If you are about to give an opening night performance in a one-man show on Broadway to three thousand people who have each paid $120 per ticket, it's understandable that you have a few butterflies in your stomach. Expectations are high. Very High! Your audience expects you to be brilliant, flawless, entertaining and funny. Anything less than perfection will be cursed as a disaster and a rip-off.
Fortunately, most of us face lower expectations when we give presentations to people. The skilled speaker uses these lowered expectations to his or her advantage. Not because he or she uses this as an excuse to prepare poorly, but just to develop a proper mind set for every speaking occasion.
About a year ago I made my debut on Broadway. I was the male lead-the groom, in the international sensation "Cookin'." Was I supremely confident and totally comfortable when I first entered the stage and uttered my first line?
Actually I was comfortable and confident.
Is this because I have total confidence in my acting abilities and a sense that long and hard rehearsals had paid off?
No, not at all. I hadn't rehearsed and I have never been in any play, not even in high school.
In truth, I was plucked randomly out of the audience and brought up to the stage. I had no lines to utter except for "tastes good!" after drinking the wedding soup.
So I don't deserve any roses or even pats on the backs. Still, for many people, the idea of going up on stage in front of hundreds of strangers in the middle of a theatrical performance is a terrifying idea.
Why wasn't I terrified? I'm certainly no braver than anyone else. In fact, I have an extremely low threshold for pain.
The real reason I wasn't terrified is that I was able to gauge accurately the expectations the audience had for me. In this case, all I had to do was stand there, play a dorky guy, wear a silly hat, do as I was told, and let professional actors make fun of me. I realized that my being on stage wasn't about me; it was just an opportunity for the actors to display their talents. This, I correctly deduced, would be a part well suited for my talents. It made sense for me to relax, so I did.
Too often, in the business world, we forget that our role is to make other people look good. We forget that it isn't the end of the world if we look silly for a few moments. In fact, you can gain credibility with some people if you show you don't mind looking silly occasionally.
Of course, it doesn't really matter if you ever go up on stage to participate in some silly theatrical show. But what does matter is that you can confidently "take the stage" at a moment's notice, anytime you do have an opportunity to add a message or just a spark to any meeting or gathering you are attending.
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