I was watching some musicians performing in a show at Edinburgh’s Jazz and Blues Festival recently and it surprised me how unaware they seemed to be about some basic rules of the stage. These fundamentals are also crucial when giving a presentation so in this post I will share with you some of the points you should take into consideration whenever you are in front of an audience.
It’s all about the audience
This seems obvious but sometimes performers and speakers appear to forget that the whole reason they are on stage is because there is an audience there to watch and listen to them. Therefore, it is important that you keep the audience in the forefront of your mind at all times to ensure that they can hear and see you properly.
In the jazz band I was watching recently the piano was unfortunately set on stage so that the pianist had his back to the audience the entire time. This wasn’t so bad when he was playing, but when he introduced the songs he didn’t leave his stool as the microphone stand was placed beside it. Hunched over to speak into it, he awkwardly twisted around trying to face the audience, but the angle meant that half the audience still couldn’t see his face and his voice (and presence) was impacted by having to bend over.
You are in command
When you are on stage, you are in control. Therefore, take control and own the stage. If the microphone is set too low or too high, adjust it to suit you. If the set up means that you can’t be seen properly, adjust it to make sure you can be seen.
The microphone provided for the pianist I mentioned above was unfortunately set at a height for him to speak into when sitting at his piano. After trying to twist around while sitting, he eventually decided to stand up but in order to speak into the microphone, he was completely bent at the hips and standing side-on to the audience so one part of the audience got a perfect view of his behind! It was very awkward and detracted from the fabulous music he and his fellow musicians were creating. Much simpler for him to take a moment to adjust the microphone height and placement so that he could stand comfortably behind it and face the audience.
This illustrates the importance of arriving early, familiarising yourself with the environment, knowing the stage, checking the sight lines and making sure everything is as you require before you begin.
Find your light
Professional stage performers will be very familiar with the term ‘find your light.’ When you are on a stage there will be certain areas that are well lit and other areas that may cast shadows across your face. To ensure your audience can see you, especially your facial expressions which are a crucial part of your communication, it is important to stand where you can feel the light on your face and in your eyes. Be careful of standing directly under a hot light though, as it can ‘wash out’ your features in the glare.
If you have an opportunity to watch speakers on the stage before you, take note of where they are standing when they are in the best light and areas to avoid.
Consider your ‘costume’
What you wear has a massive impact on how your audience will perceive you. In fact they’ll be making judgements about you before you even open your mouth to speak based on how you present yourself. In a future post I will share some tips from several experts in colour and image on how to choose the best outfit for your presentation.
In the meantime, here are some factors to be aware of when choosing what to wear:
- Find out what colour the background will be and choose a colour that ensures you stand out rather than blend into the surroundings (e.g. don’t wear black if you’ll be standing in front of a black curtain)
- Regardless of whether you’ll be turning around, think about what you look like from behind as it is fairly certain the audience will see it at some stage, even if it is just as you are walking to the stage
- Ensure your outfit is well ironed and maintained – no ladders in your tights, no drooping hems and especially no loose threads hanging down as this can be incredibly distracting when highlighted by stage lights
- Wear what makes you feel good but ensure that it is appropriate for the occasion - it is better to overdress than under dress
- Avoid fabric that creases easily
- Avoid accessories that jangle or are distracting
- Wear shoes that are comfortable and ideally rubber soled to reduce noise if you are on a wooden floor
‘Staying open’ is another term used in the theatre; it is about keeping your body open to the audience. Be careful not to ‘upstage’ yourself which means that you have positioned your body on a slight diagonal angle towards the back of the stage. This happens to actors when they are doing a scene with someone who is positioned behind them on the stage and they are trying to speak directly to them. It can happen to presenters when they are indicating towards slides on a screen behind them and also if they are being interviewed by the host or MC for the event who might be unknowingly upstaging them.
So angle your body out towards the audience, use open gestures and if you have to turn full circle always turn in the downstage direction (towards the audience). Remember that people pay to see your face, not your behind!
Show your personality
The best way to really connect with your audience is to allow your personality to shine through. In the performance I mentioned earlier, this was demonstrated beautifully by the pianist when he eventually acknowledged that the microphone was in an awkward position and made a wee joke about it. He then told a personal story about the next musical piece to be played and what it meant to him. This gave the music a whole new perspective and made it even better to listen to. After a clumsy beginning, I definitely warmed to the performance after getting to know the performer better.
To display great showmanship is to be able to present something in a manner that will appeal to an audience or aid in conveying the message or theme of the performance. Rather than thinking of the typically cheesy razzle dazzle ‘showman’, showmanship is more about being aware of every element of a performance or presentation - both the delivery and the technical aspects - reading the audience and adjusting your approach to ensure that they have a great experience.
Whenever you are presenting, whilst you should aim to come across as naturally as possible, it is important to remember that it is still a performance and your audience deserves the best you can offer. They probably won’t even be aware that you are incorporating these seven stage tips into your presentations to give your ‘performance’ an edge, but you can be pretty sure they’ll notice if you don’t.
What do you think? Do you consider these aspects when presenting? Have you seen a speaker who didn’t and what was your experience of their presentation? Please feel free to leave a note in the comments section and share this article with anyone you feel may benefit from reading it.