Archive for the ‘Develop your Stage Presence’ Category

I recently handed a pair of sparkly earrings to a singer just before she went on stage to perform a solo. She looked a bit surprised at this random gesture. However, they did make an impression. In fact they sparked away even to the back of the room!

The sparkle helped to focus the attention on the singer strangely enough, so I’d recommend this to any female presenter. But do make sure it compliments your outfit. Every little helps!

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While we've got the summer still going strong (anyone with a garden won't be minding the rain for a week) it's tempting for a presenter to wear those lovely open toe shoes in an informal/formal kind of way. But DON'T DO IT.

I don't know why but open toes (no matter how nice the footwear) just never work. I guess because the audience is looking at the whole of you when you're standing in front of them as a speaker… all that jumps out is not your eyes, but your feet! Never mind those manicured pinkies, your feet will not only jump out.. but get bigger while you speak. The eyes get inexorably drawn down to them.

I know it's strange. But true.

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There's a charactor in 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' who you should always approach with a towel covering your face. The creature gets confused, thinks that if you can't see him he can't see you. Sadly, many people think this is true of their audience. Don't be fooled. The fourth 'wall' (ie: imaginary wall that separates you from the audience) does not exist. I repeat: Does. Not. Exist.

Unless their eyes are being purposefully drawn elsewhere – the audience WILL watch you as you cross the stage to place that small chair next to the flower arrangement; or fiddle with your tie, clean the spinach from your teeth, stand up laboriously to give that speech, or cross the stage to hand over a tiny piece of paper to a principle speaker.

Some tips:
Today's tips are for presenters/actors who are on a stage, or in a room, say for a networking meeting/banquet or any social or business event.

1. If you are in a large room and getting up from your chair to stand in front of everyone… then make sure you've stood in the place where you will be giving your presentation beforehand, so you can get a feel for where your space will be. This will give you confidence as you get up to go there as know where you are going.

2. If you're on a stage, be in position in the side-wings five to ten minutes before you have to go on. During this time you can check through anything with stage manager or get your radio mike on etc. If possible there should be a full length mirror off stage for you to check your appearance.

3. Remember that the front of the room, isn't just the front of the room. More often than you think, the main presenters haven't thought about where they're going to be standing and can start talking to people in a corner somewhere. Or next to a table or large banner.  It's tempting to then go and stand there too. But don't do it! Pick your spot, if you're on a stage it will be centre stage to own your space (speakers tend to hover on the left or right which makes them look apologetic).

4: I always say… Project your energy onto the stage first and then walk into it. Literally imagine yourself there already and then walk into your space.

5: Acquire your character/persona before before you stand up or walk on. Don’t leave it until you’re standing up or walking on, it’s too late by then. The audience will take notice of you the moment you are visible to them. If you are in the sidewings then it's easier than if you're sitting at a table. My advice is to stop chatting a few minutes before you know you are going to be introduced in order to get into your presenter mode. Sit up straighter. Wriggle your toes (it helps!) Clear your throat. Think about your opening words. Imagine yourself up there. Expand yourself so you can talk to a whole room instead of just the person sitting next to you who wants to now how the traffic was for you on the way there.

6. If you're getting up from your seat and then walking to the front to applause: Stand up, acknowledge the applause with a nod to the room and a smile, then walk on. Don't scurry on, remember there's no towel.

In fact any new entrance attracts attention. It's easy to think that the audience isn’t going to watch you if you don’t take any notice of them. But just think, that’s what actors do in plays all the time, and they are very watchable.

My final word:
People love watching ‘stage-business’ (People moving things around etc) Say it’s the start of an evening and the audience has just come in and is settling into their seats. You are asked to go onto the stage and fix a lead on a mike stand. Be warned that those people who aren’t talking to someone or reading a programme WILL watch you. There is simply nothing else for them to do.

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Yes it's easy to do.

If you've ever organised an event, be it birthday bash, office presentation or any situation which involves asking someone else to 'say a few words' you would have experienced the phenomena known as speaker-going-on-too-long. It's extremely tempting to ask them to hurry it up with a discreet gesture when you finally manage to catch their eye. Unfortunately this can have devastating consequences for the speaker and derail him/her completely.

Going-on-too-long is easily done when a speaker is in his/her stride, but can stress the backstage team and have the audience sigh with relief when you finally finish; hardly the experience you want your speech to be remembered by.

I recall a yoga conference – with an audience of several hundred – we had a guest dance act waiting in the wings but the speaker showed no sign of stopping. The audience were engaged enough but there was a long programme of acts ahead there was panic in the backstage ranks.

I was lighting designer and my lighting desk was front-of-house so I had an audience perspective aswell as a backstage perspective – the wonder of headphones.

