What an Acting Coach Taught Me About Public Speaking

This is a guest post by Brian Owen. He is the discipleship pastor at Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church in Katy, Texas. His blog is here and you can follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The great acting teacher Sanford Meisner defined acting as “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” But for many of us who communicate before an audience, whether as pastors, executives, educators, or lawyers, the temptation is to do the opposite, to act imaginarily under truthful circumstances.

Young Actor About to Start a Scene - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MicroWorks, Image #15438308

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MicroWorks

Fueled by a legitimate desire to deliver a powerful message, we craft our words, our presentation, and our delivery to such an extent that the drive to do our best can actually rob us of sharing a genuine moment with an audience.

Meisner’s unique approach to acting focuses on cultivating a real response with a scene partner and allowing the genuine emotional reaction to shape the performance on stage. As a pastor, I wondered what actors trained in the Meisner technique would say to those of us who practice public speaking.

During a recent question and answer session on the Meisner technique of acting, I asked Houston based acting coach and Meisner technique expert Kim Tobin what public speakers could learn from this method of acting. This is what she suggested:

  • Be nervous. When you step before an audience, allow yourself to experience your nervousness. Allow yourself to feel. Shutting down your emotions in an attempt to “pull yourself together” will disconnect you from your audience. Suppressing your nervousness will also suppress other emotions that add life and authenticity to your message.
  • Make eye contact. Look at the audience members. Make a connection with them. See the people sitting before you. Allow the humanity of the experience of communicating with others to actually happen. Refuse to allow your fear of connection with another to keep you from making eye contact. Speakers often avoid eye contact to avoid the feeling of vulnerability that comes with standing before an audience. The cost of this avoidance is too great. It will rob you of real contact, reducing your impact and influence.
  • Take detours. More than likely, you know your material. You’ve written your outline, you’ve practiced; you’ve gotten familiar with the content. It’s okay to take a tangent every now and then. “Play” with your material.
  • Pause. Too many public speakers fail to realize the power and importance of not speaking at times. Allow the gravity and weight of what has been spoken to settle on your listeners.
  • Messing up isn’t a bad thing. Making a mistake simply makes you more human and provides your audience an opportunity to empathize with you and connect with you. They will become your biggest supporters as you refocus on your content and move forward.

Kim’s perspective highlights the reality of the moment that is occurring between a speaker and his or her audience. This moment is not a dispensing of information from an automated machine. It is not merely a performance nor is it an opportunity to offer a flawless moment of oration. This isn’t about a perfect moment of communication. This is about a genuine, authentic encounter between human beings.

Our ability to impact others is not simply a result of the words we deliver. Our very presence touches the life of another. When you prepare for your next message, give thought not simply to how you might craft a better delivery. Give thought to how you might more fully offer yourself as much as you offer your message.

Question: How might this advice from an acting coach shape your next public speaking opportunity? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    Thanks, Brian, for some pointers to think about in the matter of speaking. I so agree with your comment that our very presence touches lives when we speak. By putting our focus on giving our listeners something that will be positive in their lives, speaking becomes less about us and more about them.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      I agree with you, Patricia!

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        Me too!

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Absolutely.  It is so important to present ourselves, not just our information, when we communicate with others.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      Great thoughts!

  • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

    Thanks Brian for this remarkable insight into the connection between acting and speaking. It’s something new for me! I have never seen it from that angle.

    I especially like your fourth and fifth points. 

    * Take detours. I do prepare and follow a blueprint of my speech. But I enjoy ‘playing’ with my material. That brings life and freshness to the speaker as well as to the audience.

    * Pause.  I am amazed by its impact. Sometimes, it speaks volumes!

    Thanks Michael for this valuable guest post.

    • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

      You’re right about the pause, Joe. Speakers who master this bring influence to the message.

      • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

        It seems counter-intuitive for a speaker to say nothing, doesn’t it.  But it really can add weight to a message.

        • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

          That’s true, Brian. Even if it’s a short 3 minute speech, it works!

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon


      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        I had a professor in college who mastered this. Listening to him was a great privilege. 

        • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

          It’s a blessing Brandon to have great models!

        • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

          A lot of college professors are great at this! I know of mine are…

      • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

        True, Ben.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        Very true! It gives you time to think instead of blabbering off random thoughts that don’t flow well…

    • Anonymous

      I concur, especially with point 4 about the pause, and with Ben’s point about speakers who master it.
      I’ve sat under many presentations, and the ones that stick are where speakers have a good grasp of the pausing. But pausing that appears naturally (I guess that is the skill of “mastering it”), not pausing for the sake of pausing (those are dead give aways).

      Sadly, I’m not there yet, I’m in the category of pausing for the sake of pausing, or at least that’s how it seems to me when I’m attempting to put in pauses.

      Does anyone have tips on how to make pausing more natural?

      • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

        Dan, one way to make pause more natural is to first identify which are those major points or phrases you want your audience to remember even after your speech. And when you present those during your speech, give a subsequent short pause. This will help them grasp the ‘weight’ of its meaning and ‘digest’ it.

        There are many examples of this kind in the book of Psalms. Here’s one from Psalm 24:10 – “Who is [He then] this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah [pause, and think of that]!” (AMP)

        Hope this helps you. Go ahead, Dan. You can do it!

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Loved the information Brian.

    Point 1 and 5 are the two I find most valuable and that most people are unwilling to feel/do.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      I agree.  We don’t want to “look bad” but our efforts to “look good” can make us appear less human…not good.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon


  • http://charlielyons.ca Charlie Lyons

    Great thoughts here, Brian. Thank you. I was thinking about the next time I have on the calendar to speak and was already planning ways to apply what you have written. Thank you again. Blessings!

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Your welcome.

      • http://charlielyons.ca Charlie Lyons

        * You’re


        • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen


          • http://charlielyons.ca Charlie Lyons

            lol, no biggie. All of us do it at one point or another. Blessings, man, and thanks again for a great post.

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    Nice ideas. My daughter is learning the craft of theatre so I’ll ask her for more insight. When I speak to large groups I imagine I’m speaking to a single person on a one-to-one basis (learned that from Walter Cronkite). I create an idea of who they are and what value they are looking for. And, that I’m actually talking with them at a kitchen table. That allows me to be passionate. I also don’t worry about persuading everyone in the group about my perspective becasue you simply can’t – better to help the ones who ‘get’ your message to be inspired and go do something with what they learn. This allows me to be, I think, quite theatrical. It’s fun.     

    • http://www.struggletovictory.com Kari Scare

      I like this tip a lot. I need to move from pretending I’m looking into people’s eyes (I have a bad habit of avoiding this by looking at the bridge of the nose instead) to connecting with individuals, and I think this tip will help me to do that.

      • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

        I like this tip as well.  I’ll have to practice it the next time I speak.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      That’s a great idea!

    • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

      Since I appear to be on a roll…I also use a comedian’s audience engagement idea. I think this came from either Bill Crosby or Robin Williams. He is reported to have started his sessions with three different kinds of jokes. Whichever they laughed at most became the theme of his jokes for the evening. In other words, he did what worked for that audience.  
      I use lots of audience engagement techniques – they should be working as hard as I am – but, I always start by asking something like, ‘how do you see this speech / session being useful to you?’. 
      You have to embrace silence while some brave soul or two thinks and then gives an answer. Once I have two or three of them, I know where to place emphasis. This sometimes calls for improvisation, but at least I know I’ll be working on what interests them. This question can do no harm because, if nothing else they will feel acknowledged.    

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    I wonder what advice a Method expert would give to public speakers.  Probably to sit on a chair and relax for five hours before stepping up to the lectern. 

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      Maybe so…

  • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

    I agree with the statement that messing up is not a bad thing. Although, I think it messing up becomes a bad thing if it is tied to a lack of preparation.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Absolutely. Messing up due to sloppy prep work isn’t good.  And lack of connection due to over the top preparation isn’t good either.  

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      True! Everyone messes up, but if you mess up because you are unprepared, it is a different story…

  • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

    Hey Brian,
    If messing up, getting nervous, going on tangents, make a great public speaker, then I must be the greatest speaker to ever live! Ha! Just kidding! This is really good advice! Sometimes when I speak in front of a large group I assume I have to be perfect an not authentic! Authenticity always wins the day!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      This is a difficult truth for me to grasp but I have seen it to be true for so many speakers! 

