Ridiculous costumes, slapstick comedy and adult innuendos; can pantomime really teach you to become a better public speaker?
As a professional actor and speaker, I’m always on the lookout for ways in which these two disciplines overlap and complement each other.
When it comes to Pantomime, I’m not saying your next workplace presentation would be improved by a cream-pie to the face routine – though it might. But after performing in over 150+ shows as both hero and villain, here are three unique insights I’ve learned from my time on stage.
Implement these to add some theatrical sparkle to your next speech.
Balance professionalism with playfulness.
Pantomime might seem a lesser craft than traditional theatre, but it takes skill & preparation for the absurd characters and chaotic scenes to actually work.
Every scene, song and dance routine must be carefully rehearsed and choreographed; entrances and exits marked, and stage positioning planned methodically.
Because of this diligence in the rehearsal process, the actors are then free to add, change, and improvise in the performance.
This spontaneity and playfulness is what makes pantomime so enjoyable. The audience knows that anything could happen and that each night it will be different.
A good pantomime is the perfect balance between professionalism and playfulness. But when public speaking, most people get too focused on professionalism and forget about playfulness.
They deliver presentations that are technically sound, but dreadfully dull.
Whether in a theatre, a meeting or conference room – audiences will always appreciate some level of spontaneity and playfulness. They want to see you being in the moment and actually enjoying yourself when speaking.
If your presentations are data-heavy or technical, it’s even more important to strike this balance.
Once you’ve ticked off the professionalism box by putting in the work to fully prepare, remember that you are allowed to be playful.
Tell that funny anecdote, begin with a joke, or use an imaginative metaphor to bring dry topics to life.
Bring playfulness to your delivery, too.
Vary your voice, speak with more excitement and passion, move around the stage and use your body-language to over-emphasize something in a humourful way.
Once you’ve put in the work to prepare professionally, let go of perfection and let in some playfulness. Not only will you enjoy it more, but your audience will too.
Transform mishaps into memorable moments.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing 150+ pantomime shows, it’s that things will always go wrong.
I’ve had mics stop working mid-song, sound effects fail to play, and even had a set fall down around me mid-show while the entire audience (and cast) broke into fits of laughter.
In traditional theatre, this would be a disaster.
But in pantomime, it’s usually the best part!
Pantomime actors learn to roll with these chaotic situations. They make light of the mistakes and in doing so, transform mishaps into the most memorable moments.
One mistake I see a lot of inexperienced speakers making is taking themselves too seriously.
God forbid they forget a line, drop their notes, or have any issues with their slides.
But are these such terrible things?
We worry that in a professional setting, people will judge us negatively for such mishaps.
But generally, people’s judgement is based on how you react to such mishaps.
If you feel desperately embarrassed by losing your train of thought, your audience will probably judge you for it.
But if you carry on without worrying about it, so will they.
Even better, if you can draw attention to a mishap and make fun of it with some self-deprecating humour, your audience will respect you even more for it.
Here’s an example of Elon Musk attempting to play off a live mishap with humour. Do you think he could have handled it better?
Hopefully, nothing quite so awkward will happen to you when speaking in public. When mistakes and mishaps do happen, transform them into memorable moments by reacting with humour and confidence.
Make your audience part of the show.
Audience engagement is something we talk about a lot when it comes to public speaking.
Pantomime takes this to whole new levels.
…Oh no it doesn’t!
In pantomime, the audience can shout out catch-phrases, communicate directly with the performers and sometimes even get invited up on stage to take part.
It’s such an essential part of the show, that the audience is as important as the actors in making it enjoyable.
Your objective when speaking in public may be primarily to educate or inspire, rather than to entertain. But all of these first require you to engage.
And one of the best ways to engage an audience is to involve them.
Rather than seeing your presentations as a monologue, see them as an opportunity to involve your audience in a shared experience. Bring them into the act, set them tasks, and give them roles to play in your show.
The most powerful speakers all understand that it’s not just about them speaking. Remember, the more audience involvement, the better.
The next time you’re speaking professionally, remember it’s not all about spreadsheets and seriousness. People are people – we all want novelty, we all want fun, we all want to be engaged.
So use these three lessons from pantomime to bring your presentations to life.
Allow yourself to be more spontaneous by balancing professionalism with playfulness.
Embrace your mishaps and transform them into memorable moments.
Involve your audience at every opportunity to create a shared experience.
More than anything else, Pantomime has taught me to take things less seriously and stop needing everything to be perfect.
So let go.
& Remember that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
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