Portraying Conviction in Declamation

Audiences enjoy a piece with purpose. People like to know that what they recently observed meant something and has meaning; otherwise, everyone's valuable time is wasted. An important element of presenting a piece with conviction is believing in the words. When a performer believes in the words, conviction and confidence come naturally. In order to present a piece worth watching, there are a few tactics that can be employed which help present this conviction.

First, establish a strong stance and posture. If either of these is lacking, an audience is given the impression that the speaker lacks confidence in himself or possibly the piece. A Declamation speaker should stand with their shoulders back (or at least not folding forward), their back straight, and with feet shoulder width apart. The rationale is that by presenting oneself in a “larger” version of themselves, in a somewhat immobile position, the audience will perceive this as a display of confidence. Humans are visual, and a boastful, “large” presentation shows dominance. Feet being shoulder width apart is a stance that adds more stability than if the feet and legs were clamped together. Shoulders back and the back straight opens up the upper portion of the body. Actually, this entire pose opens the body more so than any other stance. This openness implies conviction and assuredness. Closing the body off implies introversion and shyness; definitely two traits not associated with a convincing speech. The more space taken up, the greater the presence on stage, and the more convincing the speech's body language.

Second, in order to match the openness of the body, the eyes should be open as well--open both literally (obviously) and metaphorically. Eyes are how people connect with one another, gauge interest, and detect untrustworthy behavior. A speaker that lacks the ability to properly use eye contact risks alienating the audience. A common pitfall for new speakers is to appear nervous and continually look just above their audience members. Even when paired with scanning the room, this still comes across as disingenuous. Speakers must make eye contact with individuals periodically not only to read the audiences’ interest in the piece, but in effect to keep them interested. Why should an audience member pay close attention when the speaker seems just as uninterested in them? Eye contact can also become a powerful tool to emphasize powerful moments by holding a person’s gaze during a specific moment. Furthermore, always scan the room and do not ignore anyone in the round. Only looking at the judge, or a certain side of the room, will certainly alienate segments of the audience. Finally, it is worth noting that too much eye contact can have the reverse effect over a person. An unusual amount of attention makes most people uncomfortable, so avoid the prolonged gaze or coming back to the same individual too often.

Third, to present an image of conviction means not betraying oneself with nervous twitches or ticks. These can include, but are not limited to, pacing, frequent and repetitive hand gestures, swaying, tapping of the foot, tapping of the hand on the leg, the use of “um” vocally, darting eyes, and a shaky voice. Learn to suppress these habits and not only will one appear at ease, but one will feel so as well. To begin controlling oneself, start in practice. Have a coach or team member watching make note of all nervous ticks being used. These behaviors can even be called out during rehearsal as they happen if they persist after being informed of them. Often, these types of ticks happen without the speaker being aware. Yet, to present a formidable image of composure, being able to contain these habits is critical. Knowing what they are and then employing a frequent mental check while presenting is the first step in eliminating these ticks; or at the very least ending the possibility of these habits from frequenting a round without a speaker’s knowing. The bottom line is that self-awareness is critical before these nervous habits can be eliminated.

Finally, the most important aspect to displaying conviction is to simply and truly believe in one’s piece. For example, choosing to do a piece that is pro-war when the performer is a certified pacifist is a terrible decision. Find a piece that conveys an idea one supports. Understand that one will never find a theme for a speech upon which the entire audience agrees; trying to fit a particular dogma because it is trendy or “in” at competitions frequently fails. In fact, as long as the topic of a speech is not extremist, then most audiences will appreciate a well-done piece the speaker clearly supports. Loving one’s piece equates to a better all-around performance and transcends to a conviction that the audience can feel and respect.

Conviction in Declamation is crucial to presenting an assured, solid performance. Audiences respond well to a performer that sincerely loves and stands behind the message of their piece. Such conviction will shine through in a performance in a way that no amount of practice or refinement could duplicate.