Speaking Lesson From a Hollywood Legend
Would you invest nearly 2 hours to watch a movie with one character, stranded in the ocean, with less than two dozen words of total dialogue?
And, how could that possibly improve your speaking?
I thought the movie had a ridiculous premise. But, against my better judgment, I watched ‘All is Lost,’ starring Robert Redford.
Wow, was I ever wrong!
This is a powerful experience that should be studied by anyone who wants to improve speaking skills. While it is a testament to the power of resilience and persistence, it’s also a textbook example of how non-verbal communication can convey emotions and tell a story. It supports the concept that in speaking, ‘less is more.’
Re-focus on your most powerful delivery tool
The importance of non-verbals was reiterated to me recently by my friend, World Champion speaker Darren LaCroix. He taught me that “most speakers spend far too much time worrying about body language and gestures. They don’t focus enough on the messages conveyed by their faces.
To Darren’s point, your body will naturally gesture when you are telling your story authentically.
Your face can convey emotions and insight into characters and situations that words cannot. Most speakers ignore this.
Why use a string of sentences to tell an audience you’re happy, sad, or angry, when you can express those emotions with your face?
Create a You-Are-There Experience
An additional benefit to using your face is that it makes your audience feel as if they are in your scenes, that they’re part of your story.
That is the power that Robert Redford brings to ‘All is Lost.’ The story is of a nameless man, trapped at sea. He faces one challenge after another. And, he needs every bit of ingenuity he can muster to survive.
In every situation, his face conveys his emotions – concern, frustration, fear, anger, exasperation, helplessness, and hope, among many others.
Additionally, you are able to discern the type of man he is through his resourcefulness. He makes the situation seem plausible, and you are with him emotionally from start to finish.
A Lesson Worth Learning
I encourage you to study this film. Watch each scene for shifts in his expressions that tell you what he is feeling in that moment.
Then, go back to a story you are working on. Look for either dialogue or scene descriptions that can be substituted with facial emotions.
It takes practice, but you will begin to connect with your audience on a deeper level because rather than being talked at, they’ll feel you’re with them, taking them along on your journey.
In deference to my friend Darren, whose mantra is ‘Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time,’ I leave you with this suggestion… ‘Face Time, Face Time, Face Time.’
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Thanks for the fascinating write-up, Michael. Your account really makes me want to see All Is Lost!
A great short-form example of “facial agility” I saw recently was the Toastmasters video below.
(Its script’s not great, because there’s so little time on solutions to the issues raised, but the presenter’s face was so dynamic – I was hooked!)
Although there’s not much emotion in the content, she still manages such a wide range of fitting facial expressions. (For me, engagement does drop each time she breaks eye contact though.)
Apart from practice, do you have any tips for making sure facial expressions look natural? I want to make sure I don’t look like I’m “over acting”!
(P.S. On the other end of the scale from the 106-minute movie you described, you might like the 45-second video I have on my blog. It features just 3 spoken words, yet it raised lots of laughs. Hope you enjoy it – please use the Search box to look for “laugh”.)
Craig: Both videos are terrific examples of the face telling a story. I especially like the TM video. She has a very inviting smile that is warm and makes you want to hear more of what she says – even though the subject matter is uncomfortable for most people.
As for advice, the key is to know your speech or story so well that, when you tell it, you can be in the moment, as if you’re back in the scene. Your face will convey the emotions you felt at that time.
By the way, the link to the 45-second video I mentioned is: