Offstage beat

The excellent public speaking coach and author, Nick Morgan, encourages speakers to do as actors do and master the offstage beat before beginning a presentation.

Actors are trained to get the emotion and perspective of their character fully in mind before walking on stage. If your character is angry in a scene, feel that emotion before you appear. If you’re supposed to be amused or confused or delighted or sad, find that state just before facing the audience. (Some actors have been known to inhabit their character’s personality for long periods off stage or throughout the filming of a movie. Heath Ledger’s Joker is a notable, maybe infamous, example.)

As someone who speaks regularly, I’ve sort of accidentally done this kind of mental preparation without being particularly intentional about it. However, since reading Morgan’s post, I have begun making a tiny ritual of capturing my offstage beat just before beginning a presentation. Before I go on I find a quiet place to be alone and put in mind just who I want to be when I begin my talk. I put my body in the posture I want to have and breathe deeply and smile and feel the emotion that is right for the occasion. I fill my mind with the happiest of thoughts and envision a deep connection with the audience. Then I can go on and hopefully begin with the energy and emotion I desire.

Doing this helps calm pre-talk jitters, too. If you’re focusing on the state you want to be in, it’s harder to dwell on your fears. Filling your mind with emotions you choose makes less room for unwanted anxiousness.

This is a good strategy for other situations as well. Before asking someone on a date or walking in to a job interview it would be wise to get yourself mentally and emotionally where you want to be.

I can even see myself doing this before working on a creative project or tackling a challenging task. What have my most productive flow states felt like, and what if I just acted like I was in such a state before sitting down at my computer? This would be the no-audience, no-stage offstage beat. 🙂

“All the world’s a stage”, right, so don’t feel there’s anything insincere about mastering your role in life’s grand play. Act like you are who you want to be, or need to be, and you just might become the character, the person you’ve only imagined yourself to be.