How to find your own “voice.”
Those of you who read my American Idol post know read about the crucial importance of finding your own voice. Thanks to a wonderful email from a budding magician and his questions, I have a follow up to that post. His question, in a nut shell, was: “Ok, that’s fine. How do we find our own voice?”
He asked about coaching, studying pros, etc.
Ok, since you asked, here are Brad’s Top Three Tips for Finding Your Own Voice in your pursuit of professional speaking, presenting, or entertaining.
1. TIME. Know that it takes time. Perhaps a lot of time. Maybe even years. I know, this is not what you wanted to read, but it is true. You just gotta do it a bunch. There is no substitute for stage time. Find a place to “practice” your craft, and get started. It could be working on the street as a street performer, working in a lousy theater, doing Career Track — if you want to be a professional public speaker — or whatever. I first started working at the Colorado Renaissance Festival and that experience was invaluable. As was a three month period (that felt much longer) doing 190 shows at a comedy theater in Tennessee. Find a place and get started.
2. WORK. Know that real success is more about YOU than it is about your material. Johnny Carson is a great example of a guy who is just not that funny when you see his stuff written down. But when you saw him live there was no mistaking his likability. He was charming, likable, and very funny. Therefore his stuff became funny.
And it takes time. Lots of time. Before Carson has his own show, he worked hard and paid some dues. Unless you’re a natural genius, you’ll have to do that too.
3. FEEDBACK. Unless you are doing a character (like Charlie Chaplin or Las Vegas Magician Mac King) you should be doing a bigger version of yourself. After years of experience, when I’m on stage before an audience it is just a bigger, louder, more-prepared version of the guy I am the rest of the time. Sure, I’m a bit bigger and louder. And more silly. And funnier. But mostly I’m the same guy. And the day I “got” this point was the day my career really started to take off.
How do you test this skill? Glad you asked. Do your show or presentation and then record it. Get you spouse, kids, neighbors or best pals to look at the tape and to honestly tell you if the YOU they see on tape is the same YOU they live with. If they say anything like, “That laugh is weird,” or “Your voice sounds funny,” or, “your timing and cadence seems different” then you have some work to do.
The best compliment they can offer you is that you are EXACTLY the same on stage as off.
If you have an accent, talk fast or slow, etc. and you DON’T take that characteristic with you on stage you’ll be found out. And the audience will not suffer frauds. Be yourself.
(Sure, top flight actors can change the way they come across, but be honest; are you really a top flight actor? And even if you are, you clients are hiring you… the real you. They want an authentic, real person on their stage, and it is your challenge to give them just that. (Only, as I mentioned above, don’t forget that you can be authentic and very well prepared at the same time.)
So, in answer to that question from that magician’s question: no…. I’m not sure that studying the “character” of famous film actors (or comedians, or magicians, or public professional speakers) really helps. In fact I think it might be confusing. If you study them for character you might accidently adopt some of them in yourself.
(I’m a huge fan of studying comedians, speakers and other entertainers, but just let them soak in. Don’t take their character or it will end up making you bi-polar.)
In the end, this task of finding the REAL US to put on stage is probably the most difficult part of being a top notch presenter. It ain’t easy. In fact, it’s hard. Very hard. A few people come to it naturally, and start their performing career with a natural, likable and genuine version of themselves. (I didn’t …. it took me years of pushing along to even get close.) But for must of us, the answer is lots of stage time, honest feedback, and hard work.
Now…. if you want me to help with that, sure, I do presentation skills coaching all the time and love it. Let me know if you want to go to that level.
But for the rest of you…. be yourself!
Check out what I do for a living — as myself! — at my main site here.
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