030 How to Have a Powerful Stage Presence (Even if You’re a Wallflower)

030 How to Have a Powerful Stage Presence (Even if You're a Wallflower)

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Whether speaking or leading a meeting, you want to have a powerful stage presence so you own the room, earn the respect even if you are nervous or stressed.

Topics covered:

  • Speakers or Leaders – how to own the room and control the energy;
  • How to get audience or your team member respect you;
  • How not to let your anxiety hinder your presentation;
  • How to manage your nerves, and make stress work for you, rather than against you- learn the secrets from professional actors.

00:00 Welcome to Steal The Show with Michael Port: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How To Guarantee a Standing Ovation For All the Performances in Your Life. I am Michael, and I’m so grateful that you are here, because I know that your time is valuable and I will make the best use of it that I possibly can. So let’s focus on how to develop and have powerful stage presence. Is this something that you want? I know something that is important to the audience. They need to know that you are in command of the room, because sometimes you’re up there, you feel like you’re swallowed up by the stage or the floor or the room, by the eyes in the room, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling. And many people underestimate the importance of the performance space on the presenter. So let’s start with developing stage awareness before we move into presence.

00:55 So if you’ve seen a play, you know that the space around the actor, and how she uses and fills it is important to her performance. By knowing your space, you make it easier to adjust your movements and communicate more effectively with your audience. For example, if your presentation space is much larger than the space you used for rehearsal, maybe it has more rows of seats, then you need to adjust your blocking, that’s the way you move on stage, so that your movements expand to cover the farther points of the stage, both stage, left stage, right, up stage, down stage. Our common performance spaces include conference rooms at hotels or offices, theater style auditoriums, standard classrooms, even restaurants or bars, living rooms. I once did a speech in a yoga studio. High school auditoriums, outdoor courtyards. I did a speech in an outdoor courtyard once. Each space will have its nuances, so once you know where you’re performing, do everything in your power to get the layout.

02:01 So some conference rooms in hotels have risers that are 12 to 18 inches off the floor, so check that the risers are stable during your tech rehearsal, that’s the rehearsal you do before you speak to make sure all of your technology is working well. And the last thing you need is unsteady feet as you walk up to the stage with all eyes on you. If you learn that your performance space has a theater layout, keep in mind that the stage can be situated lower than the audience, and you’ll need to be vigilant to play to the back of the house; that means to make sure you see and speak to the back of the house, the people at the back of the theater. Maybe you’re doing a video conference, and then the action will be projected onto a screen. If you move around a lot, then you got to prep the video team on what they can expect, and that’s of course, primarily when you’re doing bigger events.

03:01 Now the other part of understanding your performance space is being aware of audience placement, and here’s the first rule of seating arrangements, listen closely: If there are more seats than people, strike the empty seats from the rear, and strike means take away, it’s a theater term for taking away. So, if there are more seats than people, get rid of the seats from the rear, so that people are closer to you, and maybe you can check with the presentation committee, before the event, confirm their projected attendance, and when you get there, if the room is below capacity, use your math skills, and tape off a conservative number of rear rows, as if they are reserved, and then as people enter guide them to the front, or have somebody do it would be better, where you want them to sit. As the front rows are filled, if you need more capacity, take tape off the back rows as needed. Now if it’s unknown how many will attend, make an educated-conservative guess, and tape off the appropriate number of rows. And if people need more seats, same thing, just remove the tape.

04:09 And there are other seating styles that, maybe you should be aware of, like classroom theater, roundtable and horseshoe styles, and where needed, observe the principle of seating people closer to you when you’re performing. And as part of your dry-run, that’s the run through that you do on the day of the speech before you do it, without technology, and you’re maybe at 50% of your full speech, but this way, you’ll get a full feeling of the arc, the through line, think through the basics of your stage movement in the actual space that you’ll inhabit, so where will you mentally draw the line of standing too close to your audience or inadvertently, posing for the dreaded crotch shot? You don’t want to be right up in front of them with their faces at the level of your crotch. And what’s your span of eye contact? What movements can be larger and which smaller? Remember, always use gestures that feel natural. A lot of people will teach you body language gestures, or arm gestures, or tell you what you’re supposed to do with your arms and your hands.

05:23 Real performance doesn’t work that way. Your arms, your hands, your body should follow what you’re saying, what you’re feeling, and if you have worked on this presentation and you’re connected to it, what your objective is, what you’re trying to achieve, the motivation that you have for trying to achieve this objection is high, then your arms, your hands, your body, they will support you, just like my arms are moving around right now, but I’m not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re doing to help me express what I’m trying to get you to see, and you’d able to do the same thing if you are fully connected to your material. So as the person on the center of the stage, it’s your job to manage your performance, and then by extension, the audience, and a big part of doing that will come from the energy that you bring to the stage.

06:11 Most performers respond when they’re in front of an audience, but the energy in the room can change with a blink of the eye, so you gotta be ready for anything that happens. Be primed for it, so you can control it. And that’s why it’s so important to be able to own the room. And thinking that something might go wrong with your performance can create anxiety, and maybe even make you more anxious when you’re on stage. So you don’t panic, you just try to be helpful to the audience and connect with people, even if it’s just one person you pick out of the crowd, or whom you can visualize as a friend. These are times to draw on a role you’ve played before that is authentic to you, maybe the coach, the tough teacher, the savvy sales leader to sharpen your focus and really get a psychological edge.

