00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal The Show with Michael Port. This is Michael, and today’s session is on-camera techniques for the non-actor. The non-actor, that’s the operative word. So, promotional videos, Skype conversations, Periscope, Blab, YouTube videos, live streaming, demo meetings, and much more. We live in a very visual world, and of course no matter what you do, more and more of your life is gonna be caught on camera.
00:32 Michael Port: So I have brought a guest to help you be better on camera, no matter what you do. His name is Dan Cordle and he’s the founder of The Film Practice and Scribe Films, and the director of the Chekhov Film Project. He’s a producer and a director, and he’s taught improvisation for nine years at NYU’s graduate acting program, including his one-of-a-kind course, Improvisation for the Camera. And, the best part, he was my teacher at the grad acting program at NYU. So I’m sure he’s got some stories about me which I will not let him tell on this podcast. He’s got an MFA from the same program, the grad acting program at NYU, and he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and at the American Conservatory Theater. And finally, last but not least, he also is a teacher for Heroic Public Speaking. He taught at our big live event, Heroic Public Speaking Live, last year and will be teaching this year as well. And that’s February 15th, 16th and 17th in Fort Lauderdale. So if you want more information on that, you can go to heroicpublicspeaking.com/live. Hey, Dan.
01:47 Dan Cordle: Hey. How’s it going?
01:49 Michael Port: It’s going really well. So it’s an early Sunday morning. It was the only time we could get into schedule. So are you awake?
01:54 Dan Cordle: I’m awake and I’m ready to go.
01:56 Michael Port: Did you have coffee?
01:57 Dan Cordle: You know what, Mike? I quit coffee, and it’s partly thanks to you. [chuckle]
02:02 Michael Port: Oh good. Why was that? How did I influence that?
02:05 Dan Cordle: Because a year ago, we had brunch, you and Amy and myself, and I noticed you guys were drinking hot water and lemon.
02:14 Michael Port: Yeah.
02:14 Dan Cordle: And I was already was at that time of the day, which was about 10:00 AM, on my fifth cup of coffee. And I thought, “These guys must be onto something ’cause they look great.”
02:24 Michael Port: So has it been helpful or have you been sleepwalking through the last year?
02:27 Dan Cordle: After a week of migraines, I think I’m finally in the clear.
02:30 Michael Port: It does take a little while to get off that, but that’s good. No, it does make a difference. It’s interesting because one of the things we encourage our students to do is reduce the amount of coffee they drink, just in general but also around performance because caffeine is a stimulant and we make this assumption that it’s gonna pump us up and make us perform better, but often it can make us more jittery. Our energy levels can go up and down.
02:55 Dan Cordle: Sure.
02:55 Michael Port: So, you’ve been doing more producing and directing lately, so you have a harder schedule than most of the performers. People don’t realize that the actor’s life actually on film, it’s quite easy.
03:08 Dan Cordle: Yeah.
03:09 Michael Port: It’s a lot of long hours but the hardest work is done by the crew.
03:12 Dan Cordle: That’s true. Yeah. It’s…
03:14 Michael Port: They’re the ones going nonstop.
03:15 Dan Cordle: Yeah. The actors are called talent and they’re kept in the pen until it’s time for the rodeo.
03:25 Michael Port: As opposed to the directors who have no talent, I don’t really get that.
03:29 Michael Port: Everybody’s got talent if the job is being done well. So, first question to you, Dan. What do you find to be the difference between working with professional actors and non-actors? ‘Cause when we brought you in to work with our companies, when you started working more heavily with non-actors, so what’s the difference between those two, and do you have an example that you can share of this in action?
03:55 Dan Cordle: Yes, I do. Well, there are several differences. A big difference when I’ve trained actors is that they all seem to come into the room with a great understanding that it’s about the process and not about end results. Actors train pretty much nonstop. Like usually on Monday nights in New York City, which is a dark night for the theaters, actors will take class, even though they’re in a show. And actors who aren’t in a show will take classes all the time, just to keep themselves fresh. And they understand that it’s about engaging in the present and staying loose as opposed to focusing so much on results. And oftentimes when you work with people who aren’t actors, they’re not as aware of the value of the present and they’re very focused on figuring out how to do this thing in the right way.
04:55 Dan Cordle: Now I say that, but there are some advantages that non-actors have too. Non-actors tend to come at the process with complete uncertainty about what to do, and that has a way of throwing you into the moment in and of itself. So, when I taught improvisation at New York University, one of the things that I did, and I never told the students this. In fact, it may have happened in your class too; When things were going really well and people were really loose, I would usually invite somebody to come in and act with the students in these improvisations. And the students always assumed it was one of my acting friends or somebody that was really well known in the theater [chuckle] but usually it was like a plumber [chuckle] or like a carpenter or somebody that I struck up a conversation with on the street who I thought was interesting and who might enjoy coming in. And when it all worked, you couldn’t tell who the actor was and who the non-actor was. Everybody was just enjoying themselves. So…
06:00 Michael Port: Wow. That is extraordinary. And coming from the theater, spending my first part of my professional life with actors all the time, I find the same thing. And the thing that is so interesting to me is that so many of our students, people who just wanna be better public speakers, could be great actors.
06:23 Dan Cordle: I find the same thing. With some folks that I just finished working with, we were doing some cross-training, where we were doing dramatic material. They weren’t talking about their business concerns. We were actually doing some scripting in an improvisational way.
06:44 Michael Port: So could you just define for them what you mean by “cross-training”? You weren’t jogging and then lifting weights, you don’t mean that?
