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Archive for the ‘Develop your Stage Presence’ Category

Underestimate an MC's job at your peril, especially if it is your first time. I'll start with the best advice first – if you're an MC, it's all too easy to get caught up in arranging the schedule and running organising everything on the night. Before you know it the audience have arrived, are seated and it's time for you to stand in front of everyone and welcome them. Alas! if you haven't completely thought through everything you're going to say before that moment – it's too late! What EXACT words are you going to say? Rehearse your opening lines at least if not anything else.

Being an MC is all about easy communication with the audience. Being confident – and informative. Making sure everyone understands your main points, that they are interested in what you are going to say next, and that you get a laugh here and there. Confidence comes with preparation, and I will be giving tips on how to prepare so stay tuned in to this blog.

2 tips to start you off…
• Getting a laugh. A safe thing is to use jokes that say something you can carry on from, so if the audience don't laugh, they won't know they haven't. You can also cover your back by not laughing at your own jokes in case the audience doesn't.
• Never look at your watch it will remind the audience how long you've been talking and might create the impression that timekeeping is more important than them.

Practise what you are going to say in front of a mirror, record yourself to listen and check how you're emphasising your words, film yourself (cringe-worthy though it may be) to see how many times you do those repetitive manerisms.

'A sign of a good MC is that even if the roof fell down – he'd have the audience believe it was in the schedule. Better still…. if you somehow save a potentially embarrassing situation – and do it with flair – audience will definately warm to you! 

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Power Points: Here's quick, but very useful tip… I always say don’t put text on a slide unless you’re going to give the audience time to read it. Very important. Either remain silent while they read, or preferably, read it out for them.

The worse thing you can do is to carry on talking, while they’re trying to read, then change the slide when they’re only half-way through. Then if you go through the slides too quickly, with insufficient time to absorb each one, the audience will get irritated and very soon (horror!) start to cough and shuffle. Oh dear. 

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Ever been there?

You're giving a speech or presentation and happen to look around your audience, and what do you see? A sea of utterly blank faces. That's a mouth drying moment. But rest assured.

Notice yourself next time you are part of an audience. You might find the speaker very interesting, but how expressive are you of that interest? Do you nod in agreement or throw your head back to laugh in appreciation? Probably not very much, when you lose your self-consciousness and get absorbed in the content you might in fact frown in concentration, and if the speaker wasn’t in the know she’s probably think you were frowning in disagreement.

So 3 things:
1: Be confident and know that the audience probably is listening (unless you really are boring them to death)
2: Take pity on the next speaker you listen to, nod or smile occasionally perhaps – because the time will surely come when you'll appreciate it yourself.
3: If you don't see any response – pretend there is! Funny thing, it really does work. A small smile back at 'someone' in the audience, as if they have just smiled at you. And voila! Before you know it, you'll start getting a response. People follow other people. Or what they think other people are doing.

Hope that helps!

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There is an incredible amount of inertia associated with any audience. It can be extremely hard to make them laugh, sing or even offer you a smile every now and again. Steely gazes look up at you and you have no idea whether you’re boring them to death. But take heart, if they’re not fidgeting, they’re interested.

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Make Them ONE
In the beginning of your presentation or indeed any performance, the audience are all individuals with their own thoughts and feelings.
“I don’t like the colour of that backdrop”
“On no! I’m sitting behind a tall person”
“The journey here was horrendous…”
“These chairs are uncomfortable, I can’t sit in it for three hours!”
Your job, as a playwright, singer or speaker is to make them into one mind and heart. You should know what the audience will thinking and feeling at any given moment in your presentation.
How? Because you’ve taken them there with you.

First Impression

What influences the audience’s first impression of you? Your first entrance is all important. Any new arrival on the stage is of fresh interest to the audience. So compose yourself before you come on. Much more about that later.

The Opposite of Boredom

At this point I want to emphasis the importance of engaging your audience. Too many presenters, even playwrights, make the mistake of assuming that once the audience have consented to sit in front you, you can bore them to death, safe in the knowledge that very few will actually walk out. Beware. Although no-one decides to be boring it can easily be done. Maybe ‘bore’ is too strong a term, but it’s how I would describe an audience that is not engaged…

What does it mean to engage your audience? It means engaging either their minds or emotions at any given moment….

Mind vs Emotions

The mind moves fast, the emotions move much much slower. Think of how fast a comedy is played. A farce is the fastest, trousers drop and doors bang as quick as lightening. Whereas a thriller or romance contains more emotional suspense, therefore has moments which move much more slowly. Have you ever held your breathe, while the seconds ticked by, willing the heroine not to turn that doorknob?

