Oscars Night….great speech, or just an act?

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You might expect actors to be completely comfortable making acceptance speeches, as there is a widely held assumption that they are masters in the art of public speaking.

I find myself drawing breath when I hear this, because I generally disagree, and point to evidence from previous ceremonies and cringe worthy acceptance speeches to back up my argument.

To be fair, it depends how you measure success. In business, I believe that engaging an audience with humility and then gaining trust is key, followed by the ability to generate understanding and followership. At Black Isle we call this the journey “from interesting to compelling…. to remarkable”.

Acting vs Authenticity

It’s all about authenticity, and the reason many actors struggle in this regard is simple. If you want to engage authentically with an audience then you need to develop a different set of skills from those you have learned in order to pretend to be someone else. They aren’t the same techniques. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are at acting, the toughest part you will ever play is being yourself.

For a major part, great actors will often rehearse scenes for weeks, spend hours getting “in role”, even change body shape, in order to convince an audience that they are that different character. The results are often amazing and extremely credible. Performances are stunning and worthy of recognition.

Once you have won the award, the requirement to “be yourself” in front of a live audience of friends, peers and industry heavyweights at a major awards ceremony is a totally different challenge. This is an environment where you will want to engage your friends and colleagues in an genuine way under significant stress. The adrenaline rush created by being “in the spotlight” will generate fight or flight responses, prevent you from being yourself, and stop you having a relaxed conversation with your audience. Actors are in exactly the same situation as business people in this regard, there are few who really know how to reproduce their relaxed, conversational style under pressure.

People Buy Authenticity

So – if you are a business leader and you want to be a better speaker, don’t fall into the same trap and allow yourself to be coached by actors in acting methods. If you do, when you speak to your clients, staff or investors then at best they will think you are a reasonable actor. However, they probably won’t trust you and be your clients for ever, they probably won’t buy into your ideas and execute your strategy with total commitment and they probably won’t remember much of what you actually said either.

Before you watch this year’s Oscars have a quick look back at a couple of acceptance speeches from last year. Then ask yourself – are my skills as a leader as good as they should be when I speak under pressure, or am I just an actor?