September 20, 2007

Public speaking: performance vs. connection



I read an article recently where the public speaking expert said that public speaking is not a performance; it's about making a connection with the audience.

I find this comment a little baffling. Is it possible that a person can only perform or connect, but not both?

Can you be authentic, have a relationship with the audience, and still "perform?"

I think you can, and I think the best speakers (and for that matter, performers) do.

(See my posts on Dick Dale and David Lee Roth for examples).

A performance is about entertainment. A relationship is about connection. When I give a presentation, I want the audience to feel entertained. I want them to enjoy our time together and I want them to remember it when we're finished. Does that mean I'm inauthentic?

When I give a presentation, I also like to make personal connections with the audience. It's my style, it's who I am. I make friends with the audience members before I even begin the presentation and cultivate that throughout the event. Does that mean I'm not a performer?

There are times when I'm not "up" for giving a presentation. Maybe I'm under the weather, or tired, or distracted. I still show up and give it all I've got, because the show must go on. That's a performance, baby.

Thinking of the presentation as a performance might contribute to some public speaking anxiety, while thinking of it as a conversation with friends might reduce some anxiety. Can you think of it as both? I can guarantee that you've had conversations with your friends where you've entertained them with jokes or funny stories. Connection/performance - why nitpick?

Do both. Give a performance while also building a relationship. It's really not that complicated and gives your presentation more depth. The performance and the relationship together are what get you invited back.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

simonr said...

No arguement from me here! (Sighs of relief all around!)

I guess my basic philosophy is that people who are really, really on top of their game, technically, can "pass beyond" just performing and connect. If they're completely technically sorted out then they can't connect (as easily, at least) because they're working on the technicalities.

Earlier thoughts from me (such as they're worth) here in a blog article from way back....

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I agree, you have to have all your technical skills in place, and then *not show them.*

I've seen far too many speakers with "technical" skills who come across as fake and stagey because they're trying so hard. And right, they're not connecting with the audience either.

It's a difficult balance, one that comes with lots of experience!

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