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Better Voice Blog

Taking the strain out of speaking and singing

Taking the strain out of speaking and singing

Lack confidence in public? Take a tip from Marilyn Monroe

Written by:

Jane Farrell

April 24, 2021

Marilyn Monroe book cover

Marilyn Munroe was quietly shopping in a New York department store. The actress was at the height of her fame, and the journalist with her couldn’t understand why no one recognized her. ‘Because,’ was the reply, ‘I’m not being Marilyn. Watch what happens if I am.’ Having said that, she simply switched on her Marilyn persona and was soon being mobbed by fans. The journalist said it was like seeing a light bulb going on: the private Marilyn kept all her energy under wraps, while the public Marilyn let it shine into the world so that it attracted people like a beacon.

The ability to achieve a switch as dramatic as that is rare, but many actors and performers do something similar and have a performing persona that they put on in public and see as quite separate from their private selves.

Actress Joanna Lumley has confessed: ‘I don’t wear lots of make-up and glitzy clothes, but Joanna Lumley does, and she’s the one people want to see on their TV, not me.’ And singer Robbie Williams has an unusual explanation as to why some of his live shows aren’t up to his expected standard: ‘Usually when I go on stage Robbie Williams shows up. Sometimes he doesn’t, and then I have to do the show by myself.’

So clearly not all famous stars and personalities have a naturally confident and extrovert character. Some of them are just acting a part - and so can you. If you feel nervous when talking in public in any way - whether that’s part of your job or outside work - create a performing persona that you can put on as necessary.

How can you start to create and use one? Here are a few ideas:

  • Wear something more extrovert. It doesn’t have to be a whole outfit. A statement necklace or jazzy tie can dramatically change your look. 
  • Take up more space. Actors on stage make slightly larger-than-life gestures and movements. Without going over the top, be more physically expansive in your performing persona than your private self.
  • Speak more slowly and deliberately. Take another tip from stage actors and make sure each word counts. Even if you’re using a mike, that only makes your voice louder, not clearer. Don’t rush along as though you’re trying to get things over with as quickly as possible. Give your audience time to take in what you’re saying.
  • Speak as though you are really interested in what you have to say. It’s only if you’re enthusiastic that you can convey that enthusiasm to those listening, and make them want to hear more.
  • Make sure you have a voice that you can rely on and that does you justice. Actors know that their voice is their fortune. Think about having some voice training so that you’re making the most of yours.
  • Take a moment ahead of time to put your persona on. Have a little ritual that you use each time to signify your change of persona. That might include a gesture, such as standing up taller, or putting on a special item such as a tie or piece of jewellery that your persona always wears or carries.
  • Practise in front of a mirror at home. It must have taken even Marilyn Monroe some practice to be able to switch on her public self in an instant. Have fun creating and practising a bigger and brighter you that will help your character shine out into the world like hers did.

Once you’ve practised your performance persona in private, start trying it out in public, and watch what a positive difference it can make to your life. 

[Photo: pure julia]

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