The minute we stand up to speak; we have the attention of the audience.
The minute we open our mouth – we can lose it.
Those 1st few seconds in the limelight are vital to engaging the attention of your listeners and that begins from the moment you come into their line of vision.
Many of us are able to stand up and deliver a good presentation, but few think about turning it into a truly memorable performance.
No matter how good your presentation is, if it is just a monologue, it is unlikely that many people will remember your message or take any action as a result.
So what’s the pointing spending the time and effort creating a presentation that’s going to have little or no impact and evaporate into thin air almost before it has landed?
I first became aware of the power of stagecraft nearly 30 years ago when I was asked to address the Haggis at a Burns night in Kent. To be fair, I had offered my services, however was completely taken by surprise when they called me and asked if I could do it the next week!!
Burns Night in Scotland (born and bred in Glasgow) was very much a ‘men only’ affair, so not only had I never witnessed the ‘Address to the Haggis’, I had also never even attended a Burns Night!
I rushed out, bought a book of Burns Poetry and got to work learning an almost incomprehensible 8 verses, struggling at times to work out how to pronounce the unfamiliar words.
On the said evening, I delivered the address with a little prompting from my then boyfriend.
It seemed to go OK and I was invited back for a 2nd year.
Later that year I was at a business Conference at Gleneagles in Scotland and on the Saturday evening, they put on a Burn’s Night – I couldn’t wait!
The bagpipes struck up ‘Scotland The Brave’, the Haggis was held aloft on a silver platter as it was brought into the banqueting hall followed by one of the most incredible performers I have ever seen.
He was a very small, wizened, old Scotsman in full Highland Attire including a Tam O’ Shanter on top of his long, flowing grey hair. He had a matching grey beard, bowed legs, knobbly knees and he bore a remarkable resemblance to Rumplestiltskin.
He paused meaningfully in front of the haggis then he started to dance around it and address it as if it was alive. He hopped from foot to foot, arms flailing, body bending and arching and his voice undulating through light and shade, loud and soft, high and low – he had the audience ‘eating out of the palm of his hand’!
I was mesmerized! Ah! So that’s how it’s done, were my instant thoughts!
I suddenly fully appreciated the ceremony and the performance that were required if you were honoured enough to be invited to perform this very important address.
Now I haven’t modeled myself on ‘Rumple’ because that was his performance and his energy that he brought to the table and if I tried to do it his way, it would come across as inauthentic and fake.
However I have done it my way and injected so much more theatre and energy into my address that it totally engages the audience every time.
Don’t be tempted to steal other people’s stories, jokes, one-liners – it is seen as very bad form on the speaking circuit and shows a lack of imagination on your part. Think instead what personal stories and experiences you can share. If you are using information from a book or a quote – always reference the author/creator.
Every year as Burns Night approaches, I can feel the excitement mounting as I so look forward to the performance. I also watch some of the past addresses that have been posted on YouTube to see how I can improve on where I am now, because you never ‘arrive’ in speaking you just keep on learning and honing and fine-tuning your craft.
I love every moment of it, and because I am having so much fun. My audience does too and the feedback just gets better every year, which totally plays to my inner ‘Star’!
So why am I telling you all this? – Because when you bring ‘you’ to your performance, when you are authentic and speak from the heart, people take notice, they engage, they listen and they take action.
My Top Tips on Stagecraft to Captivate Your Audience
ENGAGE – from the moment you stand up to speak.
Plan how you are going to walk to the stage.
Are you having walk on music that fits the theme of your message?
Have you got a powerful image to have on screen as you approach?
You should be grabbing the attention as soon as you are introduced and your energy should be palpable as you walk to the stage.
PAUSE – look at the audience for a few seconds before you start.
Hold eye contact with a few people until you have the attention of the whole room.
Allow everyone to settle down and to be ready for you first word.
POWERFUL OPENING – start with a quote, a story, an unusual fact and make it all about them, using words like ‘you’ and ‘yours’.
Would it surprise you to know? Would you believe? Did you hear? How many of you saw?
People decide in those 1st few seconds whether you are going to be interesting, relevant, worth listening to so make those first words captivating.
EASE – your audience has fears. They fear being bored, wasting their precious time and having nothing to take away from your talk. So, allay those fears in those vital 1st seconds and get them onboard with you and hanging on your every word. Boredom in an audience is contagious and spreads as quickly as nits in a nursery.
ENTERTAIN – People pay top money to go to a West End performance because they love to be entertained. Good stagecraft turns a presentation into a performance that people will remember long after the event. So, as you craft your talk, think about how you can breathe life into every section.
How can you get your audience visualizing your message?
How can you get them interacting with you and each other?
What images, video, anecdotes will enhance your message?
Are there relevant props you could bring?
Most people have a very short attention span so make sure there are several high points throughout the talk to keep engagement high throughout.
EDUCATE – It has never been easier than it is today to tap into information in our specialist area. Sharing new information when you speak, will position you as an ‘expert’ in your field and build up a following of raving fans who read and share your pearls of wisdom across all media.
You will be excited about sharing your knowledge, which will do wonders for your confidence on stage.
ENERGISE – Whatever you are speaking about, do it with passion. It is really difficult not to listen to someone who is passionate about their topic – that passion is contagious. When you practice, overact your delivery as if you are speaking to thousands. Speak clearly with deliberate pauses at salient points, vocal variety, change of tempo and light and shade.
Act out your your key points to add emphasis and memorability.
ENJOY – The first ‘sale’ of any talk is to yourself – If you are not excited about delivering it, change it until you are. If you are not enjoying your performance, neither will your audience.
When you are truly well prepared and practiced with a clear structure, a great message and some key ways to engage your audience, you can focus on making it the best performance of your life!
You literally lose ‘yourself’ and ‘own’ the stage!
Re- moving around the stage –
Actors are taught about the 9 areas they can perform in which fall into 3 rows across the stage.
Upstage, centre stage and downstage -each row is then split into left, centre and right.
Actors get into position on the centre of the stage when they are about to be the main character of the moment so the whole audience can focus on what they are delivering.
Too many speakers amble aimlessly across the stage from side to side with no purpose.
This means they are not making eye contact with the audience and it is very difficult to maintain your attention if there is no eye contact from the speaker.
Centre stage is where you are at your most powerful and is the best place to be for most of your talk.
Any movement across the stage should be to re-enforce your message.
The stage can be used like a timeline.
When you are referring to the past, move to your right as you face the audience and to your left if you are talking about the future.
Anything that relates to the present and when you are making an important point, is best delivered from the position of power – centre stage.
Practice, practice, practice – not so it’s so polished there is no heart to your performance, but so that you can truly relish every magical moment.
“There are three things to aim at in public speaking: first, to get into your subject, then to get your subject into yourself, and lastly, to get your subject into the heart of your audience”
Turn your nerves into excitement. It is a real privilege to have the gift of the attention of an audience.
To quote wonderful speaker, Paul Magee – your body prepares itself for the unknown, so think of it as being ‘adrenalised’ rather than being nervous.
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” — Dale Carnegie
So, make sure every speech you give is the one you wanted to give.
Be brave, be bold, be brilliant!
To turn your presentation into a memorable performance and any speaker coaching please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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