This post was written by Amy Fenollosa, Director of Learning at The Latimer Group
I’ve been presenting in front of large audiences for most of my career. I’m comfortable speaking on the stage, but other than a role in the 5th grade class play, I haven’t explored acting.
Last month, I had the chance to take my turn on the stage in a local charitable event. As part of an annual fundraiser in the small summer community we visit, the residents perform a show called the Wax Works. A local tradition for more than 50 years, the event creates a series of tableaux depicting scenes from history, literature, the arts and pop culture. Like Madame Tussauds wax museums, the volunteer cast members are dressed in costumes and posed as wax figures. Performances are held throughout the day during which a narrator ties the tableaux together with a unifying theme. This year’s theme was “A Familiar Ring…” Alongside a dozen scenes ranging from The Lord of the Rings, to the nursery rhyme “Ring around the roses”, to the Olympic Rings, and Ringling Brothers Circus, I posed as part of a Spy Ring. I played Peggy Shippen, the wife of Benedict Arnold, in the performances throughout the day.
When the lights are dimmed the figures must pose motionless, as the audience files into the small community space. The master of ceremonies begins with a reminder about the power of illusion — that although the figures may appear lifelike and even look familiar, they are made entirely of wax. And so the show continues with volunteers posing in their positions, dressed as characters in silent scenes, frozen like the figures in a wax museum. As the narrator makes his way through the tableaux describing the scenes, each of the characters must hold entirely still for their two or three minutes in the spotlight.
As I tried desperately not to move or even blink while the light shone on me, I was more conscious than ever about the impact of our body language. I thought about the role I was playing, as a woman in the late 1780s, conspiring with her husband, an American General, to aid the British during the American Revolution. I was directed to lift my chin and look into the distance. One of the directors told me to think defiance, another wistful for the future. How do we silently convey these emotions through our body language alone?
A slight shift in my position on the stool, the tilt of my head, and the set of my jaw changed the image that I portrayed. As I sat perfectly still and listened to the narrator tell the tale of my scene, I focused on the feeling I wanted to convey. In the classes we teach, we help our clients improve their presentation skills through authenticity. One of the keys to powerful delivery is really showing the feeling behind your message.
The next time you present, consider the message your body language portrays. Are your words in alignment with your body language? Or does your message conflict with the delivery? Think of the minute adjustments we make, often unknowingly. Just a change in your posture, the slight shift of your jaw or the tilt of your head can reveal how you feel; be sure you’re conscious of your body language, so that it helps you deliver your message effectively.
None of us wants to come across as frozen in wax — show your enthusiasm, concern, or passion through your body language. And be grateful that your time on the stage doesn’t involve absolute stillness!