Updated: Mar 17
This Blog article is unashamedly about me (and several thousand other people).
It is not about cooking.
As Working the Room takes shape as an online training programme for presenting and performing skills, I have spent much time considering the Food metaphor as a way of understanding the process of developing my ideas.
First off, there are two things I love to do, two things that bring me to life and give me purpose, poise and passion, these are performing and cooking - the outcome of both of these occupations is to satisfy an audience, to bring smiles to their faces and sate their appetite for some kind of nourishment. Be it nutritional or cultural.
So if creativity be the music of food, then play on anyway
Let us begin with the food analogy. The strap line for working the room is There is no secret sauce, just learn to cook. There are any number of techniques and formulas out there for presenting skills, and if they work for you, then go for it I say. However, when I came to my own approach I realised that I had never really created a 'structure' or formula for my skills. Whenever I have tried, I usually end up with a million boxes and arrows all pointing to each other and making no sense whatsoever.
Simplicity, therefore, is complex.
Spin back twenty years and you will find me writing lyrics and performing with Huddersfield based dub reggae outfit 'Atomic Bong.'
After a stint at John Lyons creative writing course and a few performing arts courses later I was performing my own poetry under the name of Fatty Apron (there is a reason but this is not the place.) My poetry, inspired by the solid grooves and rhythms of Atomic Bong, and connected with the classical forms of my schoolboy favourites such as W H Auden, Phillip Larkin and Wilfred Owen created a style that I enjoyed and felt was authentically me. Add to that the comic rhyming of Spike Milligan, Ogden Nash and Edward Lear and I had a vehicle for expression that has been my friend ever since.
This root took me to all kinds of venues, solo and playing with troupes, at home and abroad. I am quite pleasantly surprised these days when I look back over the last twenty years and realise that I have indeed carved a career in the performing arts. It is not a day to day career, it swerves and careers across boundaries of style, format and, at times, taste; but it is a career nevertheless.
Stuff what I have done:
So let us return to the matter in hand. There is no secret sauce. There is you, there is an audience and there is something to be expressed.
To begin with, let us consider the most important element in this equation:
Sorry all you budding performers, but you are not the most important person in the room. Without an audience you are just a crazy person talking to yourself on a stage. Without you, it is a networking event.
I always think that audiences are like intelligent flocks. Get them onside and they will follow you around everywhere, and you will be amazed at how far an audience will go with your ideas once you have them with you.
However, lose your audience, or even worse insult them or alienate them and they will analyse you instantly. In a second they will become professors of behavioural psychology and you will feel a discomfort unlike any other. All of a sudden you will believe in telepathy, magic and demonic possession all at once. Performing is all about your audience, presenting, doubly so. Fortunately the answers are simple, be kind, listen and be aware and respond to their directions. Just like any other conversation with a client or customer.
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”
Of course your audience is not going to stick around for long without a something to be engaged by.
Who doesn't love a good story? But what makes a good story? There are structures and rules and techniques and formulas developed over the millennia to help you create a winning narrative.
However, important as all these things are, the most important part of the skill of story telling is feel.
A human being is the most sensitive energy measuring device on the planet.
You can FEEL when your audience are losing attention, you can feel when they are riveted by the yarn you are spinning. What is more they can feel when you are getting what they are projecting onto you. This is a conversation of energies. So when it comes to telling a good story, less is more, if they get the punchline before you deliver it, so be it - move on and and keep the flow.
You audience want to feel transported, moved by the words you are speaking, so keep it moving. If you miss a bit, fine, if you add a bit, fine, just keep it flowing in the right direction.
If its going badly: get off. If its going well: get off.
So we come at last to you
Performance art is trial and error; you have to try things to find out if it will work with your audience. Performance is the best rehearsal you can have.
My advice is don't worry about perfection, because perfection kills performance. All those performers you love so much, those whom you call genius, they are rife with imperfection, but they have learned how to use these aspects in ways that entertain, please, amaze, enthral and instruct. Be inspired by your heroes, but never try to be them.
Finding your authentic voice, your true self in front of your audience is not a formula, it is a process of self discovery and requires the full range of emotional and psychological drivers to make it happen. I have never had a multi million dollar production and promotion machine driving my career, and I am not sure I would want one. However, I would be happy to stand in front of any crowd, anywhere in the world and present, perform or just talk.
Someone once said, being famous doesn't change you, it just makes you less worried about showing who you really are. I think this is true, but fame is not the only way to achieve this. We can all achieve this kind of confidence in front of an audience with a few exercises, a bit of knowledge and some practice.
No secret sauce - just good cooking.
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