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Speak for Success!

"Be a voice not an echo." - Albert Einstein

How to Improve Your Stage Presence for Public Speaking

How to Improve Your Stage Presence for Public Speaking

Can you learn how to command a stage with charisma? The answer is yes! Here's how to improve your stage presence for public speaking.

Are you wondering if you have the stage presence it takes to be a memorable speaker? Perhaps (you're thinking), that level of presence and charisma isn't possible for you.

After all, you may not be a motivational speaker or someone who speaks in high-stakes situations. But you speak at meetings, don't you, and converse with colleagues and customers? Maybe you lecture about your hobby at a social club or the local library.

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Greater presence will help you be better understood, feel more confident, and connect more easily with audiences in any of these situations. But don't you have to be, well, born to it?

Absolutely not.  Stage presence isn’t about innate ability. It’s simply learning the techniques that will allow your influence to soar. In fact, when one of my clients says, "I wish I could be like my CEO. He's such a natural speaker!" I tell them that the executive almost certainly had speech training somewhere along the line.

But here’s even better news: wowing an audience means drawing upon skills that you already have. You just have to recognize what those skills are, then call upon them when you’re speaking in public. 

Stage presence means knowing how to deliver an effective presentation.

Lesson #1: Focus on Just Talking to People

Before we can discuss any of the specifics of stage presence, we need to understand that America has a problem that collectively, we need to do something about. It has to do with how we’re taught—or not taught—public speaking.

The unfortunate fact is, we teach our children almost nothing concerning effective oral communication. It isn't by osmosis that one learns how to be a comfortable, cool, and commanding speaker. Those children, of course, become us, talking to customers, pitching business, contributing at meetings, and delivering presentations.

Wouldn't it be nice if, in addition to the academic subjects now in the curricula, our schools spent time on oral communication skills, listening skills, and negotiating skills? Another important aspect of presenting well, knowing how to handle oneself in front of an audience, simply isn’t on most lesson plans either.

Yet what do you do day in and day out on your job? You talk to people, influencing them and being influenced by them. So when you start your professional career, like everyone else you're at a loss concerning a task you're expected to be good at: speaking publicly to others about topics that matter to them.

So, some perspective concerning that performance gap: Contrary to the belief that audiences expect a public speaking superhero, what listeners want is you, as you really are: sharing information about something you and they are mutually interested in. This is great news for you as a speaker! It’s a reminder that you just have to be yourself. Nothing special is required. Public speaking, in other words, is a reflection of who you are. That’s what allows you to share the insights that literally no one but you have with listeners.

Do that, and you’ll be the type of speaker who invites—and perhaps even commands—attention. You’ll be a “magnetic communicator,” [1] all through your personal on-stage magic, the kind that comes from honestly being yourself.

Charisma and presence were both important in the great speeches in history.

Lesson #2: Stop Trying to Be Good. Be Honest.

But what about charisma? Doesn’t being “magnetic” mean carrying some kind of indefinable quality—a fascination that announces itself as soon as you walk onstage? In other words, should we be asking ourselves: Does a memorable performance come from skill, or some kind of mysterious charm?

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If you accept the latter possibility, you won’t agree with Roger Ailes who had this to say in his book You Are the Message:

‘Charisma’ is a powerful but often misunderstood word. It derives from the Greek kharisma, meaning favor or divine gift, and its root is kharis, meaning grace. . . . The dictionary defines [it] as ‘a special, inspiring quality of leadership.’ . . . It’s really the ability to subtly cause others to react to you as opposed to your reacting to them. People with charisma seem to be in charge of their lives. They seem to have a goal, a purpose, a direction—in fact, a mission. [2]

Being in charge of your life, and having a goal and a purpose. Doesn’t that sound like something that’s within your grasp?

It's an important question, because of the aura of something exceptional and unattainable that people equate with charisma, thinking that they don't have it. The truth is, you can have it as fully as the next person, provided you point yourself toward the right goal. In public speaking, that goal is leading people toward positive change through your speech. In other words, a form of leadership through service. Now don't charisma and presence sound similar?

When you speak in public, then, you’re showcasing a kind of high-impact speaking for leadership. That means knowing where you’re going with your presentation, and focusing fully on sharing it with your audience. Oh yes, and enjoying every moment of the experience. It's that type of speaking that gives you charisma. I believe it only happens when you stop trying to be good at public speaking, and just get up in front of listeners and let it fly.

That’s what will move the needle with your audience.

[1] Marsha Egan, “The Art of Magnetic Communication: 10 Secrets of Great Leaders,” Carrier Management, February 24, 2019.

[2] Roger Ailes, You Are the Message (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 104-105.

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