August 28, 2007

Keep the magic alive



I spent the weekend in Los Angeles, on a little anniversary trip with my fabulous hubby of 18 years. Yes, I said 18 years!

On Saturday afternoon, we caught the latest touring show of Cirque du Soleil, "Cortéo." The show was a total experience of magical fantasy - acrobatics, music, light, angels, clowns, feats of strength and agility, bouncing beds and more.

One characteristic of the Cirque du Soleil experience that I've always enjoyed is the use of gibberish instead of recognizable language. It adds to the fantasy atmosphere when the performers combine nonsense words with gestures, pantomime and acrobatics to express themselves.

At Cortéo, I was shocked when the curtain rose and the characters began speaking English! It was jarring and distracting and, even though it clarified the story, it also affected the atmosphere of the show for me.

Later, I thought about this in the context of a presentation, and what happens when a speaker's delivery is incompatible or incongruous with the topic.

Sometimes I see this on the news - an anchor has to switch from a humorous story to a tragic story, and he doesn't make the transition smoothly enough. His boisterous "happy voice" overlaps into the tragic story a little too long and it feels uncomfortable and strange.

A speaker has to be sure that voice tone, facial expression and body language match the topic being presented. Expressing outrage in words but demonstrating listless body language and a flat voice is confusing to an audience. Telling a heartwrenching story in a loud enthusiastic voice and racing through it without pauses for dramatic effect is confusing to an audience. Confusion leads to doubt and skepticism, not exactly the kind of response you want from your audience.

I'm sure you can think of other examples you've seen from speakers on TV or in live presentations where the words and the body language just didn't mesh. You may not have been conscious of this happening, but you were definitely conscious of not trusting or believing the person speaking. Without trust and credibility a speaker has nothing.

The incongruous language didn't ruin Cortéo for me, although it did diminish the magic. I'm a die-hard Cirque fan, and it would take a lot more than this to completely turn me off.

If you're not Cirque du Soleil, however, you might want to be extra careful to keep your words and body language in agreement - and keep the magic alive for your audience.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

This post took me back to my grade 10 theater arts class. The teacher kept telling us to "remain in character" all the time.
I guess public speaking is like acting in a sense because even if you have a crappy day/night/week you still have to act like you're happy to be giving the presentation.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Jacki, I've been meaning to write about the concept of "the show must go on." Thanks for reminding me. :-)

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