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An edited and revised book on public speaking for introverts based on the articles from this site

Your Performance : Using The Stage

Giving a presentation isn’t (unfortunately) only about the preparation – at some point, you are also going to have to perform.  The performance is a show – its a bout being a character, someone other than yourself, and its about keeping in control.  It is a situation which, rather counter-intuitively gives you all the power.  What you have to learn is how to hold on to the power and how to use it to add to the impact of your presentation.

Your first tool, in giving a performance, is the stage.

The stage can vary.  Sometimes you are up on a platform, at other times you stand on the floor amongst a horseshoe of seated people.  often you will simply be standing up from your seat at a meeting table.  But in all these situations, you have a stage, you have an area of space which you use to perform.

Think, for a moment, about presentations you have attended.  How often do the boring speakers stand in one place, hiding behind something – perhaps behind a desk, or behind a lectern?  When faced with public speaking, many people naturally and instinctively look for somewhere to hide.  Rationally, we all know that hiding isn’t going to save us – you will be giving the same presentation, no matter what you put between yourself and the audience.  But there is the rub, by putting things between yourself and the audience, you are not only hiding yourself – but you are also hiding your presentation – you are putting physical and mental barriers between the audience and your message.

So when you take to the stage, stand where you can be seen.  Clearly, unobstructed, open.

Look around you – you have an audience, but you also have space.  They are penned into their seats, often sat tightly, shoulder to shoulder, without much room to move.  You, on the other hand, have room in which to move around.  Feel the space, and be willing to move around into it, because my moving, you are – no matter how you feel inside – projecting an image of confidence and dominance.

Lets look at how the stage works:

First, consider the obstacles:  there might be a podium or a desk.  Ideally you want to move these out of the way.  If you can’t do that, the next best action is to stand in front of them – to consider them the back of your working area.  In short, don’t let the things on the stage get in the way of how you want to work – and certainly don’t let the fact that there is a lectern, pulpit, or chair determine how you are going to stand or sit when presenting to your audience.

On stage, you can move in four directions – left and right, forwards and backwards.  Some people, when they present, have a habit of striding back and forth from the left to the right of the stage – this is a nervous habit, and isn’t what I mean when I say ‘use the space’.  Rather, pick a spot on which to base yourself – a place to start your presentation.  Don’t move from left to right, rather turn to the left, or to the right to engage with a certain section of your audience.  As a speaker, it is your job to connect with everybody you are speaking to, so take time to look out towards your audience – turn to make eye contact with the people at the far left, the far right, the front and the back.  When you want to make a point, make a connection with someone – anyone – in the audience.

Moving forwards and backwards is different.  Moving forwards has an impact.  Move forwards when you want to shock, when you want to impress a point, or when you want to share something.  Moving forward brings you closer to your audience.

A while ago I was giving a technical presentation – one of many the audience had listened to that day.  Like the other speakers, I started standing near a desk which was being used by the engineers controlling the various demos.  Immediately I moved in front of the desk, so as not to let it obstruct me, and I began to talk – my talk was on the subject of ‘new features in a particular product’, however I was spinning it as ‘our journey to find ways of making your life easier’.  The talk was going well, I was getting the key concepts across, but I reached a point where I had to explain a very tricky technical concept to the audience.  Now I had prepared for this – I knew exactly how I was going to get it across: I had developed a metaphor to explain everything.  But I also knew that I needed to have the audiences unswerving attention.  So while previously I had been moving around a small space – mainly using the space to support my expressive body language, I chose this point to expand the space I was using.  I stepped much close the the audience, and rather than talking about the technical subjects, I began talking about them, including the audience in my presentation.

Suffice to say, the presentation worked, and the audience (who had been grilling the guys before me on the most minor of details) gave me an easy ride through the question and anser session which followed.

By moving around the stage, I had kept hold of their interest – distracting them fromt he screens, and indeed from their notes – and, at the crucial point, I had moved towards them, drawing them in.  This is what stage movement is all about.

Use the stage.  Don’t use it to find somewhere to hide.  Don’t use it to walk off your nervous energy.  But take advantage of the space.  Use it to show that you are confident.  Use it to bring people closer to you.  And perhaps use it like an actor – stepping to one side to share a secretive ‘aside’ with the audience.

To finish, leaving the presentation centred, you can draw back to your home, centred position, and, if applause follows, you can move forwards again to accept it.

The important thing to remember is, the stage will let you own it, if you take it.  The power is there for you to control, your job is to grab it.