For the last twenty four hours, I have been, like most Americans, immersed in the story of Michael Jackson. It has been an emotional time for me and my family, filled with conversations that have sparked many memories of the career highs and lows of this petite giant of an entertainer.
But for some of this time I have held onto my professional hat and have looked for the lessons that Michael Jackson has left for those of us who speak and perform in front of groups. These lessons are not hard to find, as there are certain immutable laws of public speaking and stage performance that overlap. And if we look closely enough we will be able to observe and perhaps emulate some of the dramatic elements and stage techniques that will forever be the signature of Michael Jackson.
Personal intensity and passion: Michael Jackson was nothing if not self-possessed and intensely passionate about his work and life. If each of us can take just a pinch of his passion and pour it into a topic that we love we will take our speaking to the next level.
Mechanics: From the time he was a little boy Michael Jackson possessed an uncanny and natural sense of rhythm, coordination and timing that fully matured in the moonwalk performance you’ve undoubtedly seen. There is certainly unusual and unique talent at play here with his intense physical coordination, conditioning and agility. The lesson for the public speaker is this: When you stand up on stage in front of an audience you are performing, so you’d better be in top physical condition in mind and body to deliver your message with impact. Planning, practice and a degree of talent are essential ingredients.
Mental discipline: Some would argue that Jackson lacked a certain mental discipline in his personal life, but as a performer it was a powerfully demonstrated skill. However much he may not have wanted to practice, rehearse and refine his act, he did it anyway. We will all face days when we do not want to practice or prepare for our next presentation. When we do, we only need to look at Michael Jackson’s performances to be reminded of the discipline it takes to perform well at any level.
Precision: What impresses me the most is watching the precision of his body movements coupled with his wonderful voice and clever lyrics. The coordination of his body, voice and words were the vehicle for his powerful, passionate and entertaining message. There are parallels here because the same precision is required for the public speaker. Taking the time to practice and learning to be precise will pay off in spades.
There are, of course, many more elements and lessons to learn from Michael Jackson – the ultimate performer. His creativity, natural talent, extreme energy and generous physical output coupled with his stage mechanics, passion and drive all came together on stage. Watching him perform was pure inspiration.