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Want to know where to stand on stage and how to move? What slides or props should you use? You will learn 5 essential steps on how to rehearse for world-class performances.

Also discussed:

  • Mistakes amateur speakers make and how you can avoid them;
  • What to do with your hands while speaking;
  • How to get feedback rehearsing your speech.

00:00 Welcome to ‘Steal the Show’ with Michael Port. I am Michael. And this is Part Two of how to rehearse and prepare for any type of performance, from speeches, to interviews, and even negotiations. So one is table-reads, two is content mapping, three is blocking. Now blocking is your plan for how you move during your performance in varying degrees. So this is depending on your style, the space you’re in, and the event itself. Sometimes you can’t move often, there’s not a lot of space. Sometimes there’s an enormous amount of space. You may be somebody who has a physical impairment and you can’t do a lot of movement, well then you don’t, but if you can move around the stage, please do so, just don’t wander aimlessly around. Don’t pace, don’t shuffle side to side, don’t sway. One of the things you see is the swaying side to side, and I’m doing it right now, so I go in and out of the microphone a little bit, swaying side to side. Swaying side to side is really problematic, especially if you’re being filmed because if you’re being filmed and you’re swaying side to side and they see from your navel up to the top of your head, the viewer will get sea sick because they feel like you’re rocking on a boat.

01:12 And why do we do this shuffling, or this swaying, or this pacing? It’s because we have energy and we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know where to go, we haven’t rehearsed it. So blocking is your plan for how you will move during your performance. Now most commencement speakers may be expected to stay behind a podium, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Please, if you can, try to avoid speaking from behind a podium or any piece of furniture. Usually a podium, well it always puts a barrier between you and the audience, but usually people stay behind a podium as a way of hiding from the audience. Or maybe ’cause they need to read their speech because they’re not very well-prepared, but you, of course, will be so you won’t have that problem. Now remember the importance of contrast in your performance, movement creates contrast. When you’re stuck behind a podium, you have one visual image for them to look at, that’s it. They don’t get a feeling from the movement of your body, they don’t get to see different things, they don’t get to move their head around and follow you. So your lack of movement offers only visual and kinesthetic sameness. Now just remember please, like I always say, there isn’t only one way to perform.

02:27 Performance of all kinds is art, and every situation and performer is different. There may be times when speaking from behind a podium is perfect, although the one time I tried it, I bombed, but that just might be me. So like all the choices you make on performing, if you choose to stand behind a podium, make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons. Now blocking, blocking will involve considerations such as the use of props, costumes, multimedia, and it’s how you choreograph your use of the space, of the specific performance space where you’re gonna deliver your presentations. Now that may change from time to time, but the blocking can remain consistent, it just changes slightly depending on how much space you have and the kind of space you’re in. So it could be a conference room where you’re having negotiations on a deal, or more commonly, a stage or hotel meeting room or a large auditorium. And when your performance is fully blocked, the process of polishing and refining begins as you deliver your lines using your notes while practicing the movement. So you’re up on your feet, you’re in stage three, you’ve got your content map, you’ve done your table-read, now you’re trying to figure out where you would go based on what you’re saying, what your intention is, what your objective is.

03:54 Yes, you’re trying to create a visual painting, a picture, a moving picture for the people who are watching you, but you’re also trying to get your message across by using movement as well as words. One of the things that I can’t do for you right now is I can’t move for you, you can’t see me move. I think you could probably actually hear some of my movement in this because I’m physical. So right now, I am moving more than some might. If I wasn’t moving, this is the way I would sound, it would sound a lot more… I mean, obviously I could try to fake it and go, “Yeah, yeah, it’s great,” and move with energy and blah, blah, blah. But if I’m not moving at all, it’s gonna sound a lot more stilted, it’s gonna sound a lot choppier, it’s gonna sound a lot harder. But if I’m moving, I can put the rhythm into my body, the pacing into my body, the tone into my body. And as a result, you get a much more varied and much more beauty in the contrast of the performance. So it’ll involve a lot of considerations, but a speech that has not been blocked or rehearsed can be seen from a mile away. And the tell tale signs are some of the ones that I mentioned, you see the pacing, the wandering, the shifting, discomfort with your hands.

