Israel and Hollywood

It’s been a while, and I’m back, sharing a bit about Israel, its artists, and their emergence onto the world stage. I could’ve shared much more, but a bit at a time is best, right? Stay tuned…  Meanwhile, click on the image to watch the interview.

Israeli actors breaking into Hollywood

Discussing Israeli artists and Hollywood on ILTV


Presenting in 3D

3D is the big draw. Or maybe not, according to certain sources, but hopefully you can understand its draw.   So many childrens’ movies today are in 3D.  We want to feel like we can touch the movie, like we can just about take part in it. We see the need for interaction on the internet.  Marketing no longer comes solely from the company.  Today, the end user or consumer is one of the most important components in marketing.  Web 2.0 brings the user into the story to contribute content. We don’t want to be told the story- we want to be in it or in fact be the story.  But you already know that.

Now think of presentations. They, too, must be three dimensional.  As speakers, we need to be able to step out of our own dimension and into the audience. We need to touch our audience, to bring them into the experience.  This calls for a breakdown of barriers, which may come in the form of a lecturn or sometimes a dry speech.  Rather, we need to connect through an infectious smile or a hand gesture that helps illustrate the point.  A memorable story or example can help drive the point home.

Take a figurative and literal step closer to your audience and bring the presentation from its status as a necessary evil to an opportunity to share, enlighten, and connect with other people.   Take a breath.  Be human.  Highlight what we all have in common. Be loud enough to be heard, if you believe that what you have to say matters.  Be relevant to your audience with words and language they can not only understand but identify with and repeat, thus taking your message further.

Be the 3D blockbuster you have the potential to be.

Laying it on Too Thick

I received an email from a client in Los Angeles. “Judi, I have an audition for a Russian character for a television pilot. Do you have tips for a Russian accent?”  Always eager to help and loving my work, I delved into it, taking her lines from the audition sides and transliterating them with a heavy Russian accent. I sent her my Russian sounding version and told her we could practice together over Skype.  And then I reconsidered. I told her that if the audition notes didn’t specifically call for a heavy Russian accent, I didn’t think she should follow the notes I put together for her. Being able to do an authentic sounding accent can be wonderful, but it shouldn’t interfere with the overall performance.

I’m the first to admit that I am majorly impressed by actors who can master an accent that is not their own. Meryl Streep is a true accent powerhouse. You can hear her Polish accent in Sophie’s Choice and one of her English accents in The Iron Lady, roles for which she won Academy Awards. Matthew Rhys also comes to mind. He currently portrays a Russian KGB agent in the U.S. in the 80’s on FX’s The Americans, and he sounds completely American.  He also sounded completely American in ABC’s Brothers and Sisters. It’s always a surprise when people hear him in an interview, when he speaks with his native Welsh accent. If you’re a good actor, though, don’t compromise your performance by trying to include an accent that draws too much attention away from the role itself.  Have you ever watched a performance of someone trying too hard with an accent that just didn’t sound right? I know I have.

As a speech and dialect coach, I’m the last one who should be telling actors not to work on accents, I know. I do think actors should work on accents, absolutely. I do think, however, that it needs to sound as though it’s natural and not forced. Otherwise it’s a distraction. I also know that opportunities often arise quickly and without lots of notice. So how do you train long term to sound natural for an opportunity that may only present itself suddenly, if at all? Obviously, you can’t.  What you can do, however, is the following:

You can work with a speech coach on overall pronunciation skills and mastering of general speech sounds from various regions and languages. This will lay the groundwork for when you need to quickly adjust to a new accent. You will acquire the skills of “learning how to learn” the new accent.

You can also work with a speech coach on polishing your standard American English accent as a base for then tweaking it for regional dialects as needed. This is especially useful for non-native English speakers, but it can be just as helpful for native English speakers, too.

How do you find the right speech coach? I think that it depends on chemistry, and the connection you need to work well with someone, as you would with a personal trainer at the gym. It has to feel right, and it’s a personal preference. Each coach has their own style and approach, and you need to find one that works well for you. When you’re ready, give it a shot, and keep trying until you find what’s right for you.

Tell ‘Em What You Want

I can’t guarantee that you’ll get what you want, but I do know how to increase your chances. Sometimes, it’s as simple as stating your intention.

This should be done with an amount of clarity and respect, but we need to let people know what we want.

