My Great “Aha!”

In 1978 I took a course in Public Speaking. I was surprised by how nervous the other students were in the class. Suddenly I had an idea: I thought about Stanislavski’s method for changing behavior. I felt that if you could transform a clumsy self-conscious actor into an elegant gentleman, you could also change the behavior of a person who was afraid to speak in public. I was intrigued by the possibility and so I started working on a Public Speaking Program.

Creating various exercises, I tried to extract the essence of the Stanislavski training so that it could be useful for a person who was not an actor. Having studied these principles, I had an excellent background for taking on this project. I came to believe that studying the training an actor receives for portraying a character will not give us a complete understanding of how the Stanislavski approach is able to produce such remarkable results. By this I mean that as I compared the professional actor on the stage to the nervous speaker making a presentation, it became very clear that acting before an audience is much more complex than I had imagined. 

For example, when we carefully observe an actor on the stage, we see that actors have performance skills as well as acting skills. Acting skills enable an actor to behave in character by taking on the emotional and physical qualities of a character. This is how a role is created. On the other hand, performance skills enable actors to concentrate, move freely, and speak fluently with confidence as they present their roles to the audience. Even though I had worked for years as an actress, the idea of performance as a skill separate from acting was totally new to me. 

What is a Skill Anyway?

In order to acquire a skill like swimming, riding a bicycle or speaking in public, your brain must re-pattern itself by growing the neural pathways (wiring) for that particular skill. This happens when you deliberately perform certain movements over and over again in a specific order, like practicing scales on the piano. From these repetitive movements, your brain grows the neural patterns (via axons and dendrites) that produce chemicals, electrical signals and finally, impulses that allow you to execute that particular skill automatically. So, if performance is a skill, I had to ask myself, “What are the repetitive movements that a speaker must do to grow the neural patterning for the same control and concentration that an actor has on the stage?

Inventing different methods to get all of my students to work on focusing within (even the Type-A’s), I created uniform and systematic procedures for developing the ability to concentrate on your presentation when people were looking at you.  

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© 2000-2013 by Natalie H. Rogers

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