How to Use Acting Skills to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking with Bri McWhorter

How to Use Acting Skills to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking with Bri McWhorter
Science Communication

00:00 / 23:38

The idea of public speaking can leave many people feeling anxious and afraid. So, for those who need to give a speech or presentation for their academic or business career, what are some ways to overcome the nerves? What techniques can they use to calm their anxiety?

Bri McWhorter is a successful actress and teacher who specializes in public speaking, interview techniques, and interpersonal communications, as well as the skills needed to give an effective presentation. She uses her training as an actor to show others how to overcome stage anxiety and communicate their message. 

The experience of being trained as an actor led Bri to create Activate to Captivate, where she is CEO to this day. The company teaches communication from the point of view of an actor. Through communication workshops and private coaching, Bri and her company endeavor to help clients in academia, corporations, and nonprofits to improve their public speaking, interpersonal communication, and interview techniques.

Bri McWhorter earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Theater and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. After her undergraduate degree, she went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Acting at UC Irvine. 

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • [1:04] Introduction to Bri McWhorter
  • [2:19] Why Bri decided to become an actor
  • [3:13] Finding her other passion of helping people using her acting background
  • [6:29] How being trained as an actor helps Bri teach people to communicate
  • [8:40] Getting over stage fright
  • [12:15] Bri’s work with Scientists at UC Irvine
  • [16:05] What makes Bri proud in her communication work
  • [19:39] A piece of advice from Bri to improve communication skills

Connect with Bri McWhorter

Getting over the fear of Public Speaking

The fear of speaking in public is a very common one. It can be difficult to speak in front of a group of people you don’t know. It can be even more frightening to do it in front of your peers. Bri calls the physical shock which a speaker can go through a “presenter shell” because the speaker does not feel like themselves. Tension builds up in their body, and it affects the voice. When someone hears that wavering in their voice, it increases the nerves, and creates a negative feedback loop. 

Fortunately for her clients, Bri has developed techniques to alleviate those conditions. So what are some ways in which a speaker can prepare to speak and calm down their nerves? For example, warm-up techniques are taught which are similar to those used by professional athletes. They don’t just run onto the court or field without a routine to get their body ready and their nerves calmed. The best thing to do to calm the body, according to Bri, is to breathe. When someone is nervous, the first thing they do is hold their breath. So learning to breathe in moments of anxiety can make a huge difference. 

How Acting can translate to communication skills

As Bri mentions in during this interview, actors are trained to know how to use their body and their voice to add life to what they are communicating. Most people only rely on the message they are trying to convey while speaking in public or in front of a crowd. The body is a useful tool for effectively communicating with a personal audience, and the formal training of an actor naturally embodies that.

Actors learn to see things from another’s perspective, and that is what public speaking is all about. The entire point is for another person to receive your message, so knowing how to embody that is incredibly helpful. What does a typical audience member think? What do they know already about the subject at hand? What could possibly be confusing for them about the subject? Understanding their perspective, and that the act of public speaking is a group experience, goes a long way towards successfully conveying a message. Actors know this, and that makes them natural teachers of effective communication. 

Learn more about Bri McWhorter and her successful life as an actor and teacher of communication by listening to the full conversation with Mark on this week’s episode of When Science Speaks.

Connect With Mark and When Science Speaks

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