March 10, 2008

Too much (personal) information

I mentioned last week that we saw Rufus Wainwright on Thursday night. Julianna Raye was the opening performer, singing a bossa nova-inspired set from her new CD.

Singers often talk between songs, telling stories about their inspiration, or just entertaining the crowd. Sometimes a singer seems to talk more to cover up an awkward silence than to enhance the show.

There were a few of these moments during Julanna Raye's performance, one of which stood out because, from a public speaking perspective, it was something that I advise against doing.

She pointed out to the audience how she had just discovered that the bottom of her new dress fit neatly inside the tops of her over-the-knee boots, repeatedly getting caught there.

My first thought: "Always check your outfit before you go onstage."

My second thought: "Don't tell the audience when there's something wrong. They generally don't know. Now you've given them something to look for and focus on."

Considering that Julianna stood in one place throughout her set, it was unlikely that anyone would have noticed the dress falling into the boots.

Some speakers and performers have a tendency to give too much information; I recognize this because I'm one of them.

We do it because we want to endear ourselves to the audience and bond with them. We want them to understand that we're not perfect, we're human, and we don't want their expectations to be too high in case we can't meet them.

The problem with this is that we are distracting the audience from our message. We're asking them to focus on something completely irrelevant to our purpose. We've just guaranteed that they will pay less attention to our words and more attention to our flaws.

As I've said before, every speaker has her or his little quirks. This is one I'm happy to say I've worked on. I hardly ever spill the beans any more. It takes a conscious effort, just like everything about public speaking.

I hope Julianna Raye wears a different dress next time, so neither she nor the audience is distracted.

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

simonr said...

Hey, if the dress was short enough to get caught in over-the-knee boots I'd have been distracted anyway! Adult heterosexual male that I am......

I haven't seen the stuff you're talking about but public speaking and performing are a bit different, aren't they? I too train people in public speaking and I can't imagine anyone doing a public speaking gig ever dressing like that in the first place.....? :)


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Actually, Simon the dress length was pretty conservative, but it was "flowy."

Checking your outfit before a gig is no different for a speaker than for any other kind of performer.

One of my clients gave a presentation not realizing the side zipper of her dress was down the whole time.

She had on a camisole underneath, which prevented her from feeling a breeze -- but, luckily, also prevented the audience from getting a peekaboo!

simonr said...

"Actually, Simon the dress length was pretty conservative," *sigh* You've gone and spoiled my day! :)

Ok, I agree completely about checking your outfit before you go on! Absolutely. What I was really alluding to was that a public speaker wouldn't ever dress in a distractingly short skirt (though you've explained that the skirt wasn't short like I thought it was) where-as for singers and so on, the costume is "part of the act".

People allow singers etc on just a little more lattitude than they allow public speakers. Or is that just me....?


PS: I'm also a lighting designer for dance companies and there's some stuff to be learned from them, believe me! There's a bunch of people who really, really understand discipline and who check everything

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Sorry to disappoint you, Simon. ;-)

I would hope that a speaker wouldn't dress inappropriately, but I guess if everyone did everything they way they were supposed to, there wouldn't be a need for services like ours!

I think creative performers like singers definitely receive some latitude on their outfits, but then again, check out this guy:

He gives his presentations (about the evolution of food and drug laws) dressed as Teddy Roosevelt!

I attended a conference last year where a speaker on the history of tea wore several layers of costumes that he peeled off one by one as he went through his timeline.

Dancers are some of the most disciplined performers out there. Definitely a lot to learn from them.

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