I can’t get two images from the movie Gravity out of my mind. First, the embryonic Bullock curled and circling in zero gravity and secondly the sequence of her free-flowing tears floating toward the audience. There was an otherworldly peace in these deeply human moments, in stark contrast to the high-tension action of the film, which (separate from the spectacular technological feat) was clearly a driving directorial intent. I found the movie to be a visually thrilling adventure with a thin character/story line. While I am not of the 98% Rotten Tomatoes acclaim, I recommend this movie. Here is what I found powerful, inspiring and relatable to public speaking.
Visual Distortion We take so many visual cues from facial expression. In Gravity, the primary acting medium (the human face) was disconnected, so sound and silence became the link to human motivation and connection. This must be what astronauts experience in space! We had to rely on what we were hearing for understanding. So while I don’t recommend wearing a helmet during your next presentation, tuning in to other sensory perceptions (sound, tone, intonation, and movement) may actually enhance your presentation effectiveness.
Contrasting Silence One minute the music swells as we all proverbially race for oxygen and the next moment complete stillness pervades. I noticed that I could hear my own heart beating. Weird. Cool. Silence is always scary when you are in front of hundreds of people. And yet it is powerful and underutilized. If I say that the Dalai Lama sits for a moment of silence before his enormous crowds before speaking would that inspire you? Silence completely changes momentum, which can be a really good thing and more speakers need to pull this tool from the kit!
Vocal Acting I was impressed with Bullock’s acting chops. It must have been so hard being alone in a black room, conveying emotion, experience and sensory deprivation all through the sounds, gasps, breath intakes and the heightened drama she brought to tone and intonation. Can you record your presentation and only listen to yourself? What do you hear and what changes would you make if that were the only vehicle you had to communicate with your audience?
A Breathing Scene from Gravity One of the things I want to develop more in our workshops, that I am afraid of, is teaching breath work. You and I both know how critical steady breathing is (to life!) to the control of the central nervous system. Steady square breathing makes a difference to both preparing to speak and to being present when we are in front of groups. As a long-time yoga practitioner with enough pranayama under my belt, I could do this in a nano-second, but in corporate workshops, I am always nervous that it will read as too “alternative” for the culture. In the film, I was really drawn in to the power of listening to someone’s breathing. It was front and center in this movie. I am not recommending heavy breathing in your next presentation, but I am saying that your own breathing patterns can have a profound impact on how you feel and how you connect to your audience. Please let me know if you are ready for the next workshop that includes breath work!
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