    • Anonymous

      Great advice, Barry.  I remember my “messups” a little too clearly myself.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon


    • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

      True, Barry. Authenticity over a cheap rip-off always.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

    I really enjoyed this post!  Being nervous really does give you an adrenaline boost that helps you excel. And the power of the pause is something I’m finally getting comfortable with. At first that little “empty” spot scared me, but now I realize when I blow through material, it doesn’t have time to settle with the listeners.

    Great post, Brian.

  • Anonymous

    Completely agree.  I know that when I am well-prepared, I have the freedom to hear from the Spirit as I speak and give to the audience “in the moment.”  Thank you!

  • http://www.struggletovictory.com Kari Scare

    For me, the point that I need to work on the most is making eye contact. I used to teach basic speach at our local community college, and I taught students how to stare at the bridge of a person’s nose instead of directly into their eyes. For first-time speakers (Most of the students were VERY nervous. One couldn’t even finish her first speach.), this technique works well. What I realized from this post, however, is that as someone who has spoken to groups many times, I need to move beyond that basic technique. I need to work on making genuine eye contact to allow me to better connect with my audience and to have more of an impact as a result. That is so hard for my introverted personality, but the “Walter Cronkite tip” in Alan’s comment will help me do this. I’m going to work on it anyway!

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Making eye contact has been a tough hurdle for me as well. Like many of your students, I was terrified the first few times I spoke.

  • http://twitter.com/saltandclay Sarah Beckman

    Thank you Michael!  I am a DCW Trained speaker, like yourself, and I am speaking today on the Christmas message (you can be a gamechanger by following the examples of 3 biblical people) I am nervous – always!  And this helps me affirm what I have learned over the years – the audience isn’t looking for perfection or just pure entertainment.  they are looking for truth. meaning. authenticity.  when I am perfectly polished or try to fully memorize my talk, people have given the feedback (like my husband) that “Sarah is missing” So I use the DCW framework to be sure I am crystal clear about where I’m going, but I do always leave room for the HS to move in my illustration – sometimes I think I’m going to do one and during my talk I do another!  I needed this today – as I’m unusually nervous and God brought this post as a reminder that he’s in charge…and I’m just a color commentator.  Blessings for a Merry Christmas

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The SCORRE method makes it so much easier, doesn’t it? I use it all the time.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the affirmation of authenticity as presenters. But I have two questions:
      What is “DCW trained”?
      What is the “SCORRE method” that Michael referred to?

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        It stands for Subject. Central Theme. Objective. Rationale. Resources. Evaluation. It is part of the Dynamic Communicators Workshop (DCW). Actually I think it’s called the SCORRE conference or something like that now. I know Mr. Hyatt has written about it before. He wrote about it a little in his post on how to write a blog post in 70 minutes. http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-write-a-blog-post-in-70-minutes-or-less.html I’m sure there are better references to it but I can’t remember where.

        • Anonymous

          Brandon, thanks for the reply and the link to the blog post.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Yes, it is now called The SCORRE Conference. It is awesome—if I don’t say so myself!

        • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

          Oh…what is SCORRE from?

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        Yeah…what is it?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Check the website I linked to above. Thanks.

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            Awesome! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/saltandclay Sarah Beckman

    sorry, I just realized Brian wrote this – as a guest on Michael’s blog!  No disrespect meant, Brian!  Great post – and thanks for the insights! 

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Thanks Sarah. You’re right…when we aim for perfection, audiences declare us “MIA.”  So glad this was helpful.

  • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

    thank you!

  • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

    thank you!

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I am an Audio Book aficionado. I love to listen to novels read by excellent narrators. They can truly bring a powerful story to life. The secret is good writing, read with passion and vocal variety. One of the best narrators that I know is Dick Hill. He has read for popular authors such as Lee Child and Michael Connelly. When he gets to an action scene, he can bring you into the story better than a Technicolor movie. His words grip you, and your imagination explodes.

    That is what great speakers do on stage. They take well crafted words and act them out with power and emotion. They bring their characters to life. One of the best things a public speaker can do is take an acting  or improv course. The best speakers are really actors in disguise.

    If you want to improve your speech, add a well planned story. Short, action oriented sentences pick up the pace, while powerful descriptors paint us a picture. Bring us in with emotion and add pauses to bring on suspense. Finish off the scene with a call to action.

    A  truly moving story will capture your audience and help them remember your speech long after you leave the stage.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      A  truly moving story will capture your audience and help them remember your speech long after you leave the stage.

      True that!

  • http://twitter.com/sleestac Paul Martin

    The pause is the best thing I learned early as a speaker. This realization came to me while taking Jazz improv classes. I was trying to fill all the space with notes. A sax player advised me to pause through breaths, like a wind player. Playing like this gives natural breaks in phrases. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it works well for speaking too.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      Wow! Jazz? that’s impressive!

      • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

        That’s right, Paul. Mastering the pause gives the audience a chance to breathe.

  • AspenCoach

    Appreciate this blog on public speaking. Would love more blogs on this subject as I am a speaker myself http://www.AspenCoach.net. Most helpful tip for me: Allowing myself to feel what I feel. Not suppressing nervousness will allow my other emotions to shine as well.

  • http://www.madlyinlove.org Mark

    Thanks Brian.  I particularly appreciate your first and last points.  Re the first:  I have made it a habit when I get up to speak to purposely take a few extra moments to spread my notes around and set up without speaking, then look at my audience and smile – to keep my nervousness from gaining control over me.  Re the last point:  I recently heard a speaker at an all day seminar for about 600 people and noticed several things that didn’t go well but he pressed on.  He also wasn’t that impressive of a speaker – BUT he did have a few great things to say. I took from that – when I speak I don’t have to be spot on 100% of the time.  If I have a few really good things to say, maybe even just one – people will be glad they came.

    • Anonymous

      I’m reminded of a recent presentation that I heard that is just the opposite of your experience.  The guy did a great job in terms of information, but it came across as a little staged.  It was a speech that I’m sure he’s used multiple times, and it showed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Derek-Johnson/100002228041272 Derek Johnson

    Mr. Hyatt, my wife and I recently moved from Reno to Nashville on a total faith move.  Mainly to be close to our mothers who are getting older.  We are 40.  I have served in several leadership capacities for non-profits and was wondering if you know of any employment opportunities around this area?  I have been searching for what God is doing for a month now.  615-278-9969

    I love your emails and read them religiously!  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry. Thanks for being a reader!

  • Deborah Lovett

    Being a ‘drama queen’ by nature, and a speaker by profession, I can totally agree with the suggestions in this blog Michael. These things that are just human, are what bring us endorsements like “vulnerable, contagious, genuine…” which are much preferred to in this day and age than “perfect, polished and pretty.”  Great reminder to keep it real!

  • Anonymous

    This parallels my experience.  I’ve always used several pages of notes in my sermons.  Lately, I’ve been trying to prepare more ahead of time, but take fewer notes into the pulpit with me.  It seems more spontaneous, honest, and natural.  (Still scares me every time, however.)

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Acck!  That’s gutsy.  And great.  

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    This is unlike any list I have seen on speaking. Thanks for this! I always want to make sure I am engaging the audience and showing them me in the process. This is very helpful!

  • http://lesdossey.com Les Dossey


    Love the insights. I just finished reading several books by Eric Morris, another well known acting coach. Both Meisner and Morris point to just simply being human. I like that!

    I would add . . 

    I like to make sure that whatever I’m talking about resides within my heart. If the deposit has been made, then from the deposit I can make a withdraw.

  • Anonymous

    I really like her concept of making eye contact enabling the humanity of the experience. In my classes, which are generally single day sessions, I take the time to have each student introduce themselves and tell me what they want to take away from the class (why are they there). I use these introduction as a means of honing my skills at remembering their name and I usually engage each student asking a clarifying question about what they said. This enhances the name recognition, so that when all of the students (numbers range from 10 – 30) are finished, I go around the room at random calling out their name, which communicates to the class as a whole: a) I listened, b) I’m engaged with them. I find that after that exercise, I have them in the palm of my hand. They’re ready to listen to whatever I’ll say. I say “ready” because now the real work begins: I have to deliver something.

