A client came to me last week in a state of agitation. He had to give the best man’s speech at a forthcoming wedding, which is quite a challenge in itself, but what was really stressing him was that he had to do it as a double act with a co-best man – and that man was refusing to rehearse. He was making out there was no need, that my client was taking it all too seriously. I suspect this bluster is an attempt to cover his own nervousness and I sympathise, but going into denial never solves anything. When it comes to any type of public performance, you have got to rehearse.
I say I sympathise and I really do; I made the same mistake myself in the early days. But what I slowly came to realise is that by pretending I was too cool to rehearse I was severely limiting how cool I could be on the day. If you’re concerned that people are going to judge you by your behaviour and think you’re uncool because you’ve worked for your success, just stand back from that for one second and you’ll see that, if they’re going to judge you at all, they’re going to do so on the basis of your performance. It’s the end result that counts.
If you really can’t bear people to know you’ve put in any effort, then practise secretly. With a double act, you do really need to go through the speech a few times with the other person, but even so there’s a great deal you can do alone and privately to hone your part in it.
Oscar acceptance speeches are a good example of a moment when experienced performers often come unstuck. Given that you’ve been nominated for an award, is it really so presumptuous and arrogant to spend a bit of time thinking about what you might say if you win? Wild displays of emotion and interminable gushing about how you never thought this would happen, you can’t possibly deserve it, etc, etc are embarrassing to witness and do little for your reputation as a serious actor. A concise, dignified, well thought-out speech, on the other hand, is much more the hallmark of a winner.
Think of it this way: in how many other areas of your life do you have the opportunity to rehearse? Isn’t it a terrible, foolish waste not to take advantage of that opportunity? The coolest speakers may sound spontaneous but they practically never are. Coolness lies in giving the illusion of spontaneity, in rehearsed spontaneity.