Your Media/Live Performance Coach: A User’s Guide
There are a lot of coaches out there helping people with their on-camera, on-stage, sports and live performance endeavors. And the vast majority of them work the same way. They usually give you tips and assignments to influence your behavior and/or, your technique. So in that regard, they’re mostly behavior modification coaches. The thinking here is that if you can get in the habit of doing what they say, you’ll develop the abilities the coaches find to equal some pre-ordained standard of good performance. And most tend to find “good” to mean impressing your audience and/or looking slick and polished. In fact, the most-watched TED Talk is from a Harvard sociologist advocating the adoption of “Alpha Male” body language poses to be more dominant over your audience! But research shows this doesn’t really move the needle much with audiences who typically care about what’s in it for them. Not watching someone simply “impressive.” Some media coaches are actually former newscasters. And other than Walter Cronkite, you’d be hard-pressed to mention a single one of those who is even remotely imitate-able. The “talking heads” on newscasts are supposed to conform to a standard of indistinguishability. Anything unique to that particular person like speech and movement or facial expressions, is actually discouraged. Conformity is the rule of law there. But this is the exact opposite of the personal authenticity that is most important to audiences and to which they gravitate. Besides, conformity is adherence to someone else’s idea of who you should be and is mutually exclusive to leadership which is about authenticity no matter what circumstances are prevailing. And that is the only way trust is built. What every media/performance coach SHOULD be doing is to remove the barriers to their client being able to express from their most authentic and unique self.
The truth is there’s a calibration of energy that is always exchanged between a performer and their audience. And that’s true whether the setting is a live or recorded platform. Audiences trust the truth. Not someone trying to be someone else. Most performance coaches are either ignorant about this exchange of energy….or…..they don’t find it nearly as important as the content of the performance. In an acting class I teach, we actually test this energy for its physical impact using a science called psychoneuroimmunology. Which is a fancy word for the study of emotions and energy and their impact upon the body. And the awareness of the information that this science reveals, makes a profound impact on the performer’s ability to focus on the things that matter and screen out everything that doesn’t.
Neurologically, the body doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. So when a great film or television actor gets fully into their imagination and fills it with their imagined reality of the character’s truth, what comes out from the body can’t help but be real to anyone watching. I use this simple truth to help make my hands moist enough to hold my drum sticks if they’re too dry. I keep a picture of Alex Honold clutching the bare rock face of El Capitan near my drums and when I look at it, my hands start to perspire! My mind knows fully well that I’m not on that rock wall with Alex. But my body doesn’t and it responds accordingly. And so it is with any coaching endeavor that seeks to truly help their client to be the most fully authentic version of themselves whether it’s in front of five people around their dining table or 5000 in a large hall. in the best of all worlds, the performer or presenter goes in there and “radiates” their own critical mass energy instead of being reactive and attempting to conform to what their coach told them to do. The simple truth is that any great performance endeavor, HAS to be generated from the inside-out. Not superimposed on the performer from the outside. So things like body language or vocal assignments being advocated from the outside, aren’t just of no help…..they’re actually an unnecessary obstacle to be overcome since they obscure the personal uniqueness of the speaker or performer and they take up needed working memory for your endeavor.
Everyone has a free, authentic and passionate self that comes out in the right circumstances. And helping you easily find THAT place inside whenever you want, should be the ultimate goal of your coach. Not “train” you to look and sound like someone else. Your audience knows when they’re getting the real you. The bottom line is that an effective coach learns to remove the “friction” that can impede a performer from being truly streamlined in their priority to be that most authentic, passionate and dynamic self. Not add something for them to do which is the “fuel” part of the fuel vs friction dynamic for problem solving. Addressing these things from the “friction” component is almost ALWAYS easier than adding more work or “fuel” which just takes up more of your available working memory that should be allocated to your endeavor. Yet almost every live performance coaching endeavor seeks to influence their client from the outside. Armed with faulty data about body language studies, they usually try to superimpose a “preferred” posture over the one to which their client naturally gravitates when they are most comfortable. Or animate facial expressions like telling clients to “smile more.” Or modulate the voice more creating more highs and lows. Most of these instructions are read as, “don’t be static, don’t be monotoned or boring….” All this just causes cognitive dissonance. In fact, there is a study done at Harvard Medical School that proved that trying to NOT do something, is a recipe for being far more prone to do the very thing they’re trying NOT to do! This phenomenon has been dubbed “ironic process.” Yet most coaching invariably involves telling the client to omit things considered to be below the standard of excellence that the coach has pre-ordained in their mind. Not the one the client exhibits in their most natural and passionately authentic state. Invariably, they set their client on the way toward “doing” rather than “being.” And having seen no shortage of actors do the prior instead of the far more rare latter, I can tell you that watching someone in “beingness,” becomes a profound experience for both performer and audience. When you’re performing from a state of being, no one can give you anything you don’t already have, nor can they take anything from you! You’re completely self-sufficient and in the most primary state to truly move not only your audience, but yourself. This is the birthplace of truly passionate performance emanating from inside. After 35 years and literally hundreds of thousands of interactions with performers of all ilks, I’ve seen these techniques work over and over by now. I’ve also used them myself as a professional performing musician. And they work fast and require less coaching, once understood.
So now, you know! The next time your coach gives you some advice from the outside instead of suggesting a perspective shift to influence you from the inside, ask them to prove the veracity of what’s behind the advice. If the answer doesn’t wash with you as constituting common sense, consider a new coach!