Lessons from Les Miserables — the movie!

lesmiserablesHopefully, you enjoyed some relaxing downtime with your family and friends during the holidays. For me, it was a welcome break to go to the movies with my daughter-in-law Jill and watch her all-time favorite story, Les Miserables   — starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.

I was curious to see how director Tom Hooper transformed one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals to the big screen because . . . well. . .  the stakes don’t get much higher than that. While some fans may be disappointed with the performances of this all-star cast, several performers provide lessons to keep in mind next time you step up to speak.

anne-hathaway-les-miserablesAs shown in the movie. . . Ann Hathaway provides a show-stopping performance as the tragic heroine Fantine, a struggling factory worker and mother of an illegitimate child, who eventually sinks to becoming a sick, unstable prostitute.  From the moment the beautiful and naïve Fantine appears on-screen, you connect with her and as her life takes a tragic turn, you feel her despair.  Because Hathaway understands the essence of her character she is able to share the “true story” of Fantine.

Lesson . . .  As a speaker, it is important to spend some time developing your point of view and understanding of the topic.  Capturing your perspective will increase your comfort with the message and ensure you connect with your audience as you tell your story.

russell-crowe-les-miserables1-600x399As shown in the movie. . . Russell Crowe plays the role of the story’s antagonist Javert, a police inspector dedicated to enforcing the letter of the law and persecuting the protagonist Jean Valjean (played my Hugh Jackman).  While Crowe has an impressive physical presence, he missed the mark for me. I wanted to believe him but didn’t, he was more focused on “pretending to be Javert” Vs. “being Javert”.  Crowe appeared to be uncomfortable with his character and disconnected from his audience.

Lesson . . . To connect and inspire your audience you have to be fully engaged in your presentation.  That means believing in what you are saying and confident in your ability to deliver the message.  If you are not personally engaged, your audience will disconnect.  Presenters who break through the physical distance and reach out to “touch” their audience are able to make a powerful human connection.

The Ah-ha moment . . .  After the movie, when we were walking back to the car, Jill shared something that gave further insight to these two performances. Hooper had the cast sing live with piano accompaniment rather than lip-synch to pre-recorded music.  His intent was to keep it real, and let the emotion of the moment carry through in the music – as it would in a live, Broadway performance.

Final Lesson . . . If I were to take a guess Crowe, unlike Hathaway, focused on the live musical score rather than staying in the moment, capturing and conveying the emotion of the cruel and misguided Javert.  As a result, it felt like Crowe was singing to himself when he needed to be sharing his story with the world.

Your power as a presenter comes from your ability to stay in the moment, thinking about what you are saying and connecting with your listeners.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 13th, I’ll be interested to see how “Les Miserables” fares during the Golden Globes —and hope its lessons give high-stakes presenters like you added incentive to be confident,  heard and inspiring when you step up to speak.

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2 Responses to Lessons from Les Miserables — the movie!

  1. Glenn Gautier says:

    While I’ve yet to see the movie (and I plan to do so), your comment: “Crowe was singing to himself when he needed to be sharing his story” hit home. Too often presentations are stage for people to perform when they should be a platform for reaching out and sharing. Great insights- thank you!

  2. Cathy Horn says:

    Stephanie – I love your insights! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I resonated with your point about speaking with passion in order to make a real impact. I always knew it was important when delivering a presentation live, but I realize now that it is just as critical when preparing a written (email) message. I am building a compelling business case for leader e-approval, and I know that making a simple request will not be effective – I’ve got to show them why making this exception is critical and the right thing to do. It’s the passion that will make the difference – not merely facts. Thank you!

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