06:48 Dan Cordle: No. [chuckle] But it’s something akin to that. It’s taking yourself out of what you do and working on something that is complementary in an almost mysterious way. So, for instance, you can imagine how it might be advantageous for a public speaker to engage in scene work, because in your public speaking there may be times when you want to create a sense of drama or a sense of comedy, and to be able to recall that many times in a very present way. And what we did in this particular instance was we created scenes that were improvised between two people on camera, and the task was to be really present and to really share those moments with each other. And that’s a great kind of cross-training for anybody, really, when you think about it, but in particular for people that are in public speaking.
07:53 Michael Port: So, does that help the public speaker produce new moments each time they present, based on the same material or information? Because that’s one of the things that often scares people who haven’t had training. They get nervous about rehearsal.
08:20 Dan Cordle: Right.
08:20 Michael Port: Because they feel like, “If I do rehearsal, I’m gonna get really stiff.”
08:24 Michael Port: Yeah.
08:25 Michael Port: And one of the things we know about rehearsal is that it’s a messy process, and that’s one of the things that’s fun about it. We’re constantly making choices, finding what works and then how to improve it, make another choice, find out what works and then how to improve it. But what the actor does is they’re able to perform the same material over and over and over again as if it’s the first time.
08:53 Dan Cordle: Right.
08:54 Michael Port: And the non-actor hasn’t experienced that. So, does this kind of cross-training help them do that so that they can use the same material? They don’t have to create a new speech every time they give a speech, and they can get much better than they would be if they just went out and tried to wing it each time.
09:14 Dan Cordle: I think absolutely. The problem with trying to create a speech that you can do precisely the same every single time is that there is no definitive best speech. There’s no way to achieve that. That assumes that every single audience member is precisely the same, the same person in the same moment in time, having eaten the same thing for breakfast, having thought the same thoughts that day, because they would have to be precisely the same to be able to receive this perfect speech in precisely the same way. There’s no definitive great best speech. It changes every time you give a performance. Now, once you wrap your mind around that, you realize, “Oh my goodness, there’s no way to get this right.” The only way to really get it “right,” and I put quotes around “right,” is to be entirely in the moment and to coin the things that you’re saying every time you say them in the presence of other people who are there in the moment too.
10:14 Michael Port: Which is very different than winging it.
10:16 Dan Cordle: Yes. Now, there is a technique of winging it, and if anybody recalls the old soap operas, the actors who acted on those… Those poor actors… They would get…
10:27 Michael Port: I did a fair amount of that myself.
10:30 Dan Cordle: I did some of it too. And the thing is, you get the script potentially the night before, or two days before, and how the heck are you supposed to memorize this thing or have any kind of a process? And so what those actors know is that you have to stay so loose and so kind of winging it that you’ll get a sense of naturalness, because you haven’t had time to prepare. But you can see what the end result is. It’s very hit or miss. And if you watch those soap operas, very much so. Sometimes there are these really touching moments and other times you’re like, “My goodness, look what the cat dragged in.” [chuckle]
11:08 Michael Port: One of the things that many people don’t realize when they watch soap operas is how many classically-trained actors perform on those shows. They have the models and then they have the trained actors, because the trained actors are the ones who often carry the emotional experience for the audience.
11:33 Dan Cordle: Right.
11:33 Michael Port: And they’re given 30 pages a night and they’ve gotta memorize these 30 pages and go in there and kill it. So it’s interesting. It’s this balance between knowing your material so well that you can throw it away, and being in the moment and allowing yourself to be spontaneous. Because one of the things that I often say is that when preparation meets improvisation, then the audience gets spontaneity. They imagine this is the first time whatever they are seeing is occurring.
12:09 Michael Port: Now, this is on stage. So what do we need to know about how our performance changes on camera? Now, I think the same thing is true. One of the reason I say ‘on stage’ is ’cause when they film a soap opera, it’s actually on a sound stage. They just have a number of cameras and then they cut it afterwards. It’s very different process than when a TV show is shot or a movie is shot. But we’ve been touching on rehearsal and performers and being in the moment, we havent’ really defined stage performers and we haven’t really defined on-camera performers and the difference between those two. And the people who’ve been listening to this podcasts, they hear me talking about performing on stage, and in a conference room and a ballroom, etcetera, for a long time now. So, what’s the difference? How does performance change when you move to camera? What’s the difference between speaking on stage or in a conference room and speaking on camera?
13:12 Dan Cordle: Well, it changes in a couple of ways. The most obvious change is, the level of intimacy. So… And it’s funny to talk about this because whenever I address this question, I have to be careful not to say, “Okay, if I just say ‘intimacy,’ then people think okay, all I have to do is be quiet. Or be smaller.”
13:37 Michael Port: Be smaller. Yeah, they think it’s not big or small. Those two things… They are a little bit of a misnomer.
13:43 Dan Cordle: That’s true. Well, let’s address that problem by considering a similar situation. So, let’s say there is someone that you wanna ask out on a date. And here she lives on the other side of the river and the bridge is out and yet you just have to have a date with this person. And so you go to the river bank and you wind up shouting across the river, “Will you go out with me?” I mean, that’s… Okay, that’s a public speech in a very public way, and you have to do everything you can to get this person to be with you. And you can imagine, your arm gestures might be bigger, your voice will have to be louder, you’ll have to really go to town. Now, supposed that bridge is fixed and you are actually sitting beside that person on a bench. You have to bring all of yourself to getting this person to go out with you, but obviously you can’t shout at them [chuckle] You are sitting right there so you have to be very intimate and it’s much more subtle. But that’s natural.