Comedies engage the mind, so keep the pace up, the audience simply grasps the idea and moves on quickly…. and if the action doesn’t keep up they’ll leave with an impression of having sat through a ‘long, drawn-out’ performance regardless of how long, or short, it actually was. Have you ever watched a 2-hour play and the time seemed to fly past? Or sat through a half hour speech that just seemed to last forever? If you were not engaged then the time will seem long.

A few years ago in the USA a friend of mine, Mansukh Patel, was offered a 5 minute slot as a speaker in a conference. He had to make an impact in that short a time and what he did was the work of a master. He started his presentation (to an entirely new audience of 900 people) by simply looking at them for a full 2 minutes! He just walked onto the stage and started scanning all their faces. He then spoke. Unhurriedly. By the end of the five minutes, the audience were absolutely enthralled… and wouldn’t let him off the stage! I wouldn’t recommend this to an inexperienced speaker, it would take a massive amount of Stage Presence to pull something like that off to an audience that didn’t know you at all. Although I believe even Billy Connolly’s greatest fans wouldn’t really appreciate him looking at them for the opening two minutes of a five minute sketch. 

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Not having it.
I remember once seeing a performance of ‘Henry V’ . There was one particular actor whose presence would command your attention. His every word would have you holding your breathe for more. Unfortunately he wasn’t playing the lead role. The guy who did play Henry just didn’t have that same quality. Thus he was unable to hold the attention of the audience for very long. This was rather unfortunate in a Shakespeare play where long speeches are the norm. I could hear the audience coughing and fidgeting while the poor fellow ploughed through Henry’s monologues. His ‘lack of presence’ meant I couldn’t empathise with the character he was playing. Empathy is everything. In fact empathy creates suspense. When the audience relates to the character, it shares his emotions. It feels his frustrations, his fear, his joy. That’s why Happy Endings make you feel so good. Your empathy with the characters meant you underwent the same transformations as they did. You struggled with them, laughed and cried with them too, and then, when the characters resolves his problems and is finally fulfilled, you too feel liberated.

Empathy
If you are a speaker then having a strong stage presence will help you create a stage persona that the audience can easily empathise with. Or if, you are an actor, it helps them empathise with the character you’re playing. All this will help you get your message across. Yep. It’s not just entertainment, as a speaker or playwright you will be giving the audience your message, either on a conscious level or subliminally, and you’ve got to hit the mark. You’ve got to create a balance between what you want to say and what the audience wants to hear.

“The Many-Headed Monster Of The Pit.”
A very famous director once called the audience the ‘Many-headed Monster of the Pit.” And when you’re standing on the stage it can certainly feel like that. It’s there watching you, absorbing everything you do and say. A black pit is great for plays where there is no direct communication between the actors and audience. But if you are a speaker it’s much easier to create a rapport with your audience if you can see them, so keep the house-lights on. However daunting the thought of all those faces looking up at you might seem at first – it’s so much easier than talking into a black void.

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Say you were sitting in an audience and I were to walk onto a stage what would you see? A petite, India woman with a winning smile. Your first impression of me would be decided very quickly. On what ? Perhaps the way I entered, did I seem hurried to you? Nervous or at ease? Did you like the fact that I acknowledge you with as soon as I appeared from the side-wings or did I ignore you completely until I was centre-stage?

Did I greet you with a smile, song or gesture? Was it appropriate? Was I predictable? How was my timing?

All this you’d judge in the first few seconds of my performance. You’d also perceive something else entirely different, that illusive quality which every performer craves… ‘STAGE PRESENCE’.

Madonna the pop-star has a commanding presence in her videos and live concerts, she can enthral tens of thousands of people for hours, yet when she acted in a West-End play more than one critic said she had “zero stage-presence” She just didn’t exude the same star quality in a theatre setting.

So how do we get Stage Presence? And is it something we can cultivate? What makes a performer memorable? What is it that gives him/her that extra sparkle, that ‘star-quality?’ It is every performer’s wish to captivate their audience. To have them hanging on every word and go away wanting more.

I’ll just tell you what happens when stage presence is missing. Not to frighten you but to prove to you that it is important and it is also a quality you can cultivate. So keep an eye on my blogs, I'm going to try and make them as practical as possible, with lots of tips and suggestions, not just speakers and performers, but for back-stage people too. It comes from years of observation and practical hands-on experience. But you do have to make a commitment to yourself to follow it through. So good luck!

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