    That is where the intro session is crucial; I’ve had each student tell me what they are wanting to take away from the class. This is akin to a salesperson asking a customer: “What are you wanting to buy?” Instead of telling them what they are selling. The salesperson(instructor) who takes the time to find out what the customer(student) wants, will be much more successful in making sales(educating students). Now that I know what my students want, I (to use Kim’s words) “play” with my material and deliver the knowledge that addresses each student’s need.

    When I “discovered” this technique, accidentally because I was nervous (another of Kim’s tips, although I didn’t know that at the time I thought it was a weakness), I went from being a book teacher to a skills teacher. One of my greatest gifts in teaching is the phrase: “That’s an excellent question, I wish I knew the answer, if we have time at the end of the class, we’ll play with google and see if we can discover the answer together.”

    So, Kim’s bang on: 
    Be nervous; it reveals your own humanity and people relate to humans not machines.
    Make eye contact or whatever it take to enable the human connection
    Know your material enough so you can take detours and play.
    Be the first to admit you don’t know everything. Being an expert is not the same as being a know-it-all. People listen to experts they tune out “know-it-alls”.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Good thoughts Dan.  I really like your ideas on listening and knowing your students by name.  One of the greatest gifts we can give to someone is to focus our attention on them and listen to them.  No wonder they are ready to listen to you.

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    Actually I am ACTING tomorrow night. My first Debut in our Church Christmas production of “The Nutcracker Suite” . I’m going to try this. I am nervous and excited. I am ready and totally unprepared. I can’t wait! This was timely advice for me. Here are the details


    I don’t think I’m going to get much sleep tonight, but at least I have been able to take in some great advice.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Break a leg!

      My wife as an actress and once, before a big show, when she was over-the-top nervous, one of her acting teachers quipped, “Remember Tracy, it’s a play, not a torture!”

      • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

        It went so well!!!

  • http://www.jeffvankooten.com Jeff Vankooten

    When I was in seminary in Denver, my preaching professor was Dr. Haddon Robinson, one of the finest preachers and instructors on the art in the nation. When the time came for the senior preaching awards, the nominees each gave a sermon during chapel. I was surprised to see how many of them tried to be little Haddon Robinson clones, because, hey, he was the best so lets become like him. They’re authentic self wasn’t being delivered. Authenticity on stage is so critical to the impact of the speech on the audience.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      So true. How many pastors are trying to be a ___________ (insert well-known pastor of choice) instead of being themselves.

  • http://www.chrisbranscome.com Chris Branscome

    What if you’re so accustomed to being in front of an audience that you no longer feel nervous? 

    As a music leader at a church, I have absolutely found that your last point rings true, for musicians, actors, and speakers alike.  There has been at least one time when I forgot where we were in a song, and missed a key change that the other singers were expecting, and just had to shut down the song.  Just a few weeks ago, we were beginning a song that starts big, and I had my capo in the wrong place, so I was a half step off from everyone else.  The resulting sound was nasty.  There have been other instances (though fortunately not many).

    In each case, if I allow myself to laugh at it, and admit what happened, the rest of the people laugh along with me.  People know when you’ve messed up.  You’ll lose more respect by trying to cover an obvious mistake than by merely making a mistake.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      I rarely get nervous too Chris.  But I’ve been asking myself lately, “why..at what cost?”  

      Kim’s advice to make eye contact really challenged me.  That kind of connection makes me feel exposed and well…nervous. 

      And you’re right about admitting your mistakes and laughing about it with your audience.  I think it actually endears the audience to the one on stage.

  • http://myownknitting.blogspot.com Kelli James

    I appreciate the advice to feel your nerves. That makes so much sense! If I’m shutting down and trying to mask nervousness, I’m putting a mask on my authenticity as well.

    I’m working on developing my own blog and have been doing lots and lots of reading on how to do that. One of the things that has really been standing out to me is that it’s a conversation, that its not really about me as a writer, it’s about my readers. It’s about what I can do to serve them. Sounds like it’s the same with public speaking.