05:11 Look, people often ask, “What do I do with my hands?” It’s what I would consider a false question. What do I mean by a false question? It’s a false question because if you are in your body, connected to your body, if you’re connected to your material, if you know your material, if you’re blocked, you never have to wonder or worry about what you’re gonna do with your hands. I never for once thought about, “What do I do with my hands?” ‘Cause my hands do exactly what they do in real life, they mirror what I am trying to get across, they move naturally. On stage, they do the same thing, and they should do the same thing. If your hands are stuck behind by your sides and you don’t know what to do with them, or they’re in front of you and you don’t know what to do with them, it’s because you’re not yet connected enough to the material. You’re not taking enough risk by putting it into your body, you’re not driving forward enough, you’re not working enough to try to get the point across, the message across to serve that audience, because when you do, that’s when your body wakes up, it becomes alive and then your hands will do exactly what they are supposed to do.

06:14 That’s my little soap box. Whew, that was a little tirade, but I feel that a lot of times, people are teaching performance from the outside in, rather than the inside out. Think about it, performance from the outside in would be teaching you, “Okay, this is how I want you to hold your face. This is what I want you to do with your hands. This is how I want you to hold your feet. This is… ” And that’s all external as opposed to having an objective, having motivation to achieve that objective, having a big idea that you’re driving toward that is the through line of your entire promise. All of the emotional life in your stories comes from your heart and your soul, then you start to wake up, then you start to become alive on stage. So it’s important to learn blocking because it’ll solve most of these problems. Now, in case you’re interested, the term ‘blocking’, it actually comes from the practice of 19th century theater directors and they worked out their staging of the scene on a miniature stage using blocks to represent each of the actors. I guess they saw their actors as blockheads, but that’s another issue altogether.

07:29 Now, when you block your movement, you’re moving in a way that enhances your message, right? It creates this… These dynamics through contrast, but it also helps you remember your material because it anchors it in different parts of the stage, and you can continue to revisit that part of the stage when unpacking that content. And blocking also helps the audience understand and digest your content by creating visual flow. I often have students ask me if blocking is too confining or over-scripted for presentation. There are two answers; one, as I’ve said, by polishing and perfecting your intentional movement plan through rehearsal, you develop the muscle memory and confidence to improvise. And two, blocking provides, in most cases, a richer, cleaner visual experience to help allow your big idea and all of your content to land with purpose and power. So you can notate in your script, using both macro and micro stage directions. Now macro stage directions are upstage, downstage, stage left and stage right, so use US for upstage, DS for downstage, SL for stage left, SR for stage right. Upstage is the back of the stage, downstage is the front of the stage, stage left is the left side of the stage from the performers’ perspective, stage right is the right side of the stage from the performers’ perspective.

09:01 But house left is the left side of the stage from somebody standing in the house, sitting in the seats, looking at the performer. House right is somebody’s perspective of the stage when they’re sitting in the seats on the right side. So it’s opposite, those two things are flipped, just so you know that little theater terminology. If you get on a big stage and you’ve got the tech crew there, you say, “Hmm, I’m gonna be moving upstage just a little bit here, and then I’ll cross down stage right now, thank you very much.” Now, the micro directions are specific movements on specific words that can include, they’re certainly not limited to, but they can include, sitting, kneeling, standing on a chair, going down into the house. Now, here’s some blocking no-nos, things that you should avoid. Do not spend too much time too close to the front row if you’re not on stage because it’ll be harder for the audience in the back rows to see you ’cause they only see about a little bit over your belly button up, they don’t get the whole picture of you. Plus, you don’t really want the front row staring at your crotch, or do you? Wait, don’t answer that, I don’t wanna know.

10:15 And don’t spend too much time in one part of the stage, whether stage left or stage right, upstage or down stage. You wanna use the stage to connect with all the seats in the house. And don’t present in the dark. Finding your light is a theater term for making sure that you’re always lit. You want the audience to see your bright smile and your beautiful eyes. Hotel ballrooms are notoriously problematic when it comes to lighting. Examine how the stage or the platform’s lit, typically from above, as part of your preparation, and when you are presenting, keep in mind that you always want to find your light, you wanna be hot. You wanna be hot, that is another piece of terminology that you can use to impress the lighting crew, “See I’m, I’m very hot here.” “I’d like to be a little hotter over here.” “Can’t really find my light.” “Whew, and I’m on the stage, right side of the stage.” They will, you’ll be, they’ll let you into the union if you start using this terminology. But look, here’s the key, you gotta know your material well enough so that even if you didn’t do any of the blocking you rehearsed, you’d still be fine.

