An #upfront conversation with Lindsay Dukes

Lindsay Dukes is a writer, actor and theatre maker. She is a proud feminist and recently produced Portia; a one woman play tackling the complexities of sexual identity.

One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon is putting the world to rights with Lindsay. Despite only knowing her for a short time I have learned a lot from her about the intricacies of the english language, posture and the life of an actor. This week we are running a workshop for twenty six young social entrepreneurs at Year Here ; bringing together our passion for equality and complimentary skill sets around story telling and stage presence. Here’s what she has to say about public speaking, confidence and the journey she’s on with both.

Public speaking is scary because normally I get to hide behind a script and a character. I’m really used to getting on stage, speaking clearly and engaging an audience but it’s a very different thing when you’re stripped of the mask.

I recently wrote a one woman play about feminism and submission which was largely autobiographical and brought me as close to public speaking as I’ve come in a long time. In ‘Portia’ I broke the fourth wall which is the invisible wall the actors usually hide behind. Usually the audience are peering into your world; actors very rarely talk directly to the audience unless it’s a soliloquy or an aside. But in ‘Portia’ I spoke openly about fairly private aspects of my life while making eye contact…at first it was incredibly scary but ultimately extraordinarily liberating.

I’ve got all the techniques already in place to speak in front of people having trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in body and voice. What I was less used to was acknowledging that people were watching me, I had to lean into what I found at first to be an uncomfortable amount of eye contact. I realised however that eye-contact is key, as it helps you to accept that the environment is essentially one of conversation. I spoke and people responded, not with words but with focus, and sometimes laughter, but either way it was a collaborative exchange.

I anticipated judgement, a common concern among actors (we’re all scared of people not liking us…not just actors!) but what was new with ‘Portia’ was the level of openness and honesty I was walking on stage with. That level of vulnerability felt like it could have potential for embarrassment or shame. As a female actor I’m very used to being looked at rather than listened to; now the focus was on what I had to say; I was on stage with very little make up and a hoody. During the show I talked about the intricacies of my life and inconsistencies of my personality and people’s responses were very positive. I didn’t feel judgement – I felt a lot of love actually. I’ve learned vulnerability is not only human but also an incredibly positive tool to utilise; it’s a way of cutting the facade, I think it’s probably the source of good communication and oddly, confidence. Confidence I think is a state of being where you don’t need external affirmation but you are able to listen and respond and make yourself vulnerable to external feedback.

“I work hard on liking myself and making work that I believe in while checking in with people who’s opinions I value.”

How do you find confidence when standing up in front of people? The cliche of imagining them naked exists for a reason – you’re reminded that they’re just people, exposed and vulnerable like you. It’s a conversation, and what you have to say and the way that you say it is 100% unique to you, like your naked body, it’s innately interesting.

“If I had to give practical advice about speaking in public I’d say literally and physically – speak from your gut and not your head.”

 Work out why what you are saying is important and say it – don’t lace stuff with academia and posh words – if you try and sound smart for the sake of it it’ll be boring and people will switch off. Utilise your enthusiasm for the topic and allow your personality to infuse us with the same interest. I enjoy presentations that are funny and authentic. I like watching a person talk about the thing they are excited about while exposing the quirks of their personality. It’s nice to match ideas to a personality.

If you feel nervous – breathe out. A public speaker needs to be grounded and you achieve this by breathing out, slowly. It slows your heart rate and will help centre your voice. Then breath the room in, take everyone in, just a bunch of humans who you’re about to have a natter with. Enjoy.

If you’d like to talk to Lindsay about the physical practicalities of speaking in front of people or have idea about how you’d like to tell your story please get in touch lindsay (dot) dukes (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk