How to boost your stage presence

Ole Tillmann

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Giving talks is one of the most important leadership tools of a successful manager. Practice the following three actions and you will learn how to deliver a more compelling message and increase your audience’s receptiveness to what you have to say.

STRATEGY: HOW DO I COMPOSE MY IDEAS INTO ONE CORE MESSAGE?

A good presentation always begins with concise preparation. After all, public speaking is public thinking. Your job as speaker is to illuminate your topic from every possible perspective and grasp all the relevant levels of meaning. Who are your stakeholders? What are their objectives? What do you want out of your audience, and why? What does your audience want from you? What added value can you offer them with your presentation? Only once you can identify and clearly formulate both your own objectives as well as those of your listeners will you be able to use your talk to your strategic advantage. This requires disciplined thinking and planning, potentially weeks of work to put together a 10-minute presentation. This work, however, is worth it. The more clearly you position yourself with your talk, the greater your leverage with your listeners. It’s important that you, as the speaker, are also the creator of your presentation. This preparation work should not be outsourced!

In addition to strategic orientation, another key to success lies in the simplicity of what you say. Your listeners should never find themselves in the awkward situation of not understanding what you are telling them. Instead, they should be able to effortlessly grasp the complete meaning of your ideas. It is thus important that you develop a way to communicate even complex issues in the simplest possible way – without sacrificing accuracy, of course.

One approach that will help you make things simpler and clearer is visual thinking, a method that architects and designers use to develop demonstrative concepts. The idea behind visual thinking is to capture every thought in the form of quick little sketches, without evaluating them at this early stage. By thinking with pen and paper, you can develop your ideas and refine your concept. What’s more, this tactic helps you communicate your thoughts to others even at this initial development stage. This enables you to reap the benefits of feedback to improve your talk’s early drafts.

Once you are able to depict your ideas with a drawing, icon, or flowchart, you have successfully completed the first step of streamlining and simplifying your ideas. The point is not to make perfect drawings – these are just rough designs you don’t need to show to anyone. Think from the start in storyboards and you’ll soon have produced your first draft, your MVP (Minimum Viable Presentation).

CONTENT: WEAVING FACTS WITH STORIES

Good stories stick in your listeners’ minds much better than pure facts. To be a good storyteller, think and talk in metaphors and analogies that are tailored to your particular audience. This will make them sit up and listen to what you have to say. Create a framework that transports your topic into the lives of your listeners. Storytelling gives you a tool to not only convey facts and information, but also to appeal to emotions – which in turn increases the likelihood your audience will still remember your core messages long after your talk is over.

When formulating your talk, you should deliberate over every word just like an author does: Is this the right term at the right place? Writer Mark Twain had this to say about it: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” Tip: The most concise editing occurs after the first draft of your presentation has been set aside for a few days. Then return to it with fresh eyes and make it better.

DELIVERY: OWN THE ROOM, INCREASE YOUR PRESENCE

A good storyteller knows it’s not just about the power of the words – body language and voice are also useful tools for adding emphasis. You should aim to direct the attention of your audience the way a conductor directs an orchestra. It should be clear to you at every point where you want your listeners’ focus to be – then use your body to lead them there. Many speakers are greatly affected by the energy their audience brings, and hand the room over to them out of courtesy. This is a mistake, for the audience actually wants to be directed. To optimize your stage presence, consider these three elements:

Body Language: The more space you take up by consciously assuming an upright posture, the more present you come across. Keep in mind, however, that adapting body language that is too dominant can quickly come across as arrogant.

Voice: Think of the room as an instrument, with its own particular frequency. Fill the room with your voice and use it in a way to bring this instrument to life.·

Pace: When up on stage, you set the tempo. The more time you take, the more confident you come across. Speak too slowly, however, and you run the danger of losing your audience’s attention. Well-considered pauses give your content the space to have effect, and give your listeners time to process the information you’ve given them.

Your personality is another tool that can help you deliver a more effective and compelling presentation. The aim is to achieve flexibility to play a variety of roles. This means perfecting your ability to emote the many facets of your personality in an authentic way, and move between these facets smoothly and easily. For example, at one moment you may be decisive, then humorous the next, and in the next moment serious and deep, depending on what the context requires. The point is not to become an actor up on stage, but rather to strategically use the spectrum of your personality to make your message really stick. You will gain the sympathy and respect of your listeners and come across as a multi-dimensional individual. Former U.S. President Barack Obama is a perfect example of a person with marked role flexibility: At times he is statesmanlike, at others friendly and approachable, and in the next moment street smart, and he is completely believable in each of these roles.

The better you know yourself, the easier it will be for you to harness every aspect of your personal expression. The necessary self-awareness comes not only from life experience, but also from the feedback of your audience, from practice, and from using psychological tools. You have to be willing to take risks in front of an audience to make a strong impact on them. This means venturing outside your comfort zone and going along with the moment completely.

With focused practice, anyone can learn how to create and deliver better presentations. Develop a presentation strategy geared toward your objectives and the needs of your listeners, aim for clean and well-structured content, and practice for a dynamic delivery. The result will be an audience that is ready to act on your message.  

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Public Speaking