11:18 You stayed flexible even after content mapping and blocking your material because venues will be different, lights will be different. You gotta remain adaptable, you gotta apply your blocking to your venue. And look, you might have heard that you shouldn’t walk and talk at the same time. It’s another weird piece of advice to my mind. I mean, it doesn’t really make sense, people do it all the time, don’t they? I mean, you can walk and talk at the same time. I mean, why wouldn’t you do that on stage as well? I mean, you want to be as authentic and natural as possible, don’t you? See, I think the intended jist of this advice is that you shouldn’t walk while speaking important statements or during key moments. That’s the difference. So that advice would be right on. Just remember that not everything you are saying is of equal importance. Movement is great, it’s a great time for a transition, for secondary points or simply getting to the other side of the stage to answer a question or to visit that part of the audience ’cause you hadn’t seen them in a couple minutes ’cause you were on the other side of the stage. See, you can walk and talk at the same time, but not while delivering the most important points.

12:32 Okay. Costumes, props, media. This is a big topic. I don’t really feel like going into it all now, frankly, I think you should read the book ‘Steal the Show’, but I will tell you this: Choose what you wear carefully, think about your wardrobe as a costume because it is, it is telling the audience a story. And what story do you wanna tell them? Props. Use as many props as you can without overdoing it because props can help show a story rather than you just telling the story. And then media. Media, media, media. This is a massive topic, to use slides or not to use slides has never been the question. And I’ll address this in a different episode when I do some quick tips. Just for now know that you create your media after you write your speech. You don’t create a Power Point presentation and then… And then put your speech together around the Power Point presentation. First, you create the presentation and then, then you create the deck around it. Now there’s always gonna be, you know, a… There’s always gonna be an exception to the rule, but for the most part that’s how I want you to think about it.

13:56 Now step four. Improvisation. One of my favorites. Improvisation is one of the most powerful secrets from the actors’ trade. And all… I don’t usually use a lot of absolutes, in fact, I think absolutes are something we should stay away from. We don’t want to exclude any perspectives by using absolutes, however, in this case, I’m gonna say that virtually all, if not all successful people employ to some degree improv because it involves the ability to listen in the moment, to trust your intuition, to collaborate, to accept and respond to feedback, to revise and rehearse and perform again. Improv works, and I think it’s really cool that you can add an E to the end of the word and it becomes improve because that’s just what it does. So I’m addressing improv in two dimensions that are applicable to you, improv during rehearsal and improv during a performance, to save difficult moments or to seize an opportunity. I address that explicitly in the book. For now, I wanna focus on improv during rehearsal. How to use improv to improve the content of your speech. Now remember, I said you can use an outline structure for your speech or you can use a scripted structure.

15:15 But either way, you’re gonna use rehearsal to help you make choices about your content blocking and delivery, and improv is the tool that you use to inform those choices. It’s about trying on different objectives as you move through your script. So you use improv during rehearsal as you’re working through your script out loud, hearing the words. See, this is often where we see, my partner Amy and I, she’s much better than I am, by the way. She’s better looking, she’s better at everything, pretty much. She actually just walked in the room, that’s not just why I’m saying it, but she is brilliant. She’s incredible, and she’s almost my wife, actually. While you’re listening to this, she could actually be my wife, if she actually shows up at the altar, that would be really great. Now, what I was saying is that this, I think, is where folks make big improvements. This is what we see. We see no matter how hard we try, right? We still write the way we write, we still write the way we were taught to write, not so much the way we talk. So in preparing for a speech, you’re seeking to find your public voice as a performer, and improving the moments in your script that feel forced or stilted can yield gold. And improv, it perks up your blocking.

16:33 So as you try a movement that doesn’t work, you improvise with different ideas. You find one that you potentially like and then you revise and you edit your blocking and your content map, and then you do it again. You improvise, rewrite, and improvise some more. Now you may be telling the same story for the umpteenth time. By the way, how many times is umpteenth? Is umpteenth even a word? I have no idea. After this, I’m gonna go check it, and I’ll get back to you on that. In any event, you may have been telling this story for the umpteenth time during your rehearsals, but then all of the sudden, a fresh detail comes out an improvisation and it can click as the killer moment that makes your story land. So you use your improvisation to improve your content if you have an outline structure and if you use a scripted structure. So if you’re using an outline structure, you make the materials work inside that outline, and then you respond, and perhaps you even re-organize your material based on what’s happening in the moment. Now this is why rehearsal and knowing your material really, really well, matters so much. And if you’re using a scripted structure, well, you can still bring a spontaneous improvisational feel to it.

