In this exercise, people perform as if they were the best public speaker they know. This is important because public speaking is the #1 fear in America. If people are going to learn how to communicate effectively, they need to learn how to step beyond their fears.
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Ask the participants about how they performed differently in the scenario where they were acting as another person. For example, in the first scenario – where you asked them to perform like the best speaker they had ever seen -- how did they do things different from their normal style of speaking? Perhaps they had more energy; perhaps they projected more confidence; perhaps they were more animated and enthusiastic, moving around the stage, giving everyone eye contact, to spread their passion to the audience.
We have seen remarkable transformations from this activity: People might have seen themselves as shy or introverted. But when they perform as a great public speaker, they start to embody those abilities. It turns out that they had the capability within them the whole time.
We can break out of the limiting definitions we have of ourselves: “I am shy. I am fearful. I am a poor public speaker.” In reality, we have the ability to be different personalities. As Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
The point of all of this is that people can perform as if they were more effective speakers, and they will be able to increase their skill dramatically. Obviously they would need to practice this skill more and more in order to grow and develop as great communicators. But this activity is a powerful and practical way to show people that they have the capacity within themselves.
The famous American philosopher William James once said: “If you want a quality, act as if you already have it.” In the past century since the time of William James, there have been hundreds of experiments confirming that this practice works. For example, Clark University psychologist James Laird has done studies that showed that many people could make themselves happier just by simulating a smile. For example, if you say “ee” (which makes your mouth form in the shape of a smile), you will feel happier than if you say “yule” (which makes your face more into a displeased look). If you support a pencil in your teeth versus your lips, you will also simulate smiling and act happier.
Helping people pretend to be someone else can be quite transformative! In a famous Russian study in the 1950s, children were asked to stand still as long as they could. The longest that they could last was 2 minutes. Yet then they were told to pretend that they were soldiers at guard, who needed to stand still. When they were performing this role, they could stand still for 11 minutes!
Cathy Salit, from her book Performance Breakthrough
Cathy Salit, Performance Breakthrough