How presenters can take a few cues from stage actors

Performers assiduously rehearse their carefully crafted stage movements, and if something goes awry, they’re ready to ad-lib a bit to get things back on track. Speakers, heed this advice.

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Have you ever admired the confidence and poise of a stage performer, wishing you could “perform” like that for your next major speaking engagement?

I have often pushed back when colleagues and clients compared delivering a presentation to a stage performance. I saw that as projecting a façade, showing people something other than who you truly are. Having recently read “Steal the Show” by Michael Port, I’ve gained a new perspective.

I now recognize the value in applying a performer’s mindset to public speaking. Finding your voice, staying grounded in authenticity and putting your best self forward to remain confident and adaptable in the moment are just a few challenges that great performers and speakers have in common.

Here are three game-changing strategies that “Steal the Show” offers.

Related: Free download: How to turn your executive into a brilliant speaker.

1. The value of rehearsal

Who would think of doing a live stage performance without rehearsing? Stepping up to speak requires the same kind of extensive preparation.

Here are some essential rehearsal habits:

  • Table reading: Most speakers assume that rehearsal means standing up and delivering a presentation as if it were in prime time. Take the pressure off: Start by simply reading your presentation out loud to yourself several times. Listen for the flow, for what works and what doesn’t, as well as what words or concepts trip you up. Then edit your content before adding in your delivery skills. I find on average it will take about three table readings before speakers become comfortable with the messaging.
  • Blocking: Many clients ask, “Can I move around or walk while speaking? And if so, how can I do it effectively?” The answer to the first question is yes. Once you are confident in your messaging, it is time to block your movement. Blocking is your plan for how you will move during your presentation. Will you be sitting or standing? Will you be on a stage? Behind a lectern? These are all important considerations. For meaningful movement when presenting, identify three points on the stage, perhaps stage right, stage left and downstage (close to the audience). Unlike fully choreographing a performance, blocking for a presentation provides you with a target so you move with purpose instead of aimlessly pacing. Though it’s OK to walk and talk at the same time, be sure not to sway; stand still when you are saying something important.
  • Dress and technical rehearsals: These rehearsals usually take place on the venue stage. As is true for actors, you should have an actual dress rehearsal (wearing presentation-day attire, especially shoes). You may be saying, “you’ve gotta be kidding!” I can’t tell you how many times clients thank me following a dress rehearsal. That’s when they find out that climbing stairs in those shoes isn’t going to work or that their chosen attire will restrict their ability to gesture. Along with dress, the technical rehearsal allows you to become familiar with the equipment, check the AV and sound and get a feel for the clicker. Rather than striving for perfection, remember that rehearsals are about familiarizing yourself with your presentation so you’re confident and ready to connect with your audience.

2. The skill of improv

We tend to think that excelling at improvisation is a talent some are born with and some are not. The truth is that improv is a skill you can develop.

What exactly is “improv” for public speaking? It’s about being open and ready to seize the moment, making your content relevant to what is happening in the room, and being present to your listeners.

Anyone who presents regularly knows there are bound to be curveballs. Don’t be that person who sticks with the plan even when the situation calls for something different. Improv is having the confidence and flexibility to pivot and adjust your presentation in the moment, to deal with the unexpected, relate new information or simply be spontaneous—always a plus for audience engagement.

3. How to be a team player

In “Steal the Show,” Port talks about speaking as a “team sport”—an apt analogy. As speakers, we sometimes get wrapped up in what we plan to say or do. As a result, we can forget to recognize the many other people involved in this process: other speakers, production staff, crew and, of course, the audience.

Connecting with everyone on the team can help you hone your content, improve your delivery skills, ensure everything runs smoothly and, ultimately, increase your confidence.

You can give a great “performance” for your next business presentation while staying true to yourself, your purpose and your audience. Making an impact and achieving your goals are all about having the confidence to put your best self forward.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stakes presentations. Learn more at www.professionallyspeaking.net and www.professionallyspeakingblog.com.

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