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Trainers: Acting or Faking It

In the world of training, there comes a time when the trainer feels he or she is not “on.” Is it that important? Most certainly. It can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful training.

Do we fake it? Now, I’m not talking about subject matter here–not knowing what we are talking about but faking the passion and enthusiasm to motivate your trainees to learn from the training session. Some would say the solution is acting (pretending is what they really mean). Under my definition of acting, I would not agree. We all have off days. Ever fake being glad to be at work? Same thing.

However, I think trainers (and public speakers) feel the “off day” more because the very essence of what they do is tied to a genuine connection they make with the audience, whether it is to convey information in a training setting or motivate or persuade in a speaker’s setting. If we can’t maintain that connection, everyone loses.

While it’s not acting the classic method, it’s still using the basics of acting to include stage presence–if only to achieve a greater interaction with the audience.

In keeping with the purpose of the training and development blog, I’ll try to concentrate on the trainer rather than the speaker, but the answers are pretty much the same, and trainers are speakers, too. In fact, the original question was asked of speakers. For trainers, the real question remains: if you are faking it, do your trainees know and what can you do about it?

The idea from this post came from a related question posed in LinkedIn forum. That question actually being addressed to professional public speakers: How many feel that “acting” in a speech is faking it? The question was posed by a theatrical and speech coach, Barbara Kite, who uses acting techniques to work with executive and professional speakers. I do the same–with a bit of a difference. The question itself is a bit ambiguous, basically delving into the notion of being someone else when you are training or speaking, and not yourself; therefore, you are acting. Are you being perceived as genuine by your audience? That may depend on how good an actor you are, but I would maintain “faking” it is never a good idea–especially in the training environment. One blotched speaking engagement isn’t going to kill a professional speaker; they just may not want an endorsement.

Most speakers (as I’m sure many trainers and coaches have) in this LinkedIn forum have “acted” in various community plays and some in more professional outings depending on experience and opportunity, but I would suggest that some might not be able to pull it off acting that calls on the “actor” to come up with really deep insights during the audition process. That is the real thing. And that is what we have to do as trainers: find those parts of us that are real and share them. Sharing who we are–even at that moment–is part of being genuine.

Everyone has a bad day… Apologize within the normal boundaries of politeness… It may even bond you to them more–like self-deprecating humor–and make you one of them: human.

Everyone has a bad day. Maybe it’s hot, or a sick child kept you up all, or your allergies are getting the best of you. Apologize within the normal boundaries of politeness, but mostly share with your group how you’re feeling and compare notes. It may even bond you to them more–like self-deprecating humor–and make you one of them: human.

Speakers who speak for a cause they strongly believe in are probably not acting. They have no reason to since their natural sincerity for their cause will come out. But any speaker who gets paid for his or her efforts has to get results? Great trainers and speakers are really good at making the audience believe they are not acting. I’m not saying they aren’t communicating “real feelings, real lessons, real meaning,” but there’s an effective process to do it that involves “acting” a certain way, being a certain way, and understanding your audience. While it’s not acting the classic method, it’s still using the basics of acting to include stage presence–if only to achieve a greater interaction with the audience.

My acting experience is not any more of an advantage to me as a speaker or trainer than anyone else who has learned the same things about reading an audience and expressing his or herself effectively from a different environment.

What I see happening here is what happens on LinkedIn occasionally because many use it as a forum to promote themselves and their work rather than network, but the questions are stimulating. Sometimes the forums are filled blazing egos; sometimes a few show up and leave when the going gets too hot or irrelevant. It happens that there can be a lot of name dropping, numbers of speaking engagements mentioned, acting in significant plays, prestigious schools, as a way of establishing marketable credibility is not uncommon–as if it all has to do with the basic question: How many speakers believe acting is about faking it? I’d say quite a few. That’s it. The point. The common view of what an actor does is the he or she pretends.

How is an acting education that different from any other communication program except in the medium and there is cross-over commonalities. I’m sure we could fine point the differences to death, but the basics are the same: communicating with an audience.

Acting class is not a requirement for a trainer or a speaker (although it might be of a college speech program), but it’s good information for speaking or communication in general. How many haven’t had a traditional class in public speaking as opposed to oral communication? How many received their training via Toastmasters or from the pulpit? Not a problem either.

Acting in the deepest sense is really about not acting, but “being” to some people. Even for actors, like training and speaking, there has to be control on stage that comes from acting, not “being.”

The answer is that you should take an acting class if you think acting is faking it is hard to take. Why? Because the definition recited by so many individuals is that acting is faking it. I think Barbara may have been marketing her own program; however, I’d say, no, you don’t have to take an acting class to learn about acting, but maybe if speakers who don’t know the answer or like the response should look into learning more what acting is about beyond the Wikipedia answer.

By the way, I’m not all about “method” either, which does call on the actor to dig deep personally to find a similar emotion. Nor am I all about improvisation. I’m probably more psychological, but that works for me. Acting in the deepest sense is really about not acting, but “being” to some people. Even for actors, like training and speaking, there has to be control on stage that comes from acting, not “being.” That basic acting that comes with facial expressions, natural gesturing and stage movement. These are things we may not think about anymore, but they are a part of acting or whatever field you studied to learn what enhances communication.

As a speaker or trainer, I don’t act on stage or in the classroom unless I am doing it on purpose to prove a point and I want my audience or class to know I am acting–because sometimes that is the point. I’m as genuine a speaker as I can be because that’s who I am–not who I’m pretending to be. I don’t like pat speeches with the same words and phrases used over and over again because we know they work. Isn’t that fake? Or, have you found the universal truth? I can’t think of anything less ingenuous and more fake. Talk about actors memorizing lines! Sometimes a little less is more genuine and from the heart. Remember to share. You have empathy for your audience and it is reciprocal by default.

In ancient Latin, persona meant “mask.” Today it does not usually refer to a literal mask but to the “social masks” all humans supposedly wear.

Do actors keep their persona separate while trainers/speakers are their persona? I think there are speakers in that same category as the actors. Actors may adopt another persona but they shouldn’t do away with original; that makes for “crazy” results. You’ve heard of losing oneself in one’s part? If it goes too far…

Some trainers/speakers have separate persona in that speaking or training moment, although I agree they probably shouldn’t. A bad actor can be a good speaker in the same way a great speaker could be a bad actor. A good actor can be a good public speaker, but there are no guarantees either way. Don’t give me the Academy Awards as an example either. I’m sure if they were getting paid for their acceptance speeches, we’d see different “performances.”

Any decent speaker will use the basics of acting in the course of doing a good job of communicating with an audience from the stage, but they don’t necessarily have to have the depth of “acting methods” to get there. As with anything, there’s a benefit to do what works for you as a speaker. Some speakers benefit greatly from Barbara’s techniques or mine as they do by working with other coaches who have found techniques that work for their students. Barbara and I may have some similarities in background and approach, but I think the common thread that goes through all of us is that we look to the whole person we are coaching, that we look for the ways to bring them out, to help them achieve the persona they seek.

I started to write this for my STAGE Magazine column because it dealt with acting, but it seemed it was more a topic to mull over for training since it sort of began in that arena with a LinkedIn question. Anyone can present information but it takes communication skills have the information listened to intently, understood and remembered. Check out Barbara’s page and mine for more information on the topic of using acting skills in training or public speaking. Know your audience. Know your subject. Know yourself. And, your training session, your speaking engagement, or even your one-on-one coaching session will all come together. Happy training.

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