17:53 So you can go off script as long as you know when to pick it back up and where to pick it back up. So you perform as though it’s unscripted, like the first time you’ve ever said it. It’s the difference between feeling like the content is fresh and spontaneous, and feeling like you’re plodding along and regurgitating the material. Now, here’s steps five and six. I’m putting these together because… Well, that’s just how I’m doing it. Invited rehearsals and open rehearsals. I put it together because they are very, very similar, but there is a slight difference, there’s a unique difference. Step five to rehearsing successfully is the invited rehearsal. Now this is where you invite a group of people who will serve as your audience and offer feedback. As you perform your invited rehearsal, you keep in mind that this is not a run-through. This is not necessarily from start to finish, you can stop and you can start, you can pick one particular section that you wanna work on, maybe you wanna choose a troubling passage, something that you’re having difficulty with. You perform that first and then you ask for feedback. Now, you start holding these invited rehearsals before your entire speech is ready.

19:03 Do I need to say that again or can you just rewind it? All right, I’ll say it again. Before the entire speech is ready. Because, in fact, it shouldn’t be ready since you’re still rehearsing and tweaking. Now often what happens is, you want it to be perfect the first time anybody sees it, no matter who they are. And so you work on it until you think it’s perfect and then you do it and they go, “Mmm, not working so well.” Then you gotta go back and cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. Rather… What I’d rather you do instead is get them in there at the earliest possible moment. When you feel that you can have it up on its’ feet, you’re pretty much off-book, which means you can pretty much get to all your material without checking your notes, and then you can start getting feedback. Yeah, you bring them in earlier. You bring them in earlier than you think you need to. Even if there are only a handful of people present, you can speak to the whole room. And it’s important that you make no assumptions about their responses, or lack thereof, for that matter, while rehearsing in front of them.

20:04 So step six: Well, that’s the protocol for open rehearsals. It’s almost the same concept as invited rehearsals except if you have a large group, you may wanna provide some type of quick and simple printed form to get each attendee’s feedback. Now, interestingly enough, I have one of those forms for you. Why don’t you go to and you can get one of those forms, but you have to buy a book. You might have to buy two books, I’m not really sure how many books you have to buy. But you gotta buy a book, at least one book, maybe two books. And if you do, I’ll give you some of those forms. I’ll give you templates for content mapping, for story telling, for feedback. I’ll give you videos on public speaking and coaching. I’ll give you tickets to live events around the country, and so much more. I said at another episode, I’ll give you my couch if that’s what you want. You want my tv, you can have my tv. I just wanna sell some books and I want you to steal the show at the same time. So what you’re doing here is you’re trying to get feedback from everybody, and this is a full run-through.

21:09 You’re running through from beginning to end as if it was a performance, and then you wanna get feedback and give the greatest weight to the observations of trusted mentors and peers, or better yet, highly trained coaches. I wonder where you could find those? Oh yeah, at That’s a great place to go for those kinds of trusted mentors. So seriously, choose the right people for your invited rehearsal. You focus on selecting the people who won’t attempt to throw you off, who won’t have their own agenda, and that’s really helpful so you get supportive feedback. And these are people who believe in what you’re doing. Find people who are sincere in their desire to help, and then you teach your invited guests how to take notes when you’re performing. You see this is important because it will help you after the rehearsal to digest and absorb the feedback. So if you’re showing them a short part of your presentation and you ask them to watch the first time through, and then take notes during subsequent run-through, you have them write their notes in a format like, “When you said XYZ, you were unclear,” or, “I noticed that,” or, “I felt that.” So they’re giving you their observations rather than their coaching.

22:25 That’s an important distinction. They’re giving you their observations rather than coaching you, unless they are professionals. Just be careful because here’s the thing about art and performance. Most people know what they like and don’t like, so they will be able to tell you they don’t like something, but they won’t necessarily be able to tell you how to fix it or they’ll think they know how to tell you to fix it, but the advice they’re giving you actually makes it worse. So you ask any musician, they’ll tell you the same thing. Artists, they’ll tell you the same thing. Most people think they know how to make art, and with a little practice, they probably could. But it’s like you go to see a $300 million movie and you go, “I could have made that better.” Really? Really? Could you really have made that better? I don’t think so. Now, with that said, make sure you have supportive people, and then ask them to note when they see a serious issue. If you use absolutes or weak language like “basically, sort of, kind of.” If your stories feel too detailed or don’t have a resolution, ask them to write that down. Okay?

