Years ago, before I began my adventures in public relations, I earned an MFA degree in theater with a specialty in acting performance. Not only did I perform in front of large groups of people regularly, but I also had the opportunity to teach a number of college classes, including “Acting for Non-Majors,” and “Oral Interpretation of Literature,” which was aimed at communications and pre-law students to help them learn how to analyze text and “present” to a room of people. These were great classes to teach, as I got to see students who previously might have been afraid to speak in front of even one or two other people get up in front of the class and knock out a speech (or the lyrics to their favorite song) with full authority and conviction. It was a valuable lesson to teach and one that everyone can learn!
The lessons I taught in school still resonate today in my public relations career. As I see it, PR is two parts science, three parts theater and five parts crossed fingers. That’s a lot of parts, but you get the idea. Theater enters the equation in a variety of ways. For example, you have to learn to cater your performance (or message) to your audience, which requires putting yourself in other people’s shoes. How can you understand what a client needs if you don’t consider his perspective? And, how will a client or reporter accept your pitch if you don’t write it or say it in a way that she will understand – and that will also capture her attention? Here are four tips that will help you embrace your inner performer as you strive for PR glory:
It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Put yourself in another person’s shoes. You’re not playing a character in public relations, but you’ve still got to learn to relate to the experience of others. Whether you’re trying to sell your agency to a potential client, or you’re trying to understand the needs of your current ones, learn to listen and put yourself in their shoes. Spend a little less time talking about yourself, and more time thinking about what matters to them and what they want.
Whether you’re trying to sell your agency to a potential client, or you’re trying to understand the needs of your current ones, learn to listen and put yourself in their shoes.
Do your homework and learn your lines.
Ever heard of the actor’s nightmare? It’s the one where you’re onstage in front of an audience, but you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing or saying. It is truly the ultimate nightmare, but totally avoidable. The secret? Be prepared. Whether it’s for a meeting with a CEO or an internal presentation, do your research, know what information you have to convey and be ready to improvise, if necessary. Surprises will always come your way, but the more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to pivot.
Take your space and find your light.
Nobody likes to watch a nervous speaker, so go for it. When you’re talking, you’re king or queen of the mountain. Realize that for that moment, you control the room and are totally in charge. This may not come naturally to you, so in that case just “fake it ‘til you make it.” Own your space and use your “outside voice.” Speak up, speak clearly and people will listen. By doing so, you give your message credibility. You’ve come in prepared, so don’t undercut what you’ve got to say by being tentative.
Once you’ve done the work, have fun!
That’s right. It’s possible to have fun no matter your profession. If you’re prepared and you know your subject matter, bring your personality and enjoy yourself. If you do this, people will remember you not only because you brought value to their organization, but also because you brought your personality to the occasion.
So, there you have it: a few tips to make meetings and presentations work for you (and your audience) from someone who’s done quite a few of them – occasionally in costume and heavy makeup. Break a leg!