These days I read more business books than fiction, and the novels I do read are usually in Spanish. I like to pretend that reading Spanish will someday flip a switch in my brain so that I’ll actually be able to speak it, despite the fact that it hasn’t happened after all these years. But I just finished reading Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday, Maybe and totally enjoyed it. To be honest, I only picked up the novel because Graham is one of the guests at the always amazing Notes and Words benefit for Oakland’s Children’s Hospital this Saturday. But it turned out to be a completely enjoyable use of my time.
I’ve always felt that a novel is a success if it alters your mood–whether that’s to make you laugh, swoon, or so depressed that you can’t imagine ever leaving the house again. So it was a good sign when I caught myself whistling aloud in the cafe where I hang out in the morning after racing through the last couple chapters.
Someday, Someday, Maybe is the story of Franny, a young actress in New York struggling to find success before she hits her self-imposed deadline and has to move back to where she grew up, marry her old boyfriend, and start a “normal” life. I know that we’re not supposed to conflate authors with their characters, but if you know Graham from her roles on Gilmore Girls or Parenthood it’s easy to imagine her as Franny since they are both smart, beautiful, funny women who seem like they’d be great people to hang out with. The book includes some hilarious show-business situations, Franny and her friends are charming characters, and the central romance–though predictable–turns out to be totally satisfying entertainment.
But there’s more to this novel than that. We also get to share in some of the wisdom that Franny picks up once her acting career starts taking off. Even though I have zero acting experience outside of one Tom Stoppard scene (what a place to start!) I had to perform with classmates in a literature class, I’ve been interested in the connection between acting and delivering presentations for a long time. Because they aren’t trained as professional speakers, most presenters tend to get nervous and neglect the performance part of their talks in favor of just trying to get out the words. The effect is often the same as if actors in a play got up on stage and read from a script while standing in one place the whole time. It’s not very satisfying. You’d ask for your money back if you’d paid for a ticket.
So it’s useful that much of what Franny learns applies to presenters as well. I especially like the bit she hears from her agent, Barney Sparks, a character who is a throwback to an earlier showbiz era. After telling her that there’s no secret, no one thing that is going to make an acting career easy (good advice for almost any goal!), Barney offers her the advice that his father “the great Broadway director Irving Sparks” always gave to his actors: “Remember, kids. Faster, funnier, louder.”
At first she’s disappointed. Franny has heard this saying before and taken it as a joke. But Barney explains:
“FASTER–don’t talk down to the audience, take us for a spin, don’t spell everything out for us, we’re as smart as you–assume we can keep up; FUNNIER–entertain us, help us see how ridiculous and beautiful life can be, give us a reason to feel better about our flaws; LOUDER–deliver the story in appropriate size, DON’T be indulgent or keep it to yourself, be generous–you’re there to reach us.”
This is great advice for any performer, including presenters. Translating slightly so that it works just as well for the lectern as it does the stage might look like this:
Faster–Know you audience. Target your message at their needs and their experience. Challenge them a little–audiences love to be given something to figure out. Respect them and their time by keeping your talk as short as possible.
Funnier–If they’re not listening to you, you’re not accomplishing anything. Entertain your audience to keep their attention. People are best won over to your cause by stories, new ideas, and enthusiasm. But this doesn’t mean to be fake. Audiences respond to insincerity they same way they do to a bad actor.
Louder–Share something of yourself with your audience. Make them like you, feel they have something in common with you, and they are much more likely to come over to your way of thinking. Be clear about what you want to accomplish. People resent presentations that feel like mysteries–they start to wonder why they are there in the first place. Give them next steps so they know how they can get started on your agenda.
Try thinking of your presentations as performances if you want to give more successful talks. If you’ve done something like join Toastmasters in the past, think about taking an acting class to polish your skills. It can’t hurt, right?