In the end someone walked on stage – while she was mid-sentence – and whispered something into her ear; the result was catastrophic. The speaker was a very good one you see and her content was engaging, if a bit long, but she could have exited with more grace than she eventually did. She got nervous and ended her presentation with uncertainty and a quick exit. It was such a shame.

One needs to believe in one's own fabulousness, you see, when giving a presentation. Confidence is everything. If you don't believe you are interesting, you're sunk. So to be told mid-speech that everyone wants you to finish NOW would de-rail anyone.

Here's what the stage manager could have done…

Positioned herself in full view of the speaker (preferably in the front row of the audience) and raised a piece of paper which says ' 5 more minutes' on it and WAITED until the speaker saw her.

In situations like these don't try and get the speaker's attention, that will distract them too much and (worse) let the audience know that they've gone-on-too-long. Once that's been communicated the audience will stop listening and start to fidget, which will put the speak off further.

So just hold the paper and wait. After they have seen you and nodded, you can wait another 3 minutes and then raise another piece of paper saying '2 minutes'  This will allow the speaker time to work out how they are going to conclude.

I have heaps and heaps of other tips and tricks which I've found to work, and if anyone has a senario they'd like to share then do drop a comment on this blog and I'll try and offer some solutions. 

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Believe it or not, but there's actually quite a lot of skill involved in having nothing to do on stage whilst being in full view of the audience – and the action happening elsewhere.

Say you are one of 2 speakers giving a presentation, what on earth are you to do with yourself whilst the other person is giving his/her spiel, and (horror) you're left standing there for an eternity. Here's a couple of brilliant tips, which will save you if you are ever in this dire predicament…

1: Move at a glacial pace.
This will allow you to get away with almost anything. You can even turn around and walk off and no-one will even notice. But I mean truly g..l…a…c….i…a….l. Verrrrry slowly. Do this excercise:

Sit in a chair and place your hands on your lap. Take 4 full seconds to lift your hand up to your chin. That's how slow you have to move.

Just remember that any sudden movements attract attention. So no tapping feet, or moving at 'normal' speed – not unless you want poeple to watch you do it.

Hot tip:
If you need to walk through an auditorium, amongst an audience who are concentrating on the stage – then walk slowwwly, or you'll get annoyed people turning to look at you. Watch a professional camerman – a true professional may even take his shoes off, so as to not make any sound, just watch him drift slowly along the aisle like a ghost. Each step taking at least 2 seconds.

2: Listen attentively to the talker.
I don't know why it works, but the audience will invariably look where you are looking. Listen to what you are listening to. So no gazing around all over the place, or talking to someone off-stage – you'll distract the audience and your fellow presenter won't thankyou.

My next post will be on how to communicate with a live speaker, right in the middle of his live presentation. I've seen many a fine presenter get completely derailed, after someone's just whispered to them to hurry up and finish, as the next act is waiting to come on… Pray that never happens to you my friend.

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I know I said I would describe the difference between a beat and a pause – but first something that's just come to my attention, so i should mention it…

If you are about to give a speech or presentation – Always ask for an introduction.
But make sure you check it first. Better still, write it yourself. If the MC sets you up wrong then you might have to spend the first half of your presentation repairing the damage! Trust me.

Now that's out of the way here it is…

Beat: about a second in length – it's just a heartbeat gap.
Pause: these are completely different! Pauses can last as long as you want – but they MUST be emotionally charged to work. Must must must – otherwise the audience will get bored. I am very strick about this rule and for good reason. I can write quite a lot about the use and misuse of 'pauses' and will come back to them time and again in future blogs I'm sure.

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Whenever I direct a play – my actors will tell you my number 1 rule:

Common sense tells you that if there are a thousand pairs of eyes out there, between them they’ll see everything on the stage. Wrong. They will only look all over the place if they’re bored. If they’re engaged then they’ll be looking at the one place where you want them to. So you must know where their attention is supposed to be at any one time.

Let me illustrate…

Excercise 1:
To do next time you are in the audience:

Watch two people standing next to each other and talking. Notice how you look at one person then the other. At no point can you focus on both people at the same time, even if they are standing head to head. This is a mistake commonly made by directors and speakers everywhere. If the attention is on one person and the other makes a gesture, the audience will miss it entirely. This is particularly important if there are two speakers in a presentation.

Excercise 2:
Next time you watch a dance ensemble, common sense says you can watch all 50 dancers at once. But actually you can only watch ONE dancer, the rest give an impression and fill out the movement. So the choreographer makes sure the best dancer is in the lead position.

Excercise 3: To do next time you are giving a presentation: 2 senarios: First: where you are sharing the presentation with another person and they have finished speaking it's back to you OR Second: the audience has just finished watching a video – any situation where the audience must look at you again…

Do a guesture, like take a deep breathe, or turn slightly, something that will make the audience turn their eyes to look at you. Stop a beat. Then speak.

Footnote: A 'beat' is not a 'pause' Find out the difference in my next blog.

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