14:44 Dan Cordle: Now, if you walk over the bridge thinking, “Oh my goodness, I have to be really intimate. There is a right way to do this,” then you are gonna be completely confounded on that bench. You are not gonna know what to do because you are gonna be in your head. So, this call for sensing and being in the present and understanding what your environment is. Now, that’s one way to look at the difference, the distinction between on camera performance and live performance. And yet there is another distinction; when you speak to the camera, you are not actually sitting on the bench with that person because they are not actually there. They will be seeing you in another place at another time but the same things apply. And so when you bring yourself to that moment, you have to have this understanding that you are talking to somebody, that you are trying to… That you are appealing to this person in a sense. And you have to bring that same presence in this strange situation for they are not actually right there in front of you.
15:56 Michael Port: Do you put… Do you suggest that your students put someone on the other side of that lens, a specific person, someone they know or they don’t know? How do they imagine, the person that they are talking to?
16:09 Dan Cordle: Well, they are different ways of doing it.
16:11 Michael Port: Oh, and just one quick thing, because one of the big difference thing is between what actors do and what non-actors do with the camera, is the actor rarely talks to the camera.
16:21 Dan Cordle: That’s true.
16:22 Michael Port: The camera is just observing the actor either speaking to another person, over that person’s shoulder or from some other angle, or just that person existing in a space doing something. Whereas when our students are on camera, our non-acting students, they are usually talking to the camera.
16:43 Dan Cordle: That’s right, yeah. And that can be a challenge. You’re right, actors very seldom do direct address to the lens, unless you’re like in a Bergman film.
16:55 Michael Port: Right. Well, we’re more like news casters to a certain extent. We’re speaking to somebody watching on the other side of the camera and often what people do is they will speak to everyone at one time. So, all you guys out there, which I generally suggest staying away from because aren’t watching it together. They’re not in and audience together, they’re by themselves at home and they’re watching. So, do you imagine there’s a specific person that you’re talking to? Do you put your brother there? Do you put someone that is a client over there that you have an intimate relationship with so you could make it more personal? What do you do in that situation?
17:40 Dan Cordle: Well, that’s one of the things you can do. You can put in your mind the person that you’re talking to and you can talk to that person. That, in a sense, is kind of a trick, because thinking that that lens is that person, but it’s a very helpful trick, and it works for some people. For other people, it can be helpful to actually have somebody standing as close to that lens as possible, even behind it, that you’re relating to. And that makes it doable for a lot of people too.
18:10 Dan Cordle: Another thing you can do is understand that there are people who are really going to want to hear what you have to say, individuals, and those are the people you’re speaking to. And when you are on camera and when you’re looking into the lens, you will have this feeling, potentially, of being in the void, what I call ‘the void’, where a tremendous space opens up, and there are no rules to hold onto. So, suddenly you’re in this place where’s there no right or wrong. And if you’ve been living in a way that there’s a right or wrong, you may find yourself quite confounded. And in those moments, the thing to do is to just let yourself be in the void and understand, “Hey, I can do another take. [chuckle] In fact, I can do 20 or 30 takes. What’s important to me, and what am I trying to… Who am I appealing to?” Because what you don’t want to do is… What you often see in commercials that are 15 seconds long or 30 seconds long, there’s a lot of information to get out, and they’re talking at you. And it’s kind of… It’s a lot. So, what you want to remember is that you’re appealing to people as well, that this is a conversation, and there are people that really need to hear the things that you have to say.
19:35 Michael Port: That void, the void that you mentioned is a really interesting concept. When… There’s two different ways… There’s two different feelings you can have in that void. Among others I’m sure, but the two big ones. Number one, you can feel completely swallowed up and lost, almost frozen like a deer in the headlights. Or you can let the camera see you, which may be confronting to people when they start performing in front of a camera, because it feels like the camera can see right through them, or see all their imperfections. And that’s usually what turns you into the deer in the headlights. But I actually enjoy allowing the camera to see me as best as I can, and to appreciate that people like to see you, and they want to see how you feel, and what you feel, as long as it’s in service of them, otherwise it’s masturbatory. Otherwise it’s about you and how you feel, which is one of the things that sometimes people get into trouble with when they start performing. Their performances become about them rather than about the audience, in this case, when we’re talking about public speaking. Will you talk about that?
21:05 Dan Cordle: Yeah.
21:05 Michael Port: You’re also a photographer, a still photographer, and your photography is extraordinary, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s absolutely outstanding. And one of the things that you’re able to do is capture the… It’s almost like you’re capturing the inner world of the subject because they’re allowing you to see them, in really quite extraordinary ways. So, if somebody, when they’re in front of the camera, can allow the camera to see them, well, then the person who is watching them makes a much stronger connection. So, can you talk a little bit more about that concept?
21:44 Dan Cordle: Sure. Well, what I can say is you can’t help when you come in front of a camera, you can’t help bringing all of yourself. And why would you want to do anything less? So, if you bring yourself… Let’s say you bring yourself to meet somebody, it’s no good if you wind up leaving parts of yourself at home, or trying to hide them. To do that is to say that… To do that is not to honor your history, who you are and where you came from. So, you wanna bring all of you, and you have this feeling when you’re on camera that the camera, even though it’s a thing, is able to perceive all of you, that there are no rules, there’s no way to hide.
