From Awkward to Authentic: How to Transition from Faking It to Being It

The Acting for Scientists Blog just celebrated its three-month birthday.

A big thank you to everyone who has encouraged us by signing up for our weekly tips and tricks email. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so below. I share a new easy-to-implement tip for vanquishing your public speaking fears and taking your communication skills from awkward to confident each week.

I am especially grateful to those of you who have reported back on how the Acting for Scientists tools are working for you. Many of you (along with my coaching clients and students) have observed that power presence tools such as making consistent eye contact, letting your arms be arms, and power poses feel extremely, exceedingly, excruciatingly awkward.

It’s true. Putting on new behavior does feel unfamiliar and awkward.

This is one of the reasons that actors rehearse so much (often 8 hours a day for four weeks). Actors who create the deepest, most  realistic characters commit to continuous self-observation as they put new behaviors into practice. In Respect for Acting, famous actor and acting teacher Uta Hagan tells us, “The continuing job of learning to find out who you really are, of learning to pinpoint your responses—and even more important, the myriad, consequent behaviorisms which result—will help you begin to fill your warehouse with sources upon which to draw for the construction of a character (the new you selected for your character on stage).”

As you  learn to be a confident public speaker with a powerful presence, what you are doing is the same thing that Uta Hagan’s students do: Constructing a character – or the “new you” whom you have selected to put  on the stage of the conference presentation/networking event/classroom.

The new you will, at first, feel completely fake. Just as a new character feels fake to an actor on the first day of rehearsal. For instance when I was twenty-five, I earned the role of Mary in Eric Overmyer’s On the Verge. Mary (a time-traveling Victorian “lady” explorer)  takes charge, never doubts herself, and relishes physical danger. I, on the other hand, was terrified of taking charge, constantly doubted myself, and avoided any physical activity more dangerous than an easy hike. I admired Mary, I envied Mary, but putting Mary’s behavior on during that first day of rehearsal was…awkward.

I liked to walk with my eyes on the ground, making little eye contact. Mary thrusts her chest out and challenges everyone she meets with her eye contact. Mary fearlessly machetes her way through the jungle; I wasn’t truly comfortable chopping an onion. Mary flies off  the stage looking for the next adventure, while I had talked myself out of more adventures than I cared to admit.Photo of awkward child with teddy bear hiding behind a tree

Acting like Mary felt unfamiliar and scary. Not like me at all. Through the rehearsal process though, as I did the actors’ work of putting on Mary’s behavior AND finding those times when I was a little like Mary in my real life, acting like Mary felt increasing less awkward and increasingly more genuine. By closing night, Mary was as much a part of me as my memories from my real life. In fact I am grateful to Overmyer for creating the character, because it was through Mary that I found how liberating fearlessness can be!Photo of confident man wearing a business suit, far from awkward

In her TED talk, Amy Cuddy encourages us to, “Fake it until you become it.” Too often, we let our feelings of awkwardness keep us from making the leap from faking it to being it.

How do you embrace the awkward?

Cheers,

Jenifer


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