     “Our very presence touches lives when we speak.” That is great encouragement for someone like me who tends to think I’m just bothering people! :)

  • Kerry Dexter

    thanks, Brian. I work with muscians, nd I’ve both learned and taught the points you make. great to see things from and actor’s and a pastor’s pont of view

  • Jhavins

    Thanks Brian, useful stuff!  Janice HH

  • http://www.hope101.net Lori Tracy Boruff

    Your comments released some pressure to be perfect as I develope as a speaker and radio host.  One thing that throws me off beat is silence when a laugh is expected. One audience can laugh when I expect, the next audience – dead silence.  OR  I do love eye contact with my audience but occassionally there is the yawner, sleeper, or  restless native in the audience. Sometimes that trips me up. Any thoughts in that area? Same thing must happen to actors :)

  • Edna King

    Like most people, public speaking was something I avoided until I had the opportunity to share my experience of having a small child with cancer. The chance to raise awareness and much needed funds for research gave me the courage I needed.

    The first time I did this, I was explaining bone marrow transplants to hundreds of high schoolers when I saw that some of them were giggling. I was a little shocked until I noticed that my daughter, the three year old bald cancer patient, was showing off her latest ballet moves while I was detailing the horrors of high dose chemotherapy. She was smiling at the kids and making lovely poses while l had been looking scared and sad.

    I loved the way she showed those kids that she had overcome cancer without losing her grace and joy. I think that little dance inspired them more than anything I had to say.

    Even though I’m still a little nervous and my daughter’s story can be painful to share in front of a group, the opportunity to help others through public speaking is a joy for me and I’m grateful for the chance every time it comes.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      What a great story and example of the power of authentic human connection.

  • Anonymous

    Brian — Good post! Be yourself, be authentic (if you’re nervous, be nervous), be present!

    You might consider taking a class in Improv comedy. (I used to be in an improv group). Variations on the same lessons you’ll learn are:

    • Say yes to everything — a big rule in Improv is that, if someone introduces a new piece of information you have to deal with it — you can’t just deny it. As far as public speaking goes, this might mean “drafty room? Yes!” “Hostile audience? Good, let’s flip them!” etc.

    • “Only the truth is funny” — Jokes don’t work in Improv, but introducing a bold (funny) piece of truth into a scene is dynamite.

    • Include the audience in the show — Every Improv show features scenes where the actors invite suggestions from the audience. The actors are judged on the honesty and cleverness they use to work these suggestions into the scene. Nothing is more bracing than hearing an actor (or a speaker) shift from a canned presentation to “this place, this audience, right here, right now”

    Thanks again!

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Great thoughts. Thank.

    • http://www.SpencerMcDonald.net Spencer McDonald

      Interesting idea to take a class in improv. Thanks for prompting my mind.

  • http://dustinstout.com Dustin W. Stout

    As an actor and speaker I can attest to these points being right on! My years at acting school have prepared me more for speaking than any class or seminar I’ve ever taken on speaking. Thanks for the reminders, Brian.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      I didn’t know you acted?

      • http://dustinstout.com Dustin W. Stout

        Yeah. I took a hiatus from acting when I went into Youth Ministry. It may be time to revisit it though…

        • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

          Gotcha! Was it just a regular acting class or musical theater type stuff?

          • http://dustinstout.com Dustin W. Stout

            It was a two-year acting conservatory – http://www.aada.org

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            Oh ok… I’m sure it was a great experience!

  • Anonymous

    I experienced something similar to this with the Creative Actor’s Workshop. The first time I went I got so scared I didn’t go back for two years. But, once I faced my fear there was no holding back. 

    Thanks for the great post!

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    Sorry. That last comment I was signed in under the wrong name. 

    I experienced something similar to this with the Creative Actor’s Workshop. The first time I went I got so scared I didn’t go back for two years. But, once I faced my fear there was no holding back. Thanks for the great post!

  • Anonymous

    “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”

    Interesting concept…and quite the opposite of how I have previously viewed the acting profession.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Swacholtz

    love this. I used to do public speaking but then focused more on suppressing fear and wound up not being able to remember my speech. I haven’t tried this out but I think being able to feel would prevent the freeze reaction.