22:37 Michael Port: Do you think this is one of the reasons we have trouble on camera because we are uncomfortable, either with some parts of our history, and that we feel that people are gonna see parts of us that we don’t want them to see, and/or that we are uncomfortable with our appearance, and we spend too much time worrying that the camera is gonna see things about the way we look that we don’t like, and that it’s going to amplify it, so as a result, we get very self-conscious?
23:10 Dan Cordle: Well, I think to a degree you’re right, and we tend to put it on other people, like, “They’re going to see this thing about me that isn’t attractive” or “They’re going to know this thing about me that isn’t likeable.” But I think there’s a chance that’s a bit of self-deception, and the truth is that there are things about ourselves that we haven’t accepted, that we’re not comfortable with, that we don’t acknowledge and don’t honor. And I think it’s a good thing, at least to consider trying to honor those things. So, here’s a way I like to describe it. That void, like if we can… It’s hard to qualify or to describe a void. It’s like being in infinite space, and once you go there, you’re really in for a journey. So, I like to describe it in a more earthbound way. It’s as if you suddenly find yourself thrown into a river completely naked, and your first thoughts are, “Oh my goodness! Where am I going? I’m in water, I’m naked. Is there anybody on the shore that can see me?”
24:23 Dan Cordle: And then… And you spend moments in this completely confused state where there is no way to hide, there is nothing to hide, and it’s just you, without even your clothes, which you may have used before then to define yourself to other people and to yourself. And now you have none of that, and yet you’re flowing down the river, and you’re going fast. Now, you can try to swim against the current and get back to where you were, even though that’s not really clear where that was, or you can try to swim for the shore, but then you’ll be naked on the shore. You have all these thoughts, and eventually you realize, “Hey, I’m going down this river. I’m gonna keep going down the river. I am naked. Let’s see what I can do. Maybe I can swim down this way down river a little bit and see what’s over there, may be I can come over here. And look, hey, there are other naked people in the river. [chuckle] We’re all okay. It’s actually gonna be alright.”
25:15 Dan Cordle: And so you get to the point where you’re like, “Isn’t this interesting? That, this is who I am. And by doing this, I’m actually becoming freer and accepting and honoring myself more than I did before, when I was putting myself together so well.” So, it’s possible, that working on camera can even help us become more present, and more able to communicate with the world around us and with ourselves in a way that we normally can’t or choose not to. With still photography, when I’m taking the pictures, I try to bring all of myself to it and try to be in that place. And whether I’m taking photos of people or of objects and to try to really see them and be with them. And when it works, I find that, you wind up with an image that is far greater than what you would’ve gotten if you had said to somebody, “Say cheese.”
26:21 Michael Port: Which I still don’t understand because your mouth doesn’t actually smile when you say “Cheese.”
26:25 Dan Cordle: No.
26:27 Michael Port: It’s just weird. I don’t know…
26:28 Dan Cordle: It’s a funny thing to say. And it…
26:33 Michael Port: What you’re getting at here, what I’m hearing is, it’s really the difference between authenticity and inauthenticity in performance. Saying “cheese” is a way of faking that you’re smiling.
26:48 Michael Port: Being present is an authentic expression of where you are in that moment, and in sometimes, especially with “Steal The Show”, the concern I was when I started the book was, well, people have sometimes a misunderstanding of what performance means, they think it’s about being fake, or manufactured or manipulative, and to me, good performance is about… It’s not about fake behaviour, it’s about authentic behaviour in a manufactured environment. And being in front of the camera is a manufactured situation. This is not how we normally live.
27:27 Michael Port: I know there are people who live on reality TV and they just live with cameras around them all the time, but that’s not what most of us do. So, it is a manufactured environment, and the question is, how can we be authentic in that environment, so that people can see us? And we can choose our objective and what we’re trying to accomplish in that medium, because we are not going on… We are not doing this on camera work just to bear our soul, we are often doing promotional videos or webinars, periscope, etcetra, because we are trying to move an idea forward.
28:10 Dan Cordle: Right.
28:11 Michael Port: And we have an agenda. And there’s nothing wrong with having an agenda. An agenda is something we all have at all times. You and I have an agenda right now, our agenda is to serve the listener to the best of our ability so that they become a better performer, that’s our agenda. So we, in our actions, are trying to find different ways to do that. And so, can you talk about objectives and tactics and… To teach the listener how a performer chooses where they wanna go, and then how to get there, so that they are in control of the outcome of whatever it is they’re shooting, so that it serves their agenda?
29:02 Dan Cordle: Right. Well, you wanna… Objective is incredibly important. And that’s what we live. We live in terms of what we want and need. And it’s good to keep those things in mind, because those things help us. And you wanna keep what you want in mind, but then you have to understand you’re living on the way to getting that thing. You’re actually a living breathing thing. And you have to use what is available to you, what’s at your disposal, in the effort to attain that thing. So, on camera, or in performance, live performance, essentially you have in your mind what you want, and then you have to allow yourself to just be completely on fire. To be completely in the moment, with all of yourself and to go after that thing. I’m not sure I’m entirely answering your question though.
30:00 Michael Port: Well, the idea is when we do… Let’s say I wanted to do a video promoting our live event in February, and I have to make some choices going into that video. Well, what am I trying to do? Am I trying to get people to say, “Yes, I wanna come to this event?” Okay, so let’s just say that’s the goal and the goal is to get them really excited about it and watching the video and going, “I wanna be there. I wanna go to that event.” So, now I have to figure out, “How the heck am I gonna do that?”
