A Lesson From James Earl Jones: Don’t Be Afraid of Appearing Phony When You Speak

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When business speaking is lifeless or boring and fails to influence the listener, it is sometimes because the speaker mistakenly believes that using a higher energy level (or even smiling!) will be viewed as “phony” if the speaker is not experiencing a certain emotion.  When the speaker does not feel that emotion, she settles for a humdrum demeanor, plays it safe, and avoids the kind of energy for speaking that truly engages the listener.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Business speakers should adopt the attitude that actors take: a specific feeling does not have to be present in order to behave a certain wayActing as if you feel or think in a positive way is the surest way to project poise and passion and increase your persuasive power.

Interestingly, psychologists tell us that our behavior can even induce a desired feeling within.

Shakespeare knew this.  He wrote, “Assume a virtue if you have it not.”   The great theater director and teacher, Stanislavsky, called this “the magic if“.

Actions and feelings are often connected, of course, but feelings are not subject to direct command.  Behavior is subject to direct command, however, and is actually within our control to a surprising degree.  Consider how often people smile and say “great” in response to “How are you?”, when they actually feel something quite different!

All of this is good news for business people who speak in meetings or give presentations to clients and prospects.  These are times when your demeanor and behavior are paramount, so don’t wait for the “right” feelings to appear (don’t wait until you are “in the mood”!), in order to smile and use your top performance energy.

Why smile?  Even when delivering business content that is not “happy”, your demeanor and voice should project a positive spin.  As you speak, think “good news” thoughts, such as “What I’m talking about will help YOU do business better.”

I learned about this early in my acting career, when I had the great fortune to be directed by James Earl Jones in a play called The Road to Rome.  This anti-war play takes place in ancient Rome, and I was playing Fabia, a member of Rome’s noble family.  At one point in the play, the Roman nobility are captured by Hannibals’ Carthaginian army, and Jimmy Jones directed me to feint as soon as Hannibal and his soldiers storm our house.

I had never been directed to feint before.  Of course, the actor’s job is to investigate the psychological and physical realities of such states of being (feinting, drunkenness, blindness, lameness, etc.), to act these conditions believably without actually experiencing them.  While I used various acting techniques to prepare for this, I found it challenging:  I was unable to quell my fear of appearing “phony”.

Jimmy repeatedly reminded me that I was going to have to abandon my fear of being phony and simply fall onto the floor with complete commitment:  that I needed to just DO it!  After much frustration, I finally decided that I would “simply” fall onto the floor with commitment, no matter how I was actually feeling in that moment.

I pulled it off.  The moment was completely successful in performance, and I felt very gratified when Jimmy told a friend after the opening night performance, “Maria really did it!”

So, take a tip from James Earl Jones.  To project qualities that will support your business message, just do it!   With complete commitment, act as if you are experiencing the feelings and qualities that will help you make a positive and dynamic impression.

You will never have to be concerned about being perceived as “phony”.  Instead, you will be honoring your listener’s need to be engaged by commitment and passion, and you will enhance your credibility!

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida


Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and maria@successfulspeakerinc.com; or visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com.


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