused on ourselves that we forget that we are speaking to be of service to our audience. I call this the “arrows in” position. We become preoccupied with not making mistakes, remembering our content, and concern with how our audience might perceive us.
What if, instead, we were to turn our arrows out and became less self-absorbed? What if we thought of our presentation as a conversation, or a dialogue, between ourselves and our audience (even if we are the only one speaking)? What if we focused on how we could be of service to our audience?
As the conversation expanded, we also talked about the role of the audience. The entire table talked about how much more interesting a performance is when as the audience we feel connected to the human being who is the artist. It can be so helpful to have a conversation with the artist before or after a performance, to get the back story, to learn more about them as people. As Carolina pointed out, this is the reason the tabloid newspapers do so well. I also think this is why movie DVDs have the special features at the end that can add such an interesting human dimension to the actors and the process of creating the movie.
Except possibly in politics, where everything has become so distorted by the media, I believe that the more human we can be as speakers and the more we turn our arrows out by focusing on how we can be of service to the audience, the more our audience will align with us and be engaged with our content. And, the more meaningful it will be for everyone!