30:35 Michael Port: “What am I gonna say?” “How am I gonna influence them?” Let’s think about it this way. I spoke about this on our previous podcast because in one of the groups that I’m in, it’s a group of professional speakers, somebody asked the group about how to make sure they’re in the right state of being when they’re on stage. Like they say, “What’s your pre-show warm-up? What do you do to pump yourself up to get yourself in the right space?” And a whole bunch of people gave a bunch of different answers. And what I suggested was that you can’t manufacture a state of being. Your state of being is influenced by your actions, what you’re doing to change the way people think or feel or what they do. And that’s gonna put you in a particular state. And this is what the actor knows because… Or at least the trained actor, the experienced actor, you can’t go out and go, “Okay, I’m gonna be really sad.”
31:40 Dan Cordle: That’s right.
31:41 Michael Port: “Okay, I’m gonna cry during that scene.” Because then, of course, you’re manufacturing emotional experiences and audiences don’t resonate with that. They don’t know why necessarily, but it doesn’t hit them. But we have feelings because we are either achieving our objective or we’re not achieving our objective. We’re going after something and if we’re getting it, then we want it. If we’re not getting it… If we’re getting it, then that will influence our state of being. If we’re not getting it, that will influence our state of being as well. So, when we work on performance, we’ll look, “Okay, what are we trying to achieve? And what are the tactics we’re gonna use to get there?” Because we need to try everything in our power to influence that audience. And sometimes, it means we’re… And sometimes, it means we’ve gotta surprise them, shock them.
32:31 Dan Cordle: Right.
32:31 Michael Port: Sometimes, it means we need to stroke them and hold them and care for them really gently. Sometimes, it means something else entirely and the actions that we take will influence our behaviour and that of course influences our state of being. So, that’s what I wanted you to speak to a little bit more as relates to the on-camera work, our objective, and how we go about producing that objective and making sure that the way they see us is the way we want them to see us.
33:00 Dan Cordle: Right. Well, I would say that the best process that I know of is to live your objectives. To live them on a daily basis, so that there’s no distinction between being on camera and being off camera. And very little distinction certainly between being in live performance and not, so that there’s nothing special about it per se. If there is something special about it, it’s the opportunity to be with your community, to be with the people you care about, and to the people you hope will be a part of your community. Now, one of the things that I…
33:38 Michael Port: I just wanna let sit in. I wanna let this… I want you to either say this again or just let the audience think about this and feel this because this is a critical concept. That Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” And we are performing all the time. All the time, we’re playing different roles in different situations. And sometimes, people play in authentic roles throughout their life in different situations, and sometimes people play very authentic ones. And hopefully, the people we’re serving are getting more and more comfortable playing these very authentic roles. And what you’re suggesting is that performance is not different on camera and off.
34:26 Dan Cordle: No, it’s not. I mean, ultimately, it’s not, and there should really be no distinction between the two. So, if you find yourself feeling… Well, you go through different stages as a performer, that’s for sure. Beginning performers, whether they’re actors or non-actors, will feel intense nervousness before a performance and will have to deal with those feelings, which are emotional and physical. And as you continue to do it, as you continue to train, those kind of acute… That kind of acute nervousness starts to go away and you feel more and more excited about what you’re actually going to do. And then, that the ultimate really is to have there be no difference, no difference at all. That you’re standing backstage, whether you’re going to be on camera or not, and you are living in a warmed up way. You’re living in your body. You’re living in the present. You know exactly what you want to say. You are not afraid of any part of yourself. And you bring all of who you are to the table. The entire thing.
35:36 Dan Cordle: And that has an extraordinary way of reaching the people that are part of your community. That have been out there all along. That you haven’t necessarily been able to see or reach because you weren’t bringing all of yourself to the table. So, I think… What I’m talking about is that it’s more than just being on camera, more than just being in front of a big crowd, it’s about living in a way and pursuing your goals in a way that’s entirely human and within your skin. And to do the things you need to do, to get to that place where you can. [laughter] If that make sense.
36:25 Michael Port: It does make sense. So let’s put this in some everyday situation. So when we’re on camera, when we’re on stage, sometimes people ask, “What do I do with my hands?” [laughter] These are very legitimate questions that people ask when they’re new to performing, and often the advice they get is specific, saying, “Put your hand here, then put your hand here, you should use this gesture,” and we of course go “Oy vey.” Because…
36:54 Dan Cordle: Okay, here’s what I would say for that particular problem. Okay. So, somebody goes in front of an audience and they have that feeling of, “Oh my goodness, I suddenly have these hands, what am I gonna do with them?” [laughter] And so what I would say is, “Well, what are they doing that you’re not happy with?” And the person might say, “Well, they are not doing anything, they are kind of waiting around and they don’t know how to go,” and I say, “Okay well, good. Well, your hands are trying to tell you something. So let’s do the speech once where your hands do too much, where you do too much of the thing that your hands wanna do, that you’re trying to control. Do it way too much. In fact, go crazy with your hands. [chuckle] Go crazy with your hands, give them time. You’ve been keeping them under wraps for too long.” [laughter] So, this is their…
37:40 Michael Port: Give them their moment.
37:41 Dan Cordle: Give them their moment, right. So, it’s gonna be all about the hands and we’re just gonna let them go and we’re gonna let them go hard, and you’re gonna go crazy with your hands. So this is a rehearsal, right? This is not what am saying. This is not what you might wanna do on the day of your first key note.
