I really admire Michael Gambon as an actor: on stage, TV and film. I was therefore saddened to hear he’d been crippled by stage fright. Read the story here. Acting like performing as a singer or instrumentalist is a lonely business, and you are self dependent. The fear of forgetting a line, even after many years at the top of his profession, resulted in serious physical symptoms and he’s been advised to avoid this stress – after 2 ambulance emergency dashes to A and E during rehearsals. In the end it isn’t worth it and he’s right.
Gambon had a fail safe routine for rehearsing and learning lines. A system where he learnt lines and moves efficiently and successfully. This had worked for many years. Yet suddenly, fear took over. With the march of time, he is physically less strong; anyone of 72 has reduced memory powers and he has two very young children, so I am sure that his nights are broken by them!
As a result, he has decided not to use an ear piece to have lines fed to him (apparently a famous actor used this method, only to find that the wireless frequency was picked up by the local Taxi firm and he started reciting taxi controllers’ conversations!) and the prompter off stage wasn’t a route he wished to explore: as much as anything, it spoils the experience for the audience as the flow of the dialogue is halted. Gambon used small notes and written prompts for a play where he was largely seated behind a table, but of course and artist of his calibre was worried that this affected the quality of his performance.
Recently Gambon has taken on a role where there are no lines, but just reacting to a pre-recorded voice. Perhaps this is the solution to avoiding the stress and physical illnesses he was experiencing.
But this experience and Gambon’s story made me consider how we should be brave enough to alter our style of presenting and communicating with others. Here are some examples.
- One of my clients has lost his hearing; a very distressing situation for him. He no longer has telephone conversations with clients and colleagues as he isn’t able to hear the conversation properly. He only communicates by email and face to face. He has made his disability work for him.
- Fear of forgetting where you are in a presentation; I have worked with clients that have this challenge, and suggested having photographs in the presentation, on a powerpoint presentation. These images have anchored the memory, so that the client can remember the next topic. The pictures act as a map and memory trigger for the ‘journey’ of the presentation. I have also found that clients’ confidence increases using this method.
- Feeding questions: another method I have used to ensure everything is covered, is that one of the hosts feeds pre-agreed questions throughout the presentation. This ensures everything is covered and if there has been a memory lapse, it will ensure it is not missed out.
- Varying media styles during a presentation or public speaking – for example, including a short song excerpt or a video; this gives you time to re-focus and remember the next part of the presentation and can also act as an anchor for your memory.
- Prompt cards; I still see plenty of people using some form of prompt cards, to remind you the next topic. Great!
- Autocue; this is used by plenty of politicians, but one word of warning – practice first and then have a tech rehearsal to ensure the autocue machine is working and that it is working at the correct speed: many a public speaking engagement has been ruined by an autocue moving too fast or not at all!
- It goes without saying that practice, practice, practice DOES make a difference