Keys to Giving a Truly “Live” Performance

When an actor performs in a play for the 10th, 100th or 1,000th time, he or she must create the illusion that this is the first time they have given this performance. The same holds true for anyone giving a presentation. Here are four keys to keeping your performance fresh.

When I teach presentation skills to professional people–either in a seminar or through my personal coaching–I explain the long-standing theatre phrase, “Illusion of the First Time.” Here’s the meaning: When an actor performs in a play for the 10th, 100th or 1,000th time, he or she must create the illusion that this is the first time the actor has said these words, used these gestures and facial expressions or thought these thoughts. Superlative actors create this response, no matter how many times they repeat what they have done previously.

Recently, I watched piano genius Marty Henne perform his one-hour show, featuring marvelous music and his informative commentary about George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and other musical giants. Check his Web site:

Marty and I were traveling together aboard the Regatta, a luxury ship on the Oceania Cruise Line. Marty was the featured entertainer, and I was the Special Enrichment Lecturer.

Now, back to Marty’s show. I had attended the same show when Marty performed on the Radisson Diamond Cruise Ship, where I was also speaking, fifteen months previously. Although Marty’s act on the Regatta was practically identical word-for-word as what I heard more than a year ago on the Diamond, the Regatta audience felt that his words, nonverbal communication and songs were spontaneous.

At breakfast the next morning, Marty and I agreed that speakers must establish the same “it’s happening now for the first time” liveliness. Keep this in mind next time you face an audience, especially when you are delivering a message you have given previously. The message may be old to you, yet remember that it is totally new for these listeners–and must appear new. They will quit listening if they sense a rerun, yet will remain highly attentive when you speak energetically, with the same zest you would use in sharing good news with a close friend.

How do you achieve this aura of freshness? Consider these four steps:

  • Select a topic that captivates you, one you will continue to be excited about after hours of preparation.
  • Do not memorize your speech. You will sound like a reciter, rather than an individual who wants to share his thoughts convincingly.
  • Focus on remembering and sharing key words and major points. The exact wording is not all that important. Your listeners will want to get the impression you are speaking “off the cuff,” although you have prepared thoroughly.
  • Picture yourself having a conversation with an individual, and speak like that to your audience–which is nothing more than a collection of individuals. Marty Henne made this statement during our breakfast conversation, and I agree.

By following these guidelines, you will give your audiences the “illusion of the first time” that they expect, deserve and will applaud.

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