38:00 Dan Cordle: This is something you wanna do in practice. Now, what happens is yeah, your hands go crazy and after a while you’re like “Oh my goodness, that’s exhausting.” I am not gonna think, “Ah, I’m not gonna worry about my hands. What’s next? Oh yeah, my knees.”
38:18 Dan Cordle: And eventually you get to the place where you’re like, “Okay, well, we’ve gotten that out of the way. What were we talking about?
38:27 Michael Port: Sorry am laughing too hard. Oh my gosh, because it’s all absurd.
38:32 Dan Cordle: Yes.
38:32 Michael Port: That’s the beauty of this experience for us. We see ourselves as creative artists, and as an entrepreneur I see myself as a creative artist. And I see the absurdity in so much of our world, and I think that’s one of the things that you do too and we have fun with that. And that’s part of creativity, it’s part of play and we don’t get as worried about things. We don’t get hung up on these small details that seem larger than life. When we start to realize that we’re not gonna die.
39:08 Dan Cordle: Right. [laughter]
39:13 Michael Port: There is this myth that is out there, that public speaking is the number one fear and death is the number two.
39:22 Michael Port: Now, this is one of those studies like 67% of all statistics are made up on the spot kind of thing. Because I’ve never seen one actual study that suggests that if someone was afraid of public speaking and I had a gun to their head that was loaded and someone said, “Look you’ve got two choices right now, you can either speak to these 10 people in front of you or I will just pull the trigger and kill you right now.”
39:52 Dan Cordle: Yeah, here is…
39:53 Michael Port: Now that’s an extreme example but I think most people would actually speak. Once you realize “I’m not gonna die doing this thing.”
40:00 Dan Cordle: Yeah.
40:03 Michael Port: And then all of a sudden when you do this kind of play that you’re talking about, okay, so make your hands larger than life, let your hands run away, then your knees run away, all of a sudden you go, “Oh my God, I don’t have to worry about this stuff anymore.”
40:18 Dan Cordle: Yeah, and if you happen to be rehearsing in front of people and you’re engaged in that kind of play, at the end of it there is nothing to hide. They’re like, “Oh my goodness, that person is every bit as silly as I am.” And we’re all in the same room, so it’s really okay.
40:34 Michael Port: Can also top from… About working from the inside out rather than the outside in? Because when I am performing I never think about my hands. My hands do what they would do in regular life on stage, off stage, doesn’t matter. Right now my right hand is moving around, my left hand is leaning on the desk and playing with a little piece of plastic. They’re just behaving and helping me express myself. So, if you are working from the inside out, then your body will follow your objectives, what you’re trying to achieve. So, can you talk about that? Because a lot of times people when they hear… Get public speaking advice, the advice is from the outside in and the performer that’s trained works usually from the inside out when it comes to those kinds of things.
41:28 Dan Cordle: Yeah, I would say that’s very important because when you decide you’re gonna work from the outside in, you immediately move yourself into this kind of trap where you’re acting or performing very much from a set of standardized or acceptable ways of performing physicality, if that makes sense. So, if you look at old footage, old news reel footage from the ’20s or ’30s and so on, you’ll see that people look like they’re behaving quite differently than we do now. And we think, “Oh, those were the old days.” Right? But actually, everybody was… The behavior was a little bit different because there was a set of behaviors that were acceptable and where we kinda knew what was going on. Now, that’s one thing, but isn’t that curious that that was the case? And we have our own which we can’t really identify ’cause we’re here. So, if you wind up working from the outside in, you wind up having to engage with what are these set things. And those things don’t really bear a close connection to what is essential and true about who you are as a person.
42:48 Dan Cordle: There have been some performers who have not been in that trap even back in the old days, where if you look at photos in particular of people where you’ll see, I’m thinking of Valentino, you’ll see that there’s something that comes through time. Valentino is not stuck with the other people in the photo. He’s unstuck. And I think that’s because that particular person was living in his skin in a very real way. So, if you work from the outside in, you might confront this problem of, “Oh, this is my gesture.” Right? Okay I’ll think of a gesture right now. The politician’s closed fist, but not tight, with a thumb on top of the fore finger and gesturing forward. You did not see that in Nixon’s day. That gesture did not exist. And it will not exist soon, and we’ll look at that gesture in 20 years and go, “Oh my goodness, make a fist or open your hand. What’s going on?”
43:50 Dan Cordle: Right, so working from the inside out, you’re working from what you’re feeling. And you’re not so concerned about what your body does. Your body flows naturally. How do you make a tree the right tree? If you try to, you’ll spend ages pruning it. Just let the tree be a tree. Same with the river. Just let it be a river, if you dam it up it’s gonna take all kinds of maintenance. Just let it be what it is. And we apply the same idea to ourselves. Let’s just be who we are.
44:20 Michael Port: And the improvisation work and the movement work that we do with our students is very helpful… Very helpful in this particular area, this particular manner. So, to the improvisation, how does improvisation help you deal with the mind going blank in the moment?
44:47 Dan Cordle: Okay. Well, first of all I’d like to say that the mind going blank is one of the best things that can happen.
44:56 Dan Cordle: I just love it.
44:57 Michael Port: I agree with you.
