I am writing this as the world mourns David Bowie.
Something Bowie said reminded me about the dichotomy that we all face, in public speaking, between “performing” and being “authentic.”
Many of my clients come to me because they are deterred from speaking by their fear of “performing” this thing called public speaking, fear of not adequately meeting some set of criteria, and of losing their self and their real message in that performance. .
Many of you will know how much of a struggle the dichotomy has been for me. I spent many years entering (and winning my fair share) of public speaking competitions. It is a world unto itself, competitive public speaking, bound by rules, and it involves speaking knowing that one is being judged (a nervous beginner’s worst nightmare, and daunting for the old hands as well!).
So for all those years I operated within that world and its rules, doing well, but constantly feeling the weird dislocation of communicating with an audience via a strict set of guidelines.
It has been incredibly liberating to give up the concept of being judged as a performer.
But still the dichotomy remains – authenticity is vital and yet performance has to be factored in. They must still be in balance.
And for me, and for many others like me, there is also the strange “lure” of performance, threatening to pull that balance awry in a different direction.
Two “events” that have crossed my path in the last couple of weeks have really highlighted this “lure” of performance.
The death of David Bowie was one but before that …
You might also be aware of my interest/obsession (!) with Outlanders, the series of books … and with the TV series, how it is being made …
and with the lead actor who is a consummate professional on and off stage.
(The fact that his good looks are highlighted at every opportunity doesn’t hurt either, but it’s not the main source of my interest.!)
The image below is from an Instagram post. He has had to work out to create the build of the character, Jamie. But he is also very involved in charities and one program he runs is a fitness/goal achievement challenge from which the funds go to one of those charities. In the course of this fundraising he has had to endure photo shoots for a cross-fit magazine, to promote this fundraiser.
When you finish enjoying what he has achieved in terms of the physique, maybe you can read the text …
and see that possibility – of creating a performance, or a mask, behind which to hide the real you.
Where would you say this lies on the spectrum between authenticity and performing?
The second event, was the demise of David Bowie – a shock to the world. He was an icon of our age. Meant so much to so many people for so many reasons. He strummed our pain. He gave us possibilities outside our squares. He provided sheer entertainment and amazing music. He stimulated our creativity. He gave us solace.
Many of us are now listening to his latest and final recording for the hints he embedded about his attitude to life … and to death.
Even at the end, he was orchestrating his life. In 1976 he told Playboy “I’ve now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been and will be.”
We are now looking back at the latest album, at the quotations, and connecting the dots back from the death of an icon. And in my efforts to do just that I found this quote which I put into a graphic.
Both of these beautiful, thoughtful, creative professionals, expressing the concept of a separate persona or mask in order to perform or “expose” oneself.
So there it is …
and while I do see performance as a lure, mindful as I am of lingering memories of old experiences, I also find in it support for my theory that
introverts make the best speakers!
And the dichotomy remains!
After lots of experience and deliberation, and now these two events, I have reached this …
that the compromise between performance and being yourself comes, I think, down to two things –
being your best self
and playing the game with your audience.
What do you think?
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