23:35 Ask them to give you feedback on body language, your wardrobe, your hair, anything that you have questions about. Now, once they’ve seen the whole presentation, ask them if they get the big idea because that’s really the point of the entire presentation, isn’t it? You wanna ask them point blank to articulate the main idea or theme of your presentation. You don’t say, “Did you get my big idea, that is this?” Because then, they can say, “Oh yeah, I got that.” But if you say, “What was the big idea in this presentation,” they have to articulate what they saw based on your performance. And then it’d be harder, and if it is harder, you gotta go back to the drawing board and make sure it is crystal clear. And can they clearly articulate the promise of the presentation? Do they think you delivered on the promise? So it’s important to get as much feedback as possible so you can decide what to incorporate into your final presentation. This is good stuff, this is a lot of stuff. This is a long episode, I know that, but I think you’re gonna listen to this many, many times.

24:49 Here’s the final step, step seven, tech and dress rehearsals. So this is dealing and rewriting and memorization. You’re dealing with and you’re rewriting and you’re memorizing. And look, most people I meet are just awed by the actors’ ability to memorize lines. They find that it is just extraordinary. They say, “I can never do that,” but what they don’t realize is the actor memorizes the lines because they are repeating those lines, day in and day out for weeks; four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks. And then while they’re running the show, it could be six months, a year, two years. And eventually, it just becomes a language to them that they learned. You can do the same thing, and I can reassure you, I can guarantee you, that by following my method, memorization will be much easier than you think. So you undertake regular rehearsals. If you do, you’ll remember large chunks of your speech or your pitch, and the more you rehearse out loud over and over again, the better you’ll know every piece of content. But still, when you head into tech and dress rehearsals, having your script and blocking pretty much memorized, it really helps.

26:05 It doesn’t mean you have to script your presentations, it just means you have to memorize structure, key points, essential details, and flow. So keep everything you planned to do or say in the right order, you avoid last minute rewriting unless absolutely necessary, you go through your material out loud whenever you can, particularly during physical activity; while taking a shower, doing your homework, making love, no, that would be weird, riding an exercise bike or taking a walk. And even neuroscientists agree that movement and cognition are powerfully connected. Amazingly, the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning. And then you note how blocking movements ties the key passages in your text to specific parts of the stage, and that movement itself will help your memory. Now by the time you reach your dress rehearsal, wear you’re wearing your costume, you’ve got the tech, everything is running smoothly, you’re gonna have flow and it’s based on your structure and it’s based on your rehearsal. And if you deliver your presentation a number of times, and you receive the same comments about a particular passage or a stage business, then, of course, you should change it.

27:29 But at this point, you’re starting to dial it in. You’re dialing this in so that you can set it and then forget it, and then go and perform it. And those are the seven steps to rehearsing world-class performances. Let’s see if we remember them. What was number one? Can you tell me? Can you? I can’t hear you. This is really weird, I feel a little bit embarrassed. I don’t know what to do, I can’t hear you. What was number one? Table-reads. Number two, content mapping. Number three, blocking. Number four, improv. Number five, invited rehearsal. Number six, open run-through. And number seven, well, that’s we get to tech and dress rehearsal. That’s where you’re comfortable in your clothing and you’re easily able to handle all the technical aspects of your presentation. And where possible, please, please work with people who have your back. And remember, everything that I’m teaching you here is based on ‘Steal the Show’ and I make this promise to everybody, if you buy ‘Steal the Show’ and you read it, cover to cover, and you don’t love it, just send me your name, your email address, your address and the name of a book that you want me to buy you instead, I will send it to you from Amazon.

28:54 Now listen, I’m not buying you a coffee table book for $150. I’m buying you a book that is in the similar genre so that you can actually learn how to perform, but I don’t think that will ever happen because ‘Steal the Show’ will help you shine in the spotlight moments of your life, will help you nail key performances, speeches, job interviews, deal closing pitches. So go pick up a copy at or anywhere books are sold and remember, please give me a great review, five stars. I accept nothing less, I will not take less than a five-star review. Anything else, I reject. And also go subscribe. So as I draw up more episodes for you, you can get them immediately. You’re gonna be first up and you can listen and you can be way ahead of the pack. I love you very much, not in a weird way, but I love you for being the big thinker that you are and I want you to keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world. If you do, you will steal the show. This is Michael Port signing off. Bye for now.