44:58 Dan Cordle: It’s when you’re in the midst of something and suddenly space opens up and there are new possibilities. And again, it’s like that moment we were describing when you’re looking into the lens and you’re in the void. It’s the same moment. You’re out in the open. There’s nothing to hold on to. You can either look at that moment as horrifying or you can look at it and say, “Oh my goodness, I’ve finally learned how to fly. I’m out in the open, I don’t need my legs, I’m soaring through the air.” And what’s going to happen next? And then you remember, “Ah, this is what I want,” and you fly towards it, and you’re back in it, with power. A kind of power that you may not have been experiencing before that moment. So you see, this thing that we’re terrified of is actually an asset. It’s actually an asset, if we could remember the thing that we wanted and that we still want.
45:57 Michael Port: A couple weeks ago I did an interview for a podcast, and the host brought another guest to the podcast, and his name is Michael Lucchese, still is named Michael Lucchese. And the reason that he brought that guest is because that guest had 48 hours to go before they were giving a TEDx talk. So, he brought the other guest so that the other guest could ask me some questions about what they should think about or consider for when they’re giving their performance. And he wrote a post after he gave this particular performance. And it’s a really great post, it’s on LinkedIn. It’s called, How Michael Port Saved My TEDx Talk. [chuckle] If anybody wants to read it.
46:43 Michael Port: And I just wanna read a couple lines of this to demonstrate what Dan is talking about. Please ignore the fact that it was my advice that helped him, it could have been Dan’s or anybody else’s who we work with. He’s a really wonderful writer. He said his speech quickly went from his personal best performance to his worst nightmare. So he said, “The head that was once filled with my prepared thoughts, insights, and quotes, went completely blank. I literally forgot everything. In that moment, I didn’t even think I could have told you my name. I just finished a passionate portion of my talk and all I could see or think of was nothingness. For a split second I thought everything might fall apart, and I would quickly become the laughing stock of hundreds and eventually thousands once this disaster was uploaded to YouTube.”
47:34 Michael Port: So then he says, “Rewinding a bit 48 hours before my talk I had this opportunity to talk to Michael Port,” etcetera. And then he goes on to say, “We talked about how performing is part of our everyday lives, anxiety, preparation, and accepting feedback among other related items. And before ending the interview, Nikki asked Michael to give me his final advice for tips to consider over the next two days. And here’s what Michael had to say: ‘Stay in the moment, don’t anticipate what’s gonna happen next, allow your material to come to you organically in that moment so you are connected for real, in real time, with real people. If you drop a line, if you do something different, don’t sweat it. The audience will never know. Don’t apologize. When we get upset about it, it affects our performance. You don’t need to force anything, allow it to be organic and real.'” And he says back to the speech. “I was staring at the audience… ” and by the way, that’s what I learned as your student at the grand program at NYU. If we had just been training in acting, acting class, acting class, you think I would… I think I would have got that and maybe I would have learned it but really where I lived it, was in working with you in our improv and games classes.
48:51 Michael Port: Then he said, “I was staring at the audience with a blank face and an empty mind. I was ready to scream and run off the stage but I remembered to stay in the moment and keep my connection with the audience. I knew if I forced something or kept stressing about what came next, I may never recover. I turned slightly to the side and walked across the stage, keeping my composure and remaining calm. I looked at someone in the audience and said something to them that I hadn’t planned on saying and was never part of my talk. ‘It’s our stories that people connect with.’ It was a strong line that probably should have been in my speech, but I hadn’t thought of it before that moment. And by the time I finished that sentence, I was already calmer and the rest of the talk flowed for me. If I hadn’t been there in that moment and allowed my fear and panic to set in, I never would have been able to naturally come up with.” And then it goes on some more. But this is what you are talking about. This what I learned from you as my teacher, and I hope everybody who’s speaks publicly can have that kind of experience that Michael Lucchese had.
49:58 Dan Cordle: Yes. Very much so. That’s where it’s… That’s when you are really living. [chuckle]
50:05 Michael Port: So, here’s a question that I wanna wrap up with.
50:10 Dan Cordle: Okay.
50:11 Michael Port: I wanna wrap up with this question. Or actually two questions, two things. One, will ask question about you and then something specifically for the audience, for the listener. So, we know that performance is about making choices and saying “Yes and.” So, anybody that’s read Steal The Show, they’ve read about this concept of “Yes and.” We don’t say no because we stop action just dead in its tracks. We say, “Yes and how about this?” And we keep moving the action forward. That’s what performance is about in large part. So, what’s one time that you wish you had said “Yes and” but you didn’t and if you had, it would have given you a bigger platform or moved you forward in your life in some big way?
51:03 Dan Cordle: Okay. Well, I’m not sure it would have been the right thing to do, but I can tell one for sure. When I was 18, I was in Los Angeles and I was an actor and I was at a party. And at this party… [chuckle] These LA parties are so funny. There are all kinds of people there. And there was one gentleman who was from the Midwest and no connection to the show business. And he made a farm equipment. And we struck up a conversation at the party and he discovered that I speak french and… I used to be fluent in french, and that I lived in Europe. And he said… After we’d been talking for about an hour, he said, “How would like to go to Europe and represent my company?” And he said, “I’ll pay you $100,000 a year.” And he was quite frank. And this Midwestern man, and I had a moment where I was like, “I’m 18, I’m in LA to be an actor and this person has just offered me more money than I have ever seen.”
52:11 Dan Cordle: To do this thing that’s completely…
52:13 Michael Port: And this is 30 years ago now, isn’t it?
52:16 Dan Cordle: Yeah. So when you come from inflation… Anyway, there was a moment I thought, “I could do this. I could go live in Europe and I could make a ton of money and I would have this experience that would be kind of wild.” And I declined in that moment to go because there was something else I wanted. But I always thought, “What would have happened?” Like, “Would I have continued to be in the performing arts if I had done that? Would I have continued with photography?” I don’t know. It would have been a different reality. And just the idea that there is some different life out there that I could have led, is fascinating to me and makes me wonder, what would have happened?
