A World Class Acting Teacher Teaches Engineers...
This is part two of a four part series on how to improve your public speaking...
In January of this year, a man named William Esper passed away at the age of 86. He was a renowned acting teacher who trained, among others, Paul Sorvino, Mary Steenburgen, Jennifer Beals, Kristin Davis, William Hurt, Kim Delaney, Wendy Malik, Dule Hill, Calista Flockhart, Peter Gallagher, Patricia Heaton, Aaron Eckhart, Christine Lahti, Gretchen Mol, Larry David, Amy Schumer, David Morse, Michele Shay, Patricia Wettig, Richard Schiff Timothy Olyphant, Jeff Goldblum, Diane Keaton and Sam Rockwell.*
For three out of four semesters over two years, twice a week, three hours a days we, Bill’s students, did nothing but improv. A specific type of improv, but improv nonetheless. The purpose? To train our brain to focus, listen and react. Period.
Over. And over. And over again.
And to ingrain in us one more thing. To read what is happening with the person in front of you.
When I taught public speaking at Washington University I stole of few of those techniques to train my highly left-brained engineering students to make eye-contact, focus and respond. And to overcome their nervous ticks. You know, the rocking back and forth, the Uhm”; “Right?” “So”, etc.?
It turns out that when you train your brain to focus outwardly, your brain forgets to think: “ACKKK!! THEY ARE LOOKING AT ME!!”
In fact, when you train your brain to focus outwardly, you lose many of those issues that are otherwise prevalent when you are in a state of self-consciousness. Yes, you may need to do some awareness and observation when you are not rehearsing your speech as we discussed in the last part of this series. But for many people, with repetitive improv training, the “Like”, “You Know”, rocking back and forth or what one of my former Boeing engineering students used to call “Raptor Arms” (tuck your elbows into your side and put your hands up in the air and gesture only with your hands) can be overcome.
But like many things in life, practice makes perfect and I will talk about that in Part 4. Up Next in Part 3: The laying of hands...
I am positive that when Bill sat in his comfy chair in that small studio in Gramercy Park on the East side of Manhattan, he never expected that some of his work would be used to teach Cyber Security Engineers and Data Scientists. But lessons of one kind can often be applied elsewhere.
Rest in peace, Bill. And thank you for being a great teacher. Your legacy abounds in both the great actors mentioned above, and a few Engineers in St. Louis, MO.
*The Hollywood Reporter – January 28, 2019