I remember visiting  the bank with my mother, when she asked the bank teller for several paper quarter rolls.  She had several hundreds of quarters to roll in order to deposit them at the bank. These were quarters accumulated from many months of pay per use laundry machines. The teller asked my mother how many rolls she needed, and she said, “alot.” The teller cordially brought her about 10 rolls. I remember telling my mother at that point that she needed to be clear in telling people what she wants- 100 rolls. ‘Alot’ is a relative term. I never let my mother forget this incident, because I believe it provides a lesson for all areas of life. By communicating what we want, we are at least letting people know, and there’s a chance that once they know, they can help us achieve that goal.

With those in management positions, this can be a crucial element. There are actually those who manage teams but are unclear about indicating goals or measures of success. They expect work to be done by their teams, but there’s no clear understanding of what is supposed to be accomplished.

This seems like a pretty obvious point, establishing your goals, but it can often be overlooked in the anxiety ridden preparation for a presentation or speech, or even for a brief phone call.  Before preparing any remarks, always make sure to determine what your messages are, what your goals are for this communication, and then you can consider how to achieve them, depending on the audience. Figuring out what you want can often be a challenge, but it’s necessary in order to move forward with anything and everything you do.

The basic question to ask yourself is “what do I want?”   The rest is figuring out how to get it.

I’ll See It When I Believe It.

I don’t claim to be a self-help guru.  I do claim to help people express themselves well and be better communicators.  But sometimes, the road to improving your communication or your language can seem impossible. And that’s where we turn to self-actualization and basically believing in yourself and believing in the process. I often find with students that it’s not the language that’s keeping them from progressing.  It’s their confidence (or lack of confidence). And this gave me a thought.

There’s an often used expression, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ which generally refers to not believing something will really happen until we see it with our own eyes.  An example of this notion could be when asked about an upcoming vacation trip to Hawaii, someone responds by saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.  When I’m actually on the plane, I’ll know that it’s really happening.”

But what if we were to switch the order of the words to this expression? I’ll see it when I believe it.  To me, this makes a lot of sense.  If you don’t think achieving something is possible, chances are that you won’t achieve it. Now think of the converse statement- if you believe it’s possible, then you can actually visualize achieving it.  And only then can you set realistic goals and a plan for making it happen and be on your way.  

Relating this to the goal of breaking a language barrier or becoming a better public speaker, I see it as a switch you need to make. One student told me when I met him that he had a block against English- some kind of learning difficulty, which kept him from being able to speak the language. The more we met, discussed, read, reviewed song lyrics, watched films- all in English, the more he was able to express himself in English.  He then told me that I helped him break down the wall that was keeping him from English. The truth is that I didn’t break down the wall. He did. He did it by talking about his English goals, believing that it was possible, visualizing himself speaking English, and then working to make it happen, jumping right in and speaking.

I was working with another student, an actress, who had an audition for an English language feature film and wanted to make sure she had a good grasp of the scene and pronunciation of the lines. When we first took a look at the scene’s script, she said, “oh, I can’t do this in English.” We visualized her in the role, speaking in English, pronouncing each word clearly and with her interpretation of the character, and then we jumped into it. We practiced and practiced until she felt comfortable with the lines.  And then I reminded her that she had originally said she couldn’t do it. And we laughed. I want to tell you that she got the part, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she believed it, saw it, and did it . As for the casting of the role, we’ll have to wait and see. What is important here is that she is now taking the steps to believe in, visualize,  and then prepare for her breakthrough to an international career.

Whatever your career, once you believe it’s possible, which I know is often the hardest part, you can then see it and then make it happen.

The Power of Positive Speaking

I once bought a pair of eyeglasses at a branch of a national optical chain. After I took the glasses home, I returned to the store a few days later, in order to have the glasses adjusted.

I told the salesperson that the glasses felt too small, and she replied, “They’re not too small; your face is too big.”

After recovering from her comment, I decided that a) I don’t want to purchase anything from that store in the future, and b) there’s a way to say things, and this was not the way, especially if you value the importance of customer service and customer retention.

My friend is a kindergarten teacher. She told me how at lunch, one little girl took out a bag of grapes to eat, and her schoolmates told her that she wasn’t allowed to bring grapes to school. When my friend heard what was happening, she confirmed that indeed, “Grapes are an after school snack,” to which the little girl replied, “Oh, right, because grapes are made with nuts.” Cute story about how in today’s allergy-sensitive world, the kindergartener knew that nuts in school is a no-no.  Incidentally, the grape issue is that grapes are a choking hazard.

What struck me, though, was how the teacher referred to the grapes being an “after school snack,” rather than saying something along the lines of, “You aren’t allowed to bring grapes to school.”

