Steve Jobs was one of the greatest presenters of our time. His products were groundbreaking in of themselves but Jobs was a master storyteller and had the ability to influence a room of 20 or 2,000. He captivated and compelled every audience he was faced with and his presentations continue to impact the way we communicate today.
One of Jobs’ strengths was his skill for creating stage presence. Great presenters know that the ability to draw people in comes largely from a seemingly natural flair for showmanship and how they conduct themselves on the stage. It’s stage presence that distinguishes a presenter who can relay information, to one who can single-handedly bring the audience to his side.
In acting, an actor doesn’t simply read his lines. Dialogue provides context but it’s how he delivers each line that makes up a critical component of the performance. Stage presence is a visible type of confidence, making the performance seem natural and never contrived. You may have recited the same lines a hundred times but each time it’s told like you just came up with it on the spot.
The type of performance doesn’t matter – whether it’s acting on camera, dancing on Broadway, or speaking at a board meeting – each one contains an audience that wants to be moved. Good stage presence means you take charge of the area around you and like a magnet, draw all of the energy and attention towards you. That’s what many in Hollywood call the “it” factor.
Whether you’re a performer or a presenter, stage presence is something that needs to be established. It may come naturally for some but even Jobs needed training and development to become the presenter he was known as.
You can use similar techniques that professional actors adopt to increase your stage presence. At the most basic level it requires you to utilize three basic foundations: your body language, voice, and senses.
When faced with a threat, animals will make themselves look bigger to scare their attacker away. Obviously our goal isn’t to intimidate our audience but the opposite action of appearing small makes you look afraid and submissive. The idea is that by standing tall and appearing larger than we seem helps to portray confidence to the audience and boosts our own self-confidence in the process.
Another way to look bigger is to amplify the movements you make. Subtle gestures can easily get lost in a large room full of people. Think of the guy sitting all the way in the back – will he notice where you’re pointing? How many numbers you’re holding up? The air quotes you’re making when you’re telling a funny story? While you don’t want to be overly dramatic, you should slightly exaggerate your movements so people can see every gesture.
Use your body to help you tell your story. Take a look at Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk. You can see that his gestures and movements around the stage pair perfectly with every line he delivers: his movements are quick and jerky when he’s building up his point and slows down when he’s delivering the key takeaway. Body language is a great way to illustrate your presentation and emphasize the tone of your message.
Just like your movements, you can use your voice to command stage presence. An actor alters his voice by varying speed, pitch, and volume to communicate each line and express the underlying emotion behind it. For example, speaking louder draws attention to certain parts of your speech or pausing after a point allows the audience to absorb what was just said. Without variation, a monotone voice will quickly cause boredom so changing it helps to sustain the audience’s attention.
It’s important that while you memorize a loose presentation script, you shouldn’t read out each line like it’s coming from memory. Your voice should be natural and expressive, like you’re having this talk for the first time despite having practiced your presentation dozens of times before. Consider how you’d normally converse in a conversation with a coworker or friend and think about the use of your voice when you tell a story or when you explain a concept. Try to utilize this voice when you’re presenting so that you sound as much like your authentic self as possible.
It’s not enough to remember your lines and perform them – a presenter needs to read his audience and adjust based on their body language and expression.
A stand-up comedian may have a routine he’s practiced but he needs to keep his senses on alert and adjust his act according to his audience’s reaction. He feels their energy and if his potty humor is falling flat, he needs to improvise and move on to a different joke to keep the crowd with him.
Look out into the crowd. An engaged crowd will be sitting up and forward with a neutral or friendly expression. A bored crowd will be leaning back into their seat, looking at their phone, or resting their head on their hand. This is your cue to change up your tune.
It’s impractical to change up your presentation every time your audience starts to drift off but there are ways to switch things up and reel them back in. You can move on to your next point or switch the limelight from you to them by surveying the audience with a show of hands. Bring more excitement into your voice and create movement around the stage. At the end of the day, maybe everyone’s just getting hungry and it’s time to break for lunch. Find different ways to break up your presentation so you don’t lose the audience.
Work on your stage presence with the same techniques used by actors and performers. You might not be acting out Shakespeare monologues but the goal for an actor and presenter is the same – put on a good show!