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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  1. Start by telling everyone: “People often give speeches that are dry and factual, and, quite frankly, quite dull. They might not even have self-awareness of how poor their speech is. But we are going to transform that quickly. Even if public speaking is your greatest fear – as it is for most Americans – this activity will change everything!”
  2. Now have the participants give their regular pitch: a typical 3-minute speech about something that is important to them.
  3. Then have them do it again, but this time, you ask them to tell it through any of the following role plays: Tell it as if you were acting like the best speaker you’ve ever seen Tell it as if it were a great story Tell it as if it were a secret Tell it as if you were a fiery preacher Tell it as if it were the best news ever Tell it as if you were telling friends in a pub Tell it as if you were talking to 5-year olds
  4. You can try multiple versions of this before doing the debrief.
  • You can do this activity in two different ways: You could either have people do this one-on-one in pairs. Or you could ask people to perform in front of the entire group. Spend about 10 to 20 minutes trying out the different scenarios.
  • Often many people have difficulty with public speaking. They get up and are very nervous about it. In this exercise, people act as if they are taking part in a performance. It’s OK if they have never done any acting before.
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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

Additional Readings

Cathy Salit, Performance Breakthrough