Stage Presence: It's Not Just Public Speaking


Ever wonder about the secret to stage presence? Do you think that some people have it and some people don’t? Guess again. Yes, some people have charismatic personalities. But stage presence is not some mysterious quality. You don’t have to be a professional speaker to have stage presence. You don’t even need a stage! Stage presence is evident whether you’re speaking on a panel, a webinar, a seminar or workshop or the main stage. Public speakers who convey stage presence have three things in common. They know what to do back stage, on stage, and off stage.

Back Stage. Imagine all the things that go into a Broadway show back stage before the curtain ever goes up. If you want to have stage presence consider all the behind-the-scenes skills and preparation it takes before you speak your first word.

Prepare and Rehearse - It’s 90% preparation and 10% delivery. For a 1 hour talk, expect to prepare more than 10 hours. Practice until you’re natural. Part of the preparation includes talking in advance to attendees.

Test Audio Visual Equipment - Find the AV person and test all equipment. Keep the phone number handy and have a back-up plan in case of a technology failure

Arrive Early - Be on-site one hour ahead of schedule. Never show up right before your presentation time. Practice in the room if possible. It will make a difference in your delivery and confidence.

Greet People - Arriving early allows you to shake hands with people. This will make them and you more comfortable and what you learn about them can be referenced during your presentation.

Bring Business Cards - Every presentation is a marketing and networking opportunity. If you don’t do this back stage step, relationship building can slip through the cracks.

Set a Timer - Know where you are time wise. Get a volunteer to give you a 10 and 5 minute signal. You can also set a timer on your desk if it’s a small meeting. For the main stage, you can see a counter on the presentation monitor.

On Stage. Once you’ve set the stage, it’s show time.

Grab Attention - You have less than 30 seconds to grab attention so start with something, funny, thought provoking or tell a personal story.

Smile - Even if you’re nervous, you’ll look confident when you smile. It will also engage the audience. Remember one of the questions in the mind of every audience is “Who are you?” “Do I like you?”

Vary your Voice - If it’s a sit down presentation, you can’t work the room but you can do the vocal equivalent with your voice. Let your passion flow and vacillate between soft and loud tones. Variety is what will keep their attention.

Display Your Agenda - Most people want a road map of where you’ll be taking them. Show it visually on a slide or handout.

Interact with the Audience - Audiences don’t want to listen to lectures. Adults want input into their learning. Engage them with questions, polling, paired exercises, group exercises, and experiences.

Distribute Handouts - Provide handouts in small groups during your presentation so that they don’t read ahead. For larger groups, place the handouts on chairs before you speak but keep the handouts simple so people will pay attention to you.

Call to Action - Challenge the audience. Most presentations are quickly forgotten because there is no call to action or next step. Encourage them to commit to taking action on one idea they heard.

Off Stage. It’s not over ‘til it’s over. The biggest mistake speakers make is they forget they are ALWAYS ON STAGE. How you behave after the presentation is part of your stage presence and reputation.

Clean Up - Don’t leave the room a mess. If you’re not in charge of the meeting, at least take your own coffee cup to the receptacle. Groups have lost meeting space privileges because they left a messy room.

Mingle with the Audience - Don’t run off. Build in time to remain and talk to people. This shows that you care and it’s the beginning of building relationships that can pay off down the road. You’ll also get valuable information about your presentation.

Follow Up - This is another BIG speaker mistake. If you exchanged cards, take the initiative to meet afterwards. Don’t wait for them to contact you. The purpose of speaking internally and externally is to convey information, motivate, build relationships, build your brand, and increase your visibility. Following up will allow you to create strategic partnerships.

Watch your Behavior - Be respectful to everybody: the janitor, the meeting planner, the cab driver, the waiter. You may not realize it but you’re being watched. There are talented speakers who exude great presence on stage only to lose it when they are off stage. Don’t risk your reputation by letting your guard down with rude behavior. Remember: You are ALWAYS ON STAGE.

Or as professional speaker Scott McKain always says, All Business is Show Business.