Ready for a standing ovation for your presentations? Here are 5 acting techniques for greater stage presence in your public speaking.
You're about to give an important presentation. You want to be good—really good. So where can you find the best techniques for engaging, entertaining, and moving your audience? As an actor, my answer is biased, but I believe it's the right one: consider the world of acting.
When I founded The Genard Method of performance-based public speaking training in 2001, my goal was to bring theatrical techniques to the world of business. What was true then remains so today: an acting-based approach is the fastest route to becoming a more accomplished speaker who can move audiences—any audiences.
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Below are five ways you can use the skills of an actor to improve the impact and influence of your own speaking.
How to Command a Stage for Business Presentations
1. Learn the Art of Speaking with Presence. This means developing “audience sense”—an awareness of how your audience is responding. Naturally, actors cultivate this attribute until it's a finely-tuned instrument. But you can benefit from awakening this awareness in yourself.
How can you do so? Practice the ability to present information while sensing how that information is received. You may find this challenging at first, since you may be focusing on your content to the exclusion of almost everything else. Instead, pay close attention to how your listeners are responding, for that's when you'll be truly present.
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2. Learn How to Use Body Language in Performance. You already know that body language is a powerful tool of communication. But how can you use it productively in public speaking, to go far beyond mere gestures? Here's one way: download my Free cheat sheet, Body Language For Public Speaking: 6 Skills Building Exercises. And follow my suggestions below:
First, learn how to use space. For instance, try to decrease the distance between you and your listeners. And think about how your position in your performance space can be linked to your content. For example, where are you situated in relation to the audience when you deliver your most important point? It should have maximum influence visually as well as otherwise! Most important, ask yourself, “How can I find physical expression of what I’m saying?” This is when you'll truly start using body language powerfully.
3. Learn How to Use Your Voice. Is your voice fully expressive? It needs to be if you’re going to convey the subtle meanings of your ideas. To get to that level, learn and practice my 5 key tools of vocal dynamics. And here's a cheat sheet on 15 ways to keep your voice healthy.
To practice vocal improvement, record presentations in audio only. That way, you'll be 100% mindful of your voice and nothing else. Work on one vocal tool at a time, isolating each until you hear improvement. Then go on to the next, and so on. Finally, practice your selections using all of the voice tools, since that’s how you speak when you're fully invested in what you're saying. And don’t stay in the world of business during practice sessions—fiction and poetry offer the best material for stretching your voice until it's fully at your command.
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4. Learn How to Lead Your Audience’s Response. Wrap yourself too securely in the cocoon of content and you may as well be speaking to an empty room. Think of it this way: Your content is only one engine of your audience's response—the other is you. So build your message so that listeners can respond in the right way, at the right time.
Here’s an example: I recently coached a client who had to tell his team about a directive that had just "come down from corporate." New accounting procedures were being implemented that the team had to follow. He was ready to dive right into details. But I pointed out that he needed to explain at the start why everyone needed to follow the new rules. Then he could get into details, once everyone's sign-on was evident.
5. Learn How to Be Comfortable in the Spotlight. Every actor knows the expression “Find your light.” It means that if you find yourself in the dark on stage (because, say, a light mounted above has moved slightly), step into a light source so you can be seen. Audiences find it hard to pay attention to actors they can’t see!
To bring that into the world of public speaking: when you present, you need to become comfortable being squarely in the spotlight. It means accepting your central role and the exposure that comes with it as a speaker. Some presenters are uncomfortable with that level of scrutiny, and it shows. But public speaking is performance. If you don’t like it—if you don’t learn to love it—you’ll never achieve the influence you’re capable of.
Now, go out there and light up your performance space.
This article was first published in 2017. It is updated here.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets. Contact Gary here.