Successful Speaker Maria TIPS AND TALES

The Quarterly E-Newsletter of Successful Speaker, Inc.
Volume 3 – November 2007

“Take Stage!”
by Maria Guida

Copyright © 2007 Successful Speaker, Inc. All rights reserved.

“The advice in Maria’s Newsletter was of immense value. Her ability to give the reader insight into the audiences’ experience is wonderful and extremely useful. I look forward to more high-quality, value-packed Newsletters in the future.”
Mindy Selinger,
Link System Trainer
PRESENTATION TIPS (The Summary)

  1. When addressing a business audience, situate yourself in the position of power (usually front and center).
  2. Begin with both feet planted firmly on the floor and imagine that your feet are tree roots that extend deep into the ground. Stand away from furniture and other temptations to lean for support (when at a podium, stand tall). Keep hands/arms open and available for natural gestures.
  3. Take stage at every moment: at the end of your presentation, pause to receive and experience your applause with a smile.

PRESENTATION TALES (The Story)

How do actors get the audience’s attention and keep them riveted to the action of a play? One answer is that actors “take stage”: they inhabit the space with a “do or die” purpose and an attitude of complete belonging.

Business speakers, too, need to take stage during every speaking event. They must command the space and project passion about their message in order to persuade and inspire the business audience. The speaker’s position on stage, body language/gestures, and comments must all further this objective.

Too many business speakers project their fears of not being liked, not appearing knowledgeable, and not making a good impression. In short, they fail to take stage, and they lose their audiences.

I observed this problem in Karen, a business speaker who was delivering a presentation on the subject of internet marketing. As she spoke, Karen inadvertently advertised her desire to be anywhere other than standing before a group of business listeners. Not only did she fail to take stage, but she gave away her power.

The venue was a large conference room with chairs arranged “theater style”. At the front of the room was a large, heavy table between the wall and the first row of the audience. This table was almost as wide as the audience section. The upstage wall displayed Karen’s Power Point slides.

The position of greatest power for a speaker is usually front and center, even when the stage area is not completely empty. Karen made the unfortunate choice of delivering her presentation from the side of the large table, locking herself into a spot on the extreme left side of the stage area. With that choice, she seemed to be saying, “I don’t deserve to be the center of attention. My message and I are just not that important.”

When a speaker takes stage and commands a position of power, she increases the likelihood that her audience will view her as an expert worthy of attention and respect, because she appears to view herself that way.

Karen’s body language and gestures also impeded her ability to take stage and project authority. She leaned on the large table next to her, not only revealing her discomfort and emotional need for a “safety net”, but also looking quite awkward. She had to bend sideways to lean on the table, because it was too low to provide a natural and comfortable support. During some moments, her hands were clasped behind her back; at other moments, she dropped one fist into the other palm to punctuate her words.

The hands and forearms should be open and available for natural gesturing, not in pockets or clasped behind the back. The hands should “speak”; movements should match both the content and the energy in the voice. Gestures coming from the waist are ideal, with elbows a few inches from the ribcage, for a feeling of expansion and authority.

At one moment, Karen said, “There are three things you need to know”: here she had a perfect opportunity to use “itemizing” gestures to focus audience attention. Yet, she gestured only on the first of three items. To indicate the first, she pushed a thumb forward and then quickly thrust her hand into her pocket. For the third item in her series, she rubbed her palms together – a gesture that not only was unrelated to her words, but projected anxiety and lack of conviction.

Gesturing with the fingers to clarify numbered points helps communicate the message, especially to audience members in the back of a large room. If a gesture is made for the first point in a series, it is a good idea to gesture for each of them; this helps keep related thoughts together as a group in the minds of the audience.

Obviously, Karen’s contorted physical position and weak, disconnected gestures were signs of nervousness. Moreover, her physical behaviors distanced the audience from her ideas, because the unnaturalness of her body language was stealing the focus.

One effective way for speakers to adopt a commanding stance is to start with both feet planted firmly on the floor and imagine that the feet are tree roots that extend deep into the ground. This initial “grounding” can help the speaker claim the space as his/her own and give weight to subsequent movements.

Off-content comments and the way they are delivered can affect the success of a speaker. Karen’s delivery of certain remarks advertised her inability to take stage — and, in fact, her desire to leave the stage as soon as possible!

Near the end of her presentation, Karen said, “Now I’m going to ask the question that will make all your heads swivel: does anyone have any questions?” She said this while shaking her head from left to right in a “no” gesture. Her tone suggested, “I know you won’t dare to ask any questions”. Of course, no one asked anything at all, because Karen was, in effect, telling them not to!

The Q & A Session should be brief and inviting. At the end of your presentation, say, “We have about ten minutes for a Question and Answer Session, so if anyone has any questions, please go right ahead.” Say this warmly and with a smile.

After discouraging her audience from asking questions, Karen said to her listeners, “I hope this was good. I usually have fifty topics, and then when I go home, I remember the twenty-five that I forgot.”

This type of apology or excuse-making is a mistake. Why call attention to anything that might have been left out of the presentation? The audience does not know what was originally included, so it is self-defeating to announce that something was omitted.

Karen made one final error – one that was so deadly that it was almost comical. In her final moment, Karen raced to exit the stage area and said (as she was scurrying toward the beverage table behind the audience), “Thank you all for your time. I’m dying of thirst!”

I have never seen anyone so eager to get off stage.

The final moment of a presentation is the speaker’s last opportunity to take stage. Pause after your final words. Say, “Thank you very much.” Then, stay in place for a moment and receive and experience your applause with a smile.

To a certain degree, taking stage involves enjoying being on stage. Not for the sake of being on stage, but for the purpose, pleasure and privilege of communicating an important business message.

Take stage, project your commitment and passion, and communicate the value of your ideas!

Maria Guida is the founder of Successful Speaker, Inc., providing communication skills training to Fortune 500 companies. Clients include UBS, Moody’s Investors Service, Citigroup, and NYSE Euronext. For many years, Maria worked as an actress on Broadway and television and was a principal spokesperson on national TV commercials.

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