Monday, April 27, 2009

Boyle's Law

The old Boyle's Law had to do with traditional chemistry. The new Boyle's Law has to do with a subject near and dear to the heart of this coach - audience chemistry.

When we speak in public, I think we all long to have presence in front of our audience - to really 'own your stage' as the name of this blog suggests. If you are one of the 46 million people who have seen Susan Boyle on You Tube singing I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables on the TV show Britain's Got Talent, then you saw an object lesson in owning your stage from a woman who was previously known only to the inhabitants of her home town in Scotland. To say that her performance was remarkable is an understatement indeed. It lifted us up like the end of a movie like Rocky or Hoosiers. Many of us erupted like the live audience, cheering for the everywoman we saw on that stage.

So what can we learn from the new Boyle's Law?

First, it's OK to be nervous. Susan appeared nervous backstage but she seemed determined not to let it get to her. She decided to channel her nervousness into performance by proclaiming that she wanted to "rock that audience". Many among us want to make our nervousness and anxiety as public speakers disappear forever. It's a useless effort. We can learn to manage our anxiety and use it to our advantage in front of the audience. I call it 'befriending the butterflies'. A few common sense tips:

  • Clear your mind, close your eyes, focus on a single point and breathe

  • Visualize yourself taking the stage or the podium and succeeding famously

  • Remind yourself that you know what you're doing because you practiced

  • Know that the audience wants you to succeed - failure is painful for them too

  • Remind yourself of the first sentence you will utter when you get out there

  • Remind yourself that no matter what happens you will live to speak another day
Second, it pays to practice. If you think that Susan Boyle took to the stage without knowing how that song would come out, you're dreaming. She had the confidence of a professional knowing she had done the work to prepare and own her material. She had already heard herself sing it and knew what the notes felt like and how she would gesture to the crowd. If you are afraid that practice will make you sound rehearsed, don't worry. The very act of rehearsal makes you sound unrehearsed. The practice gives you confidence to succeed, so put in that effort if you can find the time. If you can't, make the time. It will show on stage.

Third, stand your ground and own your stage. If you saw the video, Susan Boyle had to stand there on TV being ridiculed, laughed at and forced to tell her age to millions. Now I know if she was a lousy singer, we would not be talking about her now. I realize that her talent has a lot to do with her success that night. But her presence was there ahead of her talent. To my mind, she won the day before she had ever sung a note because she had the guts to stand there and hear snickers and laughter directed at her and she didn't flinch. She owned her space and did not relinquish her personal power to the judges or the audience - the magical power of knowing that she belonged there.

There are famous and accomplished people who don't have Susan Boyle's presence. The good news is that they can - if they just would try. The best news about the new Boyle's Law is that all us can stand in front of an audience and look like we belong there. We simply need to befriend our butterflies, practice out loud, and stand our ground in the face of adversity.

Whether singing or speaking, presence counts!

Bravo Susan. You rocked the house!

Postscript to our last post - Larry Summers did it again. On Fox News Sunday (4/26/2009) he appeared again on video feed like the week before on Meet the Press. Chris Wallace never laid a glove on him.

Good show Larry. Keep up the good work!

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