Playing the House

Group of Multiethnic Cheerful People Applauding

In a scene from the new mini-series Fosse/Verdon, performer Gwen Verdon’s name is chanted by the audience after her first Broadway play. It’s a telling moment as Verdon (played by actress Michelle Williams) soaks it up. It is the desire of many actors to perform for accolades and applause. However, this compulsion can lead to a condition called playing the house, where a performer’s focus is courting the audience, rather than honoring the integrity of the material.

For speakers, let this be a cautionary tale. If one audience likes a joke or anecdote, the next may not. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of over-performing to achieve the same result, or losing authenticity. And if your internal monologue is “I want them to like me”, or “I’m charming/funny/brilliant”, you are playing to the house, and will be disappointed when audiences don’t agree. Instead, aim for delivering a presentation that is engaging, audience specific, and in sync with your values. Commit to your material. And let the chips fall where they may. Integrity is your ticket to success. FYI. Michelle Williams won a recent Golden Globe for her performance as Gwen Verdon. It was well deserved.

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