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    Thank you for the tips!  I’ve never heard anyone advocate for feeling the nerves, but it makes sense!  I recorded a video last week and was probably too stiff…too busy trying NOT to be nervous.

    Reminds me of some pointers from John Maxwell in his book “Everyone Communicates, FEW CONNECT”.  He stresses being authentic and finding a style that lets you be you.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      That ios one of my favorite leadership books!

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    Great post! I think that public speaking makes everyone nervous, but it is one of those things you just have to get over…

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    *most of

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon


  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon


  • Ryan Jenkins

    Thx Mike!

  • http://twitter.com/jerburroughs Jeremy Burroughs

    Really great post. I love the point on be nervous. So often I try to drown out the nervousness. I will embrace it now! Thanks for the post!

    • http://www.SpencerMcDonald.net Spencer McDonald

      Even as a decent presenter I get nervous every time I stand in front of a crowd. I always have disastrous senarios running in my mind. And in the end everything works out just fine. It is my own fear that drives me. 

  • A 20 year Toastmaster

    The parts about eye contact and pausing are good, but if the nervousness shows too much it can make the audience anxious.  Most audiences want the speaker to do well and be at ease.  Also, tangents can detract from the message unless they are apropos to the subject.   You don’t want your audience to wonder “where on earth is  he going with this?”

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Good points here.  I would add though, that if the nervousness shows too little, or better yet, if the speaker appears too polished, it can make the audience feel disconnected from the presenter.  I’m not dismissing the importance of having a well-prepared, organized message, I am highlighting the significance of an authentic encounter between a speaker and his or her audience.

  • http://twitter.com/TammyRedmon Tammy Redmon

    Great post. It feels good to know that I have worked that list you gave well. Just spoke the other day to an audience of women on a topic that was tough – had them moving from laughter to tears all while taking detours on the path to message delivery. My greatest compliment received from speaking was from someone who I thought was the “master” and he raved about my story telling.

    Which would be my addition to your list- keep your audience seeing you as a real person, tell them good stories (about yourself).

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Good addition to the list:  telling stories about yourself helps an audience identify with you.

  • http://www.SpencerMcDonald.net Spencer McDonald

    Speaking to audiences is a drug for me. I love to adrenaline of being in command of the content and words creating energy and emotion in an audience. 

    When I was young and engaged in Toastmasters I had one of the seasoned members say to me, “Spencer, nobody knows what you’re going to say so if you totally mess it up the only one who knows is you.” That was great advice at the time.

    What I connected with in this post was the part about “Take a Detour.” Great advice. 

    You can use relevant information in your presentation to give it more life and a current flare. Also, just taking a moment to run rouge in your presentation might give it more energy or vibrance. I say take a chance and go on that detour. 

    Really nice words today Michael.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Thanks Spencer. I appreciate your encouraging words.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    I particularly appreciate the emphasis on making the connection with the audience. When we speak in public, we’re still speaking to people, to individuals, to human beings. Unless we can make the connection, we miss the point of public speaking.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      So true.

  • http://FollowingJesusSucks.org Shon Ridenour

    This is a fantastic post! I don’t do a a lot of public speaking, but I just recently performed my first wedding. I focused on doing many of the things you said, without even knowing what I was doing. In other words, I didn’t have your post to coach me before hand! :) But I knew I wanted to have a “genuine, authentic encounter between human beings.” After the ceremony, I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said that it was the best wedding ceremony they’d ever been to. Wow! So humbling! But it shows that everything you said in this post is so true!

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/2011/11/29/how-small-business-can-leverage-social-media-to-fight-back-against-their-big-business-competitors/ Ryan Hanley


    My first public speaking engagement of 2012 is in February… I really like #1, the idea of allowing yourself to be nervous and harnessing the energy for your presentation.  I’m going to use that…
    Excellent article!

    Thank you

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      You’re welcome!   Glad the article was helpful.

  • Diane Yuhas

    Excellent advice.  Good preparation, I might add, frees you to be fully present in the moment on stage.  Whether I’m teaching or speaking, I always shoot a little from the hip. 