07:06 And in the long run the only way to get over your nerves is to get as much experience as you possibly can presenting in front of people. The better you think you are, generally the more comfortable you’ll get, so you don’t get too much time listening to the critics, and know that good things are coming to you. You think big about who you are and about what you offer the world. So, you begin to getting comfortable by owning the room, you own it physically, energetically, emotionally, and psychologically. The skills and mindset required to consistently own the room will mature over time. This is a master you achieve in levels. That’s why I want you to go deep into ‘Steal The Show’. That’s why I want you to read the book. I want you to read it once, twice, three times, because those who are in pursuit of mastery, they work on the same thing again, and again, and again, until they’ve mastered it. They don’t dabble in it. So as a listener of this podcast, maybe you’re dabbling in it, “Oh, let me learn a little bit. Let me just see if I can pick up a few things.” But I want you to go deeper. I want you to become a master. So go to stealtheshow.com, pick up a copy. I’ll give you a whole bunch of free stuff, when you do, that you’ll be able to use, today, to get your speaking on the road to being remarkable, so that you can be a heroic public speaker.

08:33 Now, command with physical presence. The next level of owning the room is commanding the audience with your physical presence. If an audience member is talking too loud, making a fuss, getting fidgety in his seat, or otherwise breaking the mood in the room somehow, don’t explain, don’t ask forgiveness or apologize, you silence to quite someone. Wait until they’ve stopped making a noise. You don’t need to compete with them. You can use your hand to indicate that they need to stop. Good speakers, well they require that you listen to them, and they will not speak if there’s noise in the room. If you’re in a pitch meeting, or maybe a major sales call, and your counterparts are taking calls or they’re rustling papers, maybe they’re darting in and out of the office, pausing, and remaining silent until they calm down, get focused, stop talking, that allows you to command the situation. You resume after they have stopped, that gives you control of the room.

09:53 I want you to think in strong terms. I wanted you to think about them requiring you to listen. I want you to think about demanding the room, owning the room. This doesn’t mean that you’re obnoxious, arrogant, or disrespectful in any way, but I do want you to feel like you’re in-charge during your speech. It is a very powerful feeling, and it has huge impact on your performance. Now when you start giving your speech and there’s many people in the room, you’re gonna expect house noise at the opening of your presentation: People talking, people moving bags around, be prepared for it. This is good practice as well, because you’ll be ready to deal with it. If you open your remarks and the house is still loud, you stop, say nothing, pause, and if needed, just raise your hand, then simply say, “Thank you.” See, once you have that situation under control, be happy to be there, no matter how nervous you are, don’t say you’re happy, just be happy. Take whatever anxiety you may be feeling, and channel that into your voice and body language with a few degrees of extra exuberance. The key is to show the audience how happy you are to be there. You don’t tell them that you’re happy to be there, you can show them.

11:20 Now even if you’re nervous and they see it, so long as you focus on what you’re there to do, they’ll forgive your nervousness and they’ll appreciate you. You just take a deep breath, get it under control, and the only way they will let you be a leader is if you can control yourself. If you can control yourself, they will allow you to control the room. So if you’re talking to anyone, a tech person, answering questions during the Q&A, or even dealing with a heckler, and you look frustrated, then you’ve lost the room. If the audience sees that you have a high level of emotional and social intelligence, they immediately find you more powerful, and are more likely to quickly and willingly offer you their respect, and that’s all you need, just a little bit of respect, because if you have a little bit of respect, they will be willing to listen to your big idea, to consider what life would be like if they went after the promise of your presentation, so just a little bit of respect goes a long way. If you show them respect without any fear whatsoever, then they will do the same for you.

12:47 And if you’re nervous, if you’re excited, how you think about that excitement, what you feel will be determined by your perspective of the stress, meaning this: Performers get nervous, they get stressed, they get anxious, but they don’t think that nervousness, that stress, that anxiety is going to hinder their performance, they think, “Being nervous, being stressed, being anxious is normal, and you know what? That means I’m pumped up for this, I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna kill it. And I’m gonna use all that energy to focus myself and really dive into this, drive my point right home to the audience and make a difference.” But someone else who doesn’t see themselves as a performer, may see the anxiety, the nervousness, as something that will get in the way of their performance. So I want you to switch your focus, just your perspective, and start to see that, that stress is okay, that’s completely normal, and in fact, it can be a good thing, and know that it’s not going to interfere with your performance, it could actually jump-start your performance. It can give you more energy and more focus, which is what stress does. Isn’t that the way it works? The fight-or-flight syndrome? When something happens that has a little danger in it, you get more focused, because you need to be able to handle that situation and focus on the danger or the stress in that moment.

14:15 So I want you to respond like a warrior, so to speak. I want you to think about the stress as something that will work for you, will get you focused, and fired up. And what will really fire you up, in a short period of time, is reading ‘Steal The Show’. So go to stealtheshow.com right now, get yourself a copy, get yourself some of the bonuses. We’ve got tickets to events around the country on public speaking and performances. You get to see me coach people live on stage right in front of you, and you’ll see transformations that are quite remarkable. One of my colleagues, Jordan Harbinger, he is the host of ‘Art of Charm’, they got a couple million downloads a month, very big podcast, and he saw me do it, and he said, “For the first hour I thought it was staged, I thought you were faking the whole thing, because… ” He said, “I could not believe that somebody that weak as a speaker turned out to be that good by the end of an hour, I thought it had to be staged. And then I saw you do another one and another one and another one, and I knew it was all real, and it was quite magical.”

15:20 So, I want you to think about coming to one of those, buy a few books, you can come; and also, templates for telling stories, great stories, telling great tales; and also, templates for organizing your content, we’ve got those. We’ve got total immersion courses, 10-week courses that you can get, for free, when you buy a few books, that you can watch online, immediately. You can move through those courses at your own pace. We’ve got video training, documentary-style video training of live events that you can watch. And we’re giving all that stuff away for free when you buy a few copies of the book, so go to stealtheshow.com, enjoy. I appreciate your time, I value it. I never take it for granted. This is Michael Port saying, “Keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world, and you’ll steal the show.” Bye for now.