Vocal Lessons Article

#40 Acting 1- Truth


Acting in speech class is something I ironically used to avoid. I didn’t want people in the stoicism-centric world of finance to think I was attempting to turn them into Nathan Lane; I wanted to make sure everyone knew our work was practical for the corporate environment. Would the president of a big bank really want to perform King Lear? Would a quantitative wizard really be game to work through a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire?

Eventually, though, I convinced myself that even the most pressed suits on Wall Street were capable of indulging in a bit of proverbial dress-up. Acting is an emotional and physical playground where we can explore using our voices and bodies in ways we would never have occasion to do in day-to-day life. This is pertinent to clients’ goals given the frequency with which that exploration leads to revelatory communicative discovery.

I have witnessed students time and again who – after spending some time working on a charismatic character – are able to inject dynamic vitality into their presentation. Based on these efforts, I’ve attempted to boil acting down to four important qualities that have substantial overlap with the world of great public speaking skills: Truth, Specificity, Variety, and Commitment. In this the first of a four part series, we’ll discuss sincerity.

“Tell the truth” is what many actors talking craft in their dressing rooms suggest acting boils down to. They of course don’t mean to suggest that characters don’t lie; rather that the responsibility of an actor is to honor the character by portraying it truthfully. There has always been appreciation of honesty from friends, salesmen, significant others, politicians… and there is a particular fascination with it when the degree of honesty defies convention. The brand of humor Seinfeld helped to popularize was based on honest observations. Reality TV is a glimpse into people’s “true” lives. When an actor exposes truth – especially vulnerable truths – we connect with the character. When speakers communicate with sincerity and earnestness, we similarly connect with them. We trust. If you can have people walk away from a presentation believing “in you,” you have a great deal more to gain than if they simply believe in the idea.

Dale Carnegie wrote extensively about the “sincere” part of the equation. The idea of honesty is not about feigning sincerity; it’s about discovering it within us. Too often people forget why they’re delivering the content. They take for granted that what in some cases is referred to as “droll data” that they’re disseminating is thrilling! Any time we have occasion to share our ideas, we can choose to be excited about it and genuinely connect with the material, or we can tolerate and recite it. The latter is a viable option, and if one wishes to be perceived as “sufficiently competent,” or “passable” there is no better way to go about it.

But think of the people that have changed your lives. Think of the TED talk, the motivational seminar, or the sermon that most inspired you. When we think about what yields vitality and dynamic oration, sincere connection to the material is at the top of the list. The first tip to improve both your acting and your public speaking is to sincerely consider what you’re saying and mean it fully.

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John West

John West

Head of New York Speech Coaching