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Essential Speaking Skills
All about the art of public speaking.

Upp Your Stage Presence Part III - Feeding Your White Dog

I gave you an analogy of the eternal fight between two dogs. The white dog is kind and benevolent while the black dog is ferocious and wicked. Whichever dog you feed the most, wins.

Likewise on stage, we are influenced by these two dogs. Feeding the white dog gives you courage while feeding the black dog gives you fear. In Who let the (black) dog out?, I then shared with you the origins of the black dog and how it can cripple you on stage. In this post, I am going to share with you an effective way of countering the effects of your black dog so that you can be at your best on stage.

It will help if you have the answers of these questions ready:

(1) Recall your last few presentations. List down as many inner critics as you can. The more data you collect, the easier to locate source of problem. When you are done, pick the top three.

(2) What triggered the voices? Could it be someone you see in the audience? Or does it happen right when your name is called?

(3) How do you react physically, emotionally and mentally when you hear these voices? Do your palms start sweating? Do you begin to stammer or speed up? Do you get all fidgety? Do your heart start beating faster? Do you forget your lines?

Pick one of your inner critic from the top three. Let’s use mine for example - “The audience has no time for you… Hurry up and get off the stage”. Each time I hear this voice, I will start to speed up uncontrollably. I will mumble and try to get the entire presentation done and over with ASAP! This also means that I will avoid all eye contact with the audience. It is almost as if my soul has left the body and whoever is on stage was just running on auto-pilot. Something like Adam Sandler when he fast forwarded time in “Click”.

In order to counter the voice of the black dog or your inner critic, you got to first create a voice for your white dog or inner coach. In my case, a plausible inner coach’s voice could be “The audience has all the time in the world for you. They are loving every minute of you on stage.” Let’s try a few more.

Black Dog: You are boring… the audience is going to doze off.
White Dog: You are entertaining… the audience is laughing non-stop!

Black Dog: You are not good enough for the audience.
White Dog: You are perfect for the audience.

Black Dog: You don’t deserve to win, Eric.
White Dog: You deserve to win, Eric!

As you can see, the voice of the white dog is a direct opposite of your black dog’s. This is to ensure that it can accurately counter the effects. But how do you know if it works?? Simple. Run the voice in your head. Vocalize it. You can even get someone to said it to you. At first, it may sound weird or unnatural. But keep playing the voice over and over again until you are used to it. And here’s the acid test: You gotta feel good about it!

To further anchor the voice of your white dog (or inner coach), try this. Close your eyes and play the voice in your head again. And now locate its source.

(1) Where did the voice come from? Your left? Right? Behind you? Or is it Dolby surround sound?

(2) How did the voice sound like? Is it a male’s voice or a female voice? Does the voice remind you of somebody?

Why is this important you may ask. What you are doing is creating a relationship with the new voice. Once a relationship with the voice is established, you will find it easier to invoke it when the situation arises. When I first run this exercise on a group of participants, I got very interesting sharings.

One of them found the source of the voice to be her favorite teacher. Upon inquiring, we learnt that he has been instrumental in her evolution. And it was clear that he has made a huge impact on her. What better voice to associate with than her teacher! Another of my student recounted that the voice sounded cartoonish. In fact it sounded like one of the carebears in her childhood cartoon. To some, it may sound childish or even stupid. But so what? As long as it works for the student! I have another student whose white dog’s voice sounded like God in Bruce Almighty. He has this deep and distant voice that made her feel very comforted and confident. As you have realized by now, it doesn’t matter how the voice sound like as long as it makes you feel good!

Let’s deepen this further. As you run the voice of your white dog in your head, what happen to your black dog? Create a scenario that is memorable and more importantly effective. Make it fun too! I have one participant who pictured his black dog getting smaller and smaller till it became a speck of dust. Even better, one participant’s black dog transformed into a white dog. And now he had TWO white dogs. Powerful!

The next time you give a speech, summon your white dog! I found this exercise particularly useful. As you await your turn to speak, play the voice of your white dog in your head. Take a couple of deep breaths and let the voice sink in fully. Allow the voice to support and encourage you. Remember the acid test - you gotta feel goooooooooooooood!!!

Like all techniques, you have to practice it regularly. Otherwise, it has absolutely no value to you. As the saying goes: To start, you don’t have to be good. But to be good, you have to start. So go on… try it!

“Upp Your Stage Presence Part III - Feeding Your White Dog”