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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Tips for being an MC

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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