There’s a way to say things, which has the ability to sound positive, to motivate others, and to empower.  

Many people don’t realize the potential power that words carry.  I have written about this before, and I believe it bears repeating.

Whether you are an executive, a manager or team leader, a sales professional, a teacher, or any other type of professional, you have the power to influence people at all levels.  Thinking about the way you deliver your message and the words you choose to use will give you the opportunity to shape that influence.  I’m not advocating always being super-positive. There are times that call for harsh words.  The key is to be mindful of your words.  We have very little control of our lives.  However, what we can do is be aware of what we say.  Words can crush confidence, kill a buzz, or build confidence and inspire.

We all can refer to great speakers.  We have heard quotes from motivational speeches given by myriad personalities as different as Winston Churchill, leader of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, and Vince Lombardi, renowned American football coach of the 1960’s.

If, as they say, knowledge is power, then awareness of our words is empowerment.

I Have to Present This? In Front of People?

I remember an early client of mine. She was a graduate student who had written a paper on the value of beauty. The paper included complex philosophical ideas and extensively covered the realm of beauty as an ideal. She did excellently on the paper. In fact, she was asked to present it to a panel of professors. She turned to me for help, because writing a ten page paper and having to present it to an audience over the course of 10-15 minutes are two different things. So how is it done? There are various formats, including an informal discussion, or a frontal presentation. She delivered a frontal presentation, but together we found ways to make it interactive, so that the audience would remain engaged.

Here are some of the basic building blocks to building a presentation. They can be applied to various kinds of presentations.

First, answer the following questions before beginning to prepare your presentation.

1. What is the goal of my presentation? What do I want the audience to walk away remembering?

2. Who is the audience? Is there something they want or need to hear? Is the presentation for industry engineers, scholars, or for potential lay consumers? Do I anticipate a hostile audience? Will I need to address some challenging questions?

With this information in mind, begin with listing the few main messages of the presentation. This is the short-term purpose of your presentation- you want the audience to receive these messages. A long term purpose may be to create a business partnership, to obtain new clients, to get hired, etc.

Now add to those messages, some tools from the presentation toolbox, which will help emphasize, clarify, and sharpen the messages. You can do this by including example stories, fact and figures, props, and visual aids. This is all the supplemental information which will strengthen the message, helping transmit the message in various ways, so your audience will get it. Some people react better to visual aids, while others will relate more to a story, which makes the information more personal and applicable to their lives.

Once you have prepared the main messages and their supporting information, you have the body of the presentation. If you anticipate questions and are anxious about being able to answer them on the spot, prepare. List for yourself all the questions you can anticipate, both the ones you don’t mind being asked, and also the ones you hope are not asked. Once you can address those tough questions, you should feel ready, having done your best to thoroughly prepare. And if you cannot answer some questions, that doesn’t signify defeat. In many circumstances saying you cannot answer is a legitimate response. Be sure, however, to offer a reason for not being able to answer, as well as something you can offer. You can say something like, “I can’t give you the final numbers of sales for this year, because we are still in the process of calculating the figures. But what I can tell you is that we have seen an increase in sales over the last year. ”

Now you need to add the introduction and the conclusion. Without these, you don’t have the frame for the image or message you are trying to create.

The introduction should include something that will get the audience’s attention. I don’t mean a loud bang. I mean some piece of information which will get them interested. It can establish you as an expert on your topic, thus giving them a rationale for why it’s worth listening to you. It can also introduce the topic and its importance in a way which relates to them. It should answer the question of why they should listen to you. It can also surprise them with something unknown, leaving them wanting to know more. And when you have that attention, tell them what the presentation will cover. Let them know what to expect.

The conclusion is essential, in that this will probably be what the audience takes away at the end of the presentation. You want to summarize those main messages again for them to take home. This isn’t the place to add new supporting information. You’ve done that already. This is the time to drill it into them. You can also bring it all full circle by closing with a reference to something you mentioned at the beginning of the presentation.

Statistics show that people will mostly remember the first and last things you say in a presentation. That doesn’t mean that the middle or body is insignificant. It’s actually your base for proving your points. But remember to use the beginning to command attention and establish yourself as worth being heard, and use the end to remind them of the important things to remember.

There is a lot more to building a stellar presentation, as well as a lot more tools in the toolbox, such as humor, vocal variation, hand and facial gestures, etc. This is a basic sketch of a structured presentation and should prove helpful in working to deliver your message.