I listen as often as I can to Fresh Air, the superb radio program with host Terry Gross. On one program, she interviewed actor Charles Grodin, also a personal favorite. She asked if it was any different working with younger actors. Grodin said yes, they don’t learn their lines. As a consequence, he continued, it was not only more difficult working with them, it was also more difficult for them to find their character and the meaning in their words.
In a scene from Hearts of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, actor Dennis Hopper defends as his purposeful artistic process not learning his lines so he can keep greater degrees of artistic freedom in his portrayal. The film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola, reminds him that he needs to know his lines first for him to have even the barest glimmer of hope of exploring the character’s full intention and place in the story.
In my professional life, I’ve worked with many leaders to help them communicate more effectively. Many have been giving talks and presentations for years and express to me a sincere desire to branch out, get more creative, be more physically demonstrative. All well and good, I frequently respond, but first, know your material.
It’s only by having the confidence of being the complete master of content that a speaker can fully realize their potential connection to an audience.