What Ignites an Audience?

The element that ignites an audience, whether you are an actor playing Hamlet, a politician giving a speech, or a CEO making a presentation — is energy.

Remember Martin Luther King speaking of his “dream” and of standing on “the mountain” seeing “the promised land” and you think of energy: spirit, power, vitality. His words, although magnificent, would not have affected us so profoundly had they not been charged with energy. Energy is the life force in us all so we resonate to it. King ignited his listeners in such a way that no one who heard that speech will ever forget it.

Imagine a Van Gogh on the wall of a room that is so dark you cannot see the painting. Then someone switches on a light and immediately you are able to see the canvas’s bright colors and captivating forms. Switching on the light is like charging a speech with your energy. If the speech is also well written and well spoken it will ignite your listeners and emblazon itself on their minds, sometimes forever.

But life can be complicated, hectic, and stressful and it is easy to lose touch with your energy, that elemental force within. It can become blocked, even deeply buried. Or, either just before or while public speaking, fears or inhibitions can suddenly surface that cut off its current and disconnect you from it. There are, however, various mental, physical and vocal exercises that can prevent this.

One of our actor-trainers coached a young CEO who was terrified of public speaking but was soon to make the most important speech of his career. He was very conscious of his image in the world and afraid of “making a fool” of himself so he was playing it close to the vest, rehearsing it without energy, in a listless monotone. Public Speaking Training by Broadway Actors tailors its work to the individual. In this instance, after trying several approaches, his trainer finally suggested he ham it up. He told him, “This isn’t the way you’re going to do it when you give the speech — but for now throw caution to the winds –“overact” like crazy — take every word and gesture to the limit.” In the beginning the CEO was timid but eventually he was leaping around the studio, gesticulating and delivering the speech in zany and exaggerated ways, even singing and hollering, and enjoying it. Finally, the trainer said, “You think you’re exaggerating and of course you are — you’re being hammy — but the colors you’re giving the words and the energy you’re investing them with right now is a lot closer to what’s needed than what you were doing before. And by the way, what’s so terrible about making a fool of yourself? It’s fun, isn’t it?” The exercise had unblocked the CEO’s energy through its unconventional physicality which loosened him up physically and mentally, and by his trainer helping him get over the fear of appearing foolish by encouraging him to behave as foolishly as possible. When at last he gave his speech it was a success.

As the great actress Sarah Bernhardt put it, “Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

Copyright 2007 Broadway Actors