On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Failure II

I had several ideas for my posting today, but it has taken me until the end of my workday to make a firm decision on the topic. When all the pieces fell into place I was amused to see the title of last week's post: Failure. Little did I know when I wrote that piece that I would be confronting my own type of failure within days.

Since having my son I haven't been out auditioning as much as I had previous to his birth. Recently, I decided it was time to dive back in. So last week I balanced workshops at the university on presentation skills with auditions at several local theatre companies. Both the preparation and audition process were exhilarating, taxing, stimulating and exhausting all at once. No matter how much I reminded myself that the experience of auditioning should be the reward in itself, I found myself envisioning being offered the role I had auditioned for and having the opportunity to work with so many talented and creative people on such engrossing material. So it was no surprise that I felt a sense of failure later in the week when I was not offered the role.

I had hoped that the long break might have lessened the feelings of sadness over not being cast, but a very recognizable sense of loss was definitely apparent in my gut. I contemplated stopping there, not pursuing any more auditions. However, as the dullness dissipated my senses returned and I happened upon this quotation by Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic that counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marked by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm and great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

So, come on, let's get out there and FAIL VALIANTLY!!!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Art of Failure

What do we fear when we get up in front of an audience? Making a fool of ourselves, embarrassing ourselves, being heckled, having rotten tomatoes thrown at our feet, losing our clothes, the list goes on and on. Sometimes the list is completely irrational, but audiences are not always as generous as we would like them to be.

This past weekend, my sister-in-law turned forty and for the event my husband, her brother, helped to organize a wonderful surprise party. Now despite the fact that he runs a busy photography business, helps care for our two year old son, plays hockey and did two years worth of taxes he also thought he could manage creating a slide show telling the story of his sister's life, organize the caterers and fly a friend in from Utah for the event. All of this he miraculously accomplished in a little over a week's time. Several hours before the event; however, he had a brainstorm, he would also give an entertaining and informative speech! As he hung decorations, let the caterers in, and secured a babysitter he was searching the internet for quirky facts about the year his sister was born and managed to compose a few words in his head. Jump ahead a few hours, the party is in full swing, the candles are lit, the gorgeous creme fraiche and smoked salmon pancakes are being gobbled up and my husband begins the entertainment.

He has a vibrant, energetic and engaging personality and loves being in front of a crowd; unfortunately, he runs into a speaker's most dreaded foe, a tough audience. A few wise-cracking friends attempt to cut his speech short and when I see his face turning a burnt red against his lovely white linen shirt my heart breaks and I want nothing more than to alleviate the embarrassment he is experiencing at the moment.

Fortunately, he handles "failure" better than I. The next day we go for a long walk and he tells me about all the discoveries he made. "It always looks so easy when people get up to give great speeches. I guess I should have actually practiced and kept it brief, focussing more on my sister or possibly even allowing for some participation from the audience."

I had told him the story of Bill Clinton getting booed off of the stage at the 1988 Democratic Convention. My husband decided that he will do his best to emulate Bill Clinton's ability to learn from past mistakes. My fortieth is coming up and I have no doubts that he will have perfected it by then!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Spoken Word

I don't think a night of my childhood went by without one of my parents reading to me. We started with "Goodnight Moon", "Peter Rabbit", "Blueberries for Sal" and then moved on to "Anne of Green Gables", "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" until I was able to read myself to sleep. Unfortunately, reading myself to sleep never had the same impact. The warmth of my father or mother's tones caressing, shocking or cajoling me into another world was, and still is, one of the greatest gifts they have given me.

What is it that makes the spoken word so powerful? Why do we need to hear our political, spiritual and social leaders speak to us? Why do we read poetry and speeches at weddings, funerals and special events, but rarely on a day to day basis?

There are many ways of answering these questions, but if Socrates is right and knowledge is gained by experience, why not experiment by reading something outloud today?

In case you need some inspiration, here is the link to a poetry blog. The poems are short and rich in their use of language. I suggest reading the poem several times until you begin to feel the weight and texture of the words. If you are feeling very brave, read it to someone else. Speaking text outloud not only warms up your voice, but gives you an opportunity to make choices about how you want to say something.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


It's Monday night, the onslaught of rain all day has kept me indoors with my two year old. We've gone through all the regular games and both of us are in need of new entertainment. All of a sudden, I have a brilliant idea: we will record our voices in his mini-tape player. This activity is an instant hit, but when I hear my voice played back I notice that it is tight and high-pitched. I can literally hear the tension of the past few weeks restrict my sound. Thankfully, I know just what to do and pull out my Feldenkrais tapes. Later that evening, when the little guy is asleep, I am able to give myself twenty minutes to follow along to the voice of the instructor, moving my arms and legs in easy and enjoyable ways, my voice relaxes and my body feels both lighter and more fluid.

I'm not sure why Feldenkrais work hasn't gained in mainstream popularity. Perhaps because the philosophy sounds too good to be true: work less and allow your muscles to re-find a way of moving that is less impeded by habitual tensions. The residence centre where my grandparents live is offering Feldenkrais classes weekly which leads me to beleive that although the community centre Feldenkrais classes aren't quite as full as the Pilates or Boot Camp Workouts, there is definitely a growing interest. I've included a link to an article on incorporating Feldendrais exercises in your preparation for leading a presentation. Take a look around the site, there is a plethora of valuable information and aritcles worth exploring:


Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Last Thursday was World Theatre Day and several local theatre companies organized a set of staged readings. I was busy enacting scenes and bringing full scripts to life in front of an audience with a limited amount of preparation. Since I had had a brief break from performing I was able to appreciate the experience in a new way and gain tremendous insight. My first insight was how naturally my body reacted to being onstage again. I must admit, I felt a little rusty, but the years of training and practice did pay off. So often when I am leading sessions on Presentation Skills, I am asked how one can read information off of a page and stay connected to an audience. Yes, there are tricks, like marking your place with your finger as you go and giving yourself permission to pause, but what will help you the most is PRACTICE. Practice speaking written text out loud, and communicating your message, even if it's just to a close friend or partner.

My second realization was how strongly linked the craft of acting and presenting are. This wasn't a new realization but a confirmation of a thought I have had for a long while. I'm still formulating how I can articulate and communicate this more coherently. In the mean time, check out this wonderful workshop on Lecturing by Patrick Winston of MIT. If you are interested in presenting, don't be deterred by the focus on lecturing, so many of the principles apply to both.