6 public speaking lessons from Mick Jagger

Here’s how you can work some moves like Jagger into your speech the next time you take the stage.

We recently caught the Mick Jagger Show—or, the Rolling Stones—in Boston. It was a terrific show.

We used the show as a field trip to watch a master performer in action. And Mick Jagger is a master. There’s no doubt anyone who speaks in public can learn from him.

As Nick says, “Any time I get a chance to see a legendary performer like Jagger, I jump at it, because it’s a chance to learn stagecraft useful for public speakers.”

Jagger has stagecraft aplenty. He owns the stage from the opening numbers (“Get Off of My Cloud” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll”) and never lets up, save a couple of numbers where he sits down to rest and lets Keith Richards sing and play.

What can we learn from the indefatigable performer?

1. Precision

Jagger knows exactly where he is at every moment. He doesn’t waste a gesture, move or step. He knows where the other Stones are, where the spotlight is and, most of all, what the audience is doing. He’s probably the most self-aware performer we’ve ever witnessed. He’s a pro.

So many speakers resist rehearsal because they don’t want to get stale. Jagger shows how counter-productive that attitude is.

2. Focus

Jagger’s every gesture reaches out to the audience. When he is singing, every step is toward the audience. When he’s not singing, instead of stepping back, he interacts with the audience.

Jagger’s focus is unrelenting. It may only be rock and roll, but for him it’s business, and he takes it seriously. He rarely smiled during the performance, and kept the between song chat minimal. He’s self-aware, but always focused on the audience.

3. Emotion

Music—especially familiar music—fires up the pleasure centers in our brains. That’s why we like it. Watching Jagger, we couldn’t help thinking that he can fill a concert hall because music instantly brings pleasure. Speakers have to work much harder to achieve even remotely similar effects.

Every speaker should consider working music into his or her presentation because it’s a shortcut to emotion. Have music underneath your introduction. Work a song into a bit of video. Close with a song that’s relevant to your message.

Whatever relevant way you can add music, do it. It’s an effective shortcut to a strong, emotional connection with your audience.

4. Fitness

Jagger is 69 years old, and he still has incredible energy. We’ve seen very few rock stars of any age who work a stage with such vitality.

In a recent interview, Jagger said: “I train five or six days a week, but I don’t go crazy. I alternate between gym work and dancing, then I do sprints, things like that. I’m training for stamina.”

There’s no doubt that being physically fit helps public speakers. You can control your body better. Your breathing becomes more relaxed, and you can strut the stage without getting winded.

5. Technology

The Rolling Stones production is huge; it has more than a dozen 18-wheelers full of gear and hundreds of people backstage who make things happen. At large speaking gigs, the technology can approach this level with dozens of staff for sound, lights, video and staging.

Yet, most speakers don’t take advantage of the opportunity to do a sound check. They don’t meet with the production staff to discuss their speeches. Instead, they show up a few minutes before they go on and wing it.

Jagger is comfortable with his technology, and it was clear he rehearsed with it many times. Although it was difficult to see, we noticed he had a teleprompter available. As far as we could tell, he never needed to use it. But as a true pro, he knew where it was in case he did.

6. Stagecraft

The tongue stage was a terrific way for Jagger to get out into the audience. And over the course of the two-hour show, he used the entire stage.

He stayed in the main stage area for the opening numbers, and then ventured over to the sides for a few songs. Finally, about 45 minutes into the show, he went way out into the audience. In other words, he held back a bit in the beginning.

Most public speakers stand in front of the podium, or if they venture out, just hang near the center of the stage. Some go back and forth to the corners like a metronome. True professionals work the entire stage like a rock star.

A version of this article originally appeared on David Meerman Scott’s blog, Web Ink Now.


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