Starting with summer camps and school plays, and later graduating to more advanced performing arts programs, my childhood dream of becoming an actor eventually led to the proverbial doorstep of Paul Newman as a theater apprentice. The apprenticeship, filled with the magic of old Hollywood and legends of the Silver Screen, propelled me to New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film program and living through the angsty aughts on New York City’s Lower East Side.
While I didn’t continue to pursue acting professionally after graduation, techniques learned on-stage are the foundation for my daily interactions as a communications professional. Our job relies on our ability to improv, understand nonverbal cues, memorize messaging and perform.
Even if struggling from terrible stage fright, these three simple tips can help you communicate confidently and clearly from the stage to the boardroom:
Improvisation is a helpful tool in many facets of a communications professional’s day-to-day responsibilities. Whether participating in a client meeting, presenting, or pitching a reporter, the simple improv concept of “Yes And” can help navigate to a stunning grand finale. Leveraging the phrase “Yes And” enables you to build on ideas, respond positively, and advance a conversation, narrative, or objective.
Before thinking about why something can’t be done, “Yes And” focuses on building on what can. When a conversation doesn’t go as planned, “Yes And” provides a pivot back to its intended focus or helps “improv” toward a solution. Practice this phrase to build trust in your instincts as a communications professional and think quickly on your feet.
Know Your Lines
Acting, in its most basic form, is public speaking. Actors dive into a character, memorizing a script to communicate a lived (fictional or nonfictional) experience. As communications professionals, it is our job to do the same. Learning, understanding, and sharing our clients’ messaging until it is part of your psyche is as critical as an actor understanding their character.
Speaking in front of a room full of people and pitching reporters can be just as daunting as getting on stage. However, when prepared, your audience will recognize your messaging (or character) as natural and truthful, positioning the client as an expert and an invaluable asset to the press.
It’s important to note that sometimes you may not connect or agree with a client’s focus area or topic. The same is true for actors, but as is true in both roles, embracing the role and diving into the character and messaging will yield positive outcomes for your team and client.
For me, opening night was always incredibly terrifying. Maybe this was a sign that acting was not in my future, but even some of the most experienced actors get stage fright.
Before a presentation, a pitch, or client meeting, you may start to feel rising tension in your chest, a shaking voice or hands, heart racing, or feet tapping. These are all signs that your body is preparing for what’s going to happen next by entering fight or flight.
When your nerves are calm, you can think more clearly, leading to better outcomes. There are a few simple steps you can take to keep stage fright at bay and receive a standing ovation:
1. Be prepared: Take time without distractions. Place a hold on your calendar, turn off notifications, and rehearse. Go over your lines (talking points, messaging, presentation, meeting agenda, etc.) until you feel comfortable.
2. Shake it out: Before your big performance, jump up and down, shake out your limbs, give a few shouts, trill your lips, do some tongue twisters, or sing along to your favorite song, get your voice warmed up and ready to project.
3. Take a deep breath: The curtains are about to open, place two feet on the ground, place both your hands on your lap or one on your heart, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths through your nose and out your mouth until you feel your heartbeat start to slow.
4. You’re ready to begin! Keep both feet on the floor when speaking; it will help keep your voice steady. If you have a habit of excessive hand gesturing or nervous tics, remember the breathing exercise that you did at the beginning, take a breath and place your hands back down by your sides. Holding an object, like a pen, can also help calm your hands from excessive movement.
Take a Bow
Now that you have completed your performance, it’s time to pat yourself on the back. Whether you got a standing ovation or flopped, you did it! Communication skills, like acting, are a craft that take time and practice to hone. I hope these simple tips help you achieve your communication goals more confidently, and if you are keen on improving your skills, sign up for an acting class, you will be surprised just how much it helps your career in communications!