53:00 Michael Port: I love this answer because it’s not about whether or not you made the right choice, what I’m hearing is that, the creative artist explores so many different ways of being and can see themselves doing lots of different things and being lots of different things. So there isn’t one way of being for Dan Cordle. There is one style of behaviour for Dan Cordle. Dan Cordle, just like all of us, is so much more than one thing and that’s what the performer knows. And this is what we are trying to encourage people who don’t see themselves as performers to consider, because then it opens up the world to them. And if their world is bigger, is more expansive, then they can have a greater impact on the audience.
53:54 Dan Cordle: Yes, absolutely.
53:56 Michael Port: Oh, that was good Dan. Oh that’s good.
54:00 Michael Port: Nicely done. Now… Okay, so here with this. Can you take us through a specific game or exercise and maybe just explain to our listeners what a game is in the world of improvisational theater. Something that they could do; maybe that they could practice when they finish listening to the episode.
54:21 Dan Cordle: Okay. So a game… To put it really simply, we all know how to play games. We discover them as children and that’s when we allow ourselves to do something that takes us to another place in our minds and we bring all of ourselves to that thing. So, when a child lays in bed and talks to her teddy bear, that’s a game. When you build your Legos without directions [chuckle] and you come up with some fabulous thing or when you start…
54:57 Michael Port: Like the cabinet that I put together yesterday [chuckle] without looking at the directions.
55:01 Dan Cordle: I can picture that.
55:01 Michael Port: And put the doors on upside down and backwards.
55:03 Dan Cordle: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of a game too. You’re giving yourself the time to be creative with an idea of what you are actually trying to accomplish. So, these games… If you bring yourself to these games as an adult, something extraordinary happens. A, you already know how to do it, but the last time you did it you may have been a child, and so you had a child’s intelligence and a child’s experience. What would happen if you started playing those games again as an adult bringing all of yourself to it?
55:37 Dan Cordle: What about [chuckle] the idea that they may actually be extraordinarily helpful for your performance? [chuckle] So you have like a win win win, I think, maybe one more win situation. [laughter] So here’s a… There are two things that you can do. Here are two games, quick games. The first one is to go around your house and find something that you’ve been looking at, thinking about, but actually haven’t dealt with. Like the music box on the piano. You look at it fondly and never really deal with it. Or your favorite coffee cup or the plant that’s on the windowsill. And you actually decide okay you’re gonna talk to that thing. You’re gonna actually have a… You’re gonna talk to it, but you’re gonna talk to it as an adult would, and you’re going to reveal your secrets to it.
56:31 Dan Cordle: You’re gonna sit down with that thing and you’re gonna say, “There’s something that I haven’t told anyone and I’m gonna tell it to you now.” And then you actually go into your confession with this thing. Now, you might say, “Oh, Dan, he’s crazy. How could I do that?” [chuckle] “They’re gonna think I’m a lunatic.” So do it when you’re alone. Do it when it’s just you. Then actually go there. Don’t pretend. Don’t hold back. Actually have it out and really, finally confess to this thing what’s going on with you. Now, what you may find is that at the end of 20 minutes you’re weeping hysterically [chuckle] or laughing hysterically. And that’s great. That’s exactly what children do when they play these games, except they don’t have quite the experience we do, and so they don’t bring so much to the table as we can. There’s one game.
57:27 Dan Cordle: Here’s another one. I’ll suggest this if there’s someone you’re in love with if you have for instance, your child or your mate. Sit on the sofa with them. Close your eyes. Close your ears if you can, put on a pair of headphones and just use your hands to feel their face. Now that might say “Oh my goodness, we couldn’t do that. We’re grown-ups.” Right. “We can’t possibly do that.” But all you’re really doing is getting to know that person again through the sensation of touch. That’s all you’re doing. And they do it to you. And at the end of it, you know each other better or you’ve reconnected more strongly than perhaps you were earlier in the day. Does that make sense?
58:11 Michael Port: It does. It suggests to me that when we are more comfortable with intimacy, and I don’t just mean romantic intimacy, I mean just human intimacy, then we’re more open as performers.
58:26 Dan Cordle: That’s right, Michael. That’s right.
58:29 Michael Port: Dan, I love you. You’re the best.
58:31 Dan Cordle: I love you too.
58:32 Michael Port: I learn something from you everytime I talk. So listen, if anybody out there in the world wants to work with Dan or wants to meet Dan or see him pull his pants down on stage, which is what he did last year at… With his underwear on, he left that on. This year we’re being sponsored by Calvin Klein by the way, so you’ll be able to do it again but wear new underwear. Then come to the event with us in Florida in February. Heroicpublicspeaking.com/live, it’s L-I-V-E. If you just wanna meet Dan, you can shoot us an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get connect you to Dan directly. Oh boy. Thank you so much Dan.
59:16 Dan Cordle: Thank you Mike.
59:17 Michael Port: And thank you to all of our listeners. Keep thinking big about who you are and about what you offer the world. I know I can speak for Dan here as well, but we love you very much, and not in a weird way. But we do. We love you for being the big thinkers that you are and for standing in the service of others as you stand in the service of your destiny. Go ahead, subscribe, rate and review and we’ll keep doing this for you. Bye for now.
59:45 Dan Cordle: Bye.