One time (last semester) I had to read my paper out loud to my class to practice presenting my research at a conference. I had never presented at a conference before and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just got up in front of the class and read the paper, word for word, occasionally looking up because I heard once eye contact is good . . .
My professor gave me the best feedback I’ve ever received in my entire life: “Tara! That was ridiculously BORRRRRING!” And she said it so loud and dramatically that I laughed. Of course it was–but what is an academic presentation supposed to be like? She then went on to explain how animated I am one-on-one or when I teach. She said, “Where’d all that enthusiasm and vibrancy go???”and then talked about how to spice up my presentation–how to take control of my own stage.
This got me all very excited because I’ve always wanted to be an actress. But to be the star of your own stage requires courage and guts and . . . do I have them?
The thing is I used to. When I was little I smiled really, really big into the camera, even though I had horrible teeth, which my friend Nancy was always careful to point out ;) When I played the “Make each other laugh” game with my siblings, believe me, I went all out. And when I ran for student council representative in high school, I danced by myself on stage, singing “I would walk 500 miles to be your studentcouncilrepresentative” to demonstrate to my fellow student body members that, “Hell yeah, I’m the candidate for you!” because I believed it. I had guts and I didn’t believe “No” was the final answer for me.
The older I’ve gotten, though, three things have happened: (1) I started to get annoyed of my audiences and wanted them to stop watching me, (2) I didn’t believe I was worth-watching, and (3) As a result, I stopped living in worth-watching ways. I think in some ways my non-desire to perform was also a result of learning how to watch others, which is a good, humble thing. But at the same time, seriously? Performing doesn’t mean forgetting to watch others. Performance isn’t attention-seeking. Performance is knowing your audience and what they need–what they deserve.
I may not be the most important or worth-watching person in the universe (duh) but I still have my audiences that I choose to care about: my husband, my friends, my family, my students, my classmates, my cub scouts. As of now, I’ve decided to give them my best performances, even if sometimes they piss me off. So in addition to occasionally wearing red lipstick, I’ve decided to include in my performances the following:
Top-notch jokes (of course).
Wit. (Oscar Wilde would be proud.)
A variety of sounds and volumes.
Subtle tears, occasionally.
Big hand and arm gestures.
Extravagant facial expressions.
Elaine-dancing when the moment on stage calls for it:
This all depends, of course, on what my audience needs and when. Know that I’ll be working on my timing.