The Actress Next Door

By Greg Nathan posted August 26, 2021

Just prior to Christmas I had my team over for dinner as part of a two-day get together - a balance of team building, business planning and professional development. Because a core part of our business involves presentations, I wanted to provide them with some coaching in elocution and performance skills.

While I speak and write a lot about the impact of family and work relationships on our quality of life, one significant relationship I seldom talk about is the relationships we have with our neighbours. This is especially important these days with so many of us working from home.

Our house is a duplex, which means we share a wall with the couple next door, and luckily they are wonderful people. It is said that opposites attract, and this is certainly the case with Kevin and Gaynor. He, the cautious, quietly spoken, serious-minded retired accountant. And she, the outgoing, creative and outrageously funny ex-actress.

In case you hadn’t noticed, actors and actresses have excellent elocution and projection skills. So who better to approach about conducting our performance skills workshop than my neighbour, Gaynor! True to form she graciously agreed.

It was a beautiful, warm evening as we all sat together in our back sun room on an assortment of couches and chairs, while the diminutive, big-hearted Gaynor entertained us with her anecdotes, and inducted us into some of her performance tips. It never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn from the people we meet as we travel through life. I particularly love hearing stories from wise people who have worked their way through suffering and challenge. Here's a summary of Gaynor's tips to prepare and deliver presentations with impact. These are relevant to both face-to-face and virtual presentations.

Gaynor’s warm up tips

Know your audience: Remember you are there to make a positive difference to those who will be listening to you. It's not about you, it's about them. If possible get to know who they are, and do some research to understand their backgrounds and interests.

Write out your thoughts: While great orators seem to speak off the cuff, the reality is they prepare thoroughly. Write out your presentation and ensure it follows a logical sequence. Practice and memorise your key points and the flow of your presentation, so your mind is freer to focus on your audience.

Breathe deeply: Stand or sit straight, and raise your arms outwards slowly as you breathe in. Reach up and then slowly lower your arms as you breathe out. Repeat this a few times, (and remember to relax and keep breathing during your presentation).

Talk to the wall. Stand about a body length from a wall, and in a flat monotone with a full breath, say “Ahhhhh” slowly to the wall until all your breath has gone. Practice some of your presentation letting your voice hit the wall. 

Speak from the tummy: Put your hands on your diaphragm and feel the vibration of your voice. Speak from here, not your throat. Practice saying “car, bar, sar” while dropping your jaw. Then go “la, la, la” with your tongue. And finally “me, tea, fee” with a smile.

Shake it up: Shake your hands, and then each foot. Circle your head a few times and relax. Take in a nice big breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

Tips for greater impact

Believe in your message: Smile and let people know you want to be talking to them, and that you have something worthwhile to say. Where possible, link your points back to what your audience cares about.

Begin and finish strongly: The start of a presentation creates the impression of who you are and whether you are worth listening to. The end is largely what they will remember. (Psychologists call this the primacy and recency effect).

Avoid fillers: Filler words like “um, ah and so” can be annoying and distract an audience from your message. Reduce these by slowing down, pausing and keeping your mouth closed between points.

Stand or sit with balance: If standing, place one foot straight and the other on a slight V outwards for good balance. If sitting, straighten your back as this will help to boost your energy.

Pause between points: Start each new point softer, raising the volume slowly and ending more loudly. Then summarise what you have said, before pausing and moving onto your next point.

So there you have 11 points I noted while listening to Gaynor. Teachers are everywhere if we keep an open mind and take the time to get to know them. It may be the woman who serves you coffee, the man driving the uber, or if you’re lucky like me, your next door neighbour.

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