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Interesting first point, a sit-up-and-say-what? piece of advice–be nervous. Okay, I think I can do that one.

  • http://www.noahlomax.com Noah Lomax

    Great tips! Seems so simple, but these definitely help keep the speaker authentic and connected.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Thanks Noah.

  • Eric Anderson

    I run a company that teaches presentation and communication skills to scientists and engineers. This was great. I wish I had had the advice this morning before my social media workshop. I have been doing this for 10 years, and I still learned something. I will remember to be nervous. Thanks

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Sorry I wasn’t posted sooner. :)  If there ever was an audience that could benefit from the insights of a left-brained, creative acting coach, it would have to be a group of scientists and engineers!

  • Anonymous

    These are some wonderful points, in which I will think about and apply.

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Thank you.

  • Sam Chittenden

    I really enjoyed your post, thank you.  These pointers for bringing all of who we are to presentations (and our relationships in general) are among those explored in The Mastery of Self Expression Workshops, run in the USA, Canada, UK and Israel.  Details on http://www.bethsomerford.com/Brighton_Mastery/About.html

    Warmest wishes
    Sam Chittenden

  • http://www.livesimplylove.com/ Merritt

    I loved this post! I’ve done a lot of public speaking (some has gone well and some has gone not so well probably b/c I’ve tried to be perfect and polished and missed the opportunity to be personable). This was really helpful advice that I hope to remember the next time there’s such an opportunity. Thanks! 

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      You’re welcome.  Glad it was helpful.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Uranga/100003173706165 Gary Uranga

    Eye contact is a very primal way of communication, this a is a great article on eye contact!

    I think Making eye Contact is one of those very basic ways of communicating and does wonders when it come to building confidence. It’s so important to learn to make good eye contact and communicate on a deeper level.


  • http://twitter.com/JustinHayslett Justin Hayslett

    Brian, Great post. The point that stuck with me was on pausing! I struggle with this; feeling like I need to fill the air whenever there is silence, or I need a drink of water. That’s usually when I say the stupidest stuff too!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the advice on public speaking. Many times I do the opposite. You have given me a new perspective. I should be experimenting these tips to improve myself. 

    • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

      Great!  Hope the tips help!

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  • http://sevensentences.com Geoff Talbot

    Thanks so much Brian,

    I spent three years training in the Meisner technique with one of Sandy’s pupils. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Transforming.

    It showed me sides of myself that a religious (but not truthful) me would usually keep covered up. It made me more empathetic, a better listener and a more honest and non-judgmental man.

    Thanks again for this excellent guest post!


  • http://twitter.com/rkinnick59 Randy Kinnick

    I read this a while back and just came back to give it a second look today.  Being a pastor/preacher and having some experience in acting over the years (college, church and community), I find the link between acting and public speaking quite significant.  Connecting with the audience and projecting a level of authenticity is crucial to a successful speaking event.

    I am currently mentoring a young man who is pursuing an acting career in Hollywood as well…these things are interesting to consider in that context as well.


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  • govinda panta

    thank you brian !

    thank again a great post

  • Owen Hemsath

    Michael- what advice do you have for getting better at public speaking? I’m not sure Im even at a place where an expensive conference would benefit (yet). What would be a good stepping stone to getting there? I speak a lot at local events and trainings but I spend too much time “warming up.” I almost NEVER get through all the content.

    How do I right an outline?
    How do I track my time?
    How do I engage more with the audience when they don’t answer questions?

    Any ideas?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, the best possible thing you could do is attend the SCORRE™ Conference. It will save you years of trying to learn on your own. It’s worth the investment. http://scorreconference.tv

      • Owen Hemsath

        Awesome, thanks for the feedback. I, gonna look more seriously at it

  • Geoff Owen

    For quite a while now I have been coaching business owners and entrepeneurs to ‘speak without words’…in that they allow themselves to speak only when they have something to say and in the moment…..rather than write out a speech, learn it word for word and deliver it like an automiton trying to sound spontaneous when the are not….very very stressful. Accepting your fear and getting used to that energy is a wonderful gateway to being fully present ….I have found. Great article and concur with all 5 valuabke points made here. thank you.