The Time Has Come to Work on Your Stage Presence
Comedians, politicians, and generals know it. So do rock bands, poets, and magicians. Leaders would benefit from knowing it, too.
Stage presence matters.
Stage presence reflects the ability to capture and command the attention of an audience. Leaders can learn a great deal about presentational excellence by studying how the world’s best stage performers create the energy that mesmerizes audiences.
For starters, too many presenters focus on their notes, slides, or only one slice of the audience. Watch great stage performers, and they work the whole stage and all sides of the audience. They make sure everyone feels the performance is directed at them. This means scanning back and forth from one side of the room to the other, and making eye contact with as many people as possible.
To maintain the energy, the best practitioners never allow for gaps in performance. No waiting while the technology is initiated, or between the conclusion and the Q&A. Less space between all parts of the presentation allows the energy to build and not dissipate. This sounds like a small issue, but great performers will tell you otherwise.
Watch a great stage performer, and you will notice they display high energy, even in small gestures. They move quickly from spot to spot. They grab an instrument forcefully. They stare intensely at a water glass. Such attention to small actions keeps everyone in the audience fixated on the presenter.
Lastly, great stage acts involve the audience in the performance in some way. They ask those in the audience to sing with them, answer a question, clap along, applaud on cue. For presenters, involving the audience, even a large one, often takes the form of a direction. Asking an audience to perform an action is a sure-fire way to engage them fully. Standing up, turning to the person sitting next to them, shouting out an answer, holding up a hand or a number of fingers. Directed actions pull an audience into a presentation and keep them there.
Turning audience members into fans is as important for leaders as it is performers. Working on your stage presence is an important step toward capturing the hearts and minds of those you lead. Who knew you were a rock star?
TL;DR: situational awareness + decision making + hang + mad skills on the instrument + knowledge of self/group function = rock star performer. I included a video example from Cirque Du Soleil at the bottom with some commentary.
Subset of skills: rapport building, developing a "stage persona", empathy, active listening/awareness, adaptability, failure and stress tolerance, decision-making and situational analysis, situational awareness/mindfulness, effective command delivery, and in the "industry" we say the ability to "hang" - be the kind of person that people want to follow/perform with.
In addition to skill, a performer needs to understand the function of what's going on - music is all about function.
Each chord has a function - it's designed to precede or proceed another type of chord - there are theoretical rules and maxims about this kind of thing.
Each member of a group - orchestra, jazz band, rock band, wedding band, whatever - has a function. The lead singer's function is be the bridge between the audience and the band, the drummer's function is to be the "road manager" and keep everything in line. The band leader's function is to make sure that everyone knows their function and is enabled to be successful.
That said - if a group wants to iterate, a band leader needs to understand the function of the song as it relates to the rest of the show, the function of each element within the song musically and how it relates to one another, and then communicate (in the moment) how the path from where they are now to the iteration.
Cirque Du Soleil band leaders are a great example of what I'm talking about here...
https://youtu.be/p2HhSwA6vuY?t=244 - watch the video until 5:02. (1 minute in total)
Here's what to look out for:
- The performer on stage is like the lead singer - they are bringing the audience into the act and bridging the experience.
- The drummer (unseen) is responding musically to what the performers are doing visually. Listen at 4:17-4:18 and you can hear the drummer is timing some hits with when the performer puts the hats on. The drummer's function is to compliment the visual performance.
- The band leader (seen) is responsible for her part and communicating what comes next. At 4:15 she communicates "okay let's go" which is is communicating that we're starting "this bit of the act" and at 4:24, after the act fails she communicates to the band that they're going to "redo it" - pivot.
- The performer/act then takes a second to regroup, develop some excitement from the audience... (all part of the act).
- Band leader sees that the act is going to start the bit again and then re-pivots the band at 4:38
- You can hear the drummer responding to act at 4:44 similar to what you heard earlier... that's the drummer's function.
- At 4:48 the band leader queues the band to the next section because the act completed the act successfully.
- 5:02 the band leader sees the act is ready to take their final stage pose and ends the section with "1, 2, 3, 4, out."
Live Music Producers, that's actually a job title, often use a method called "Live Music Method". The idea is that every single element of a performance has a purpose.
When the lead singer is looking and singing to one part of the audience, another musician is directing their energy to towards another part, and perhaps two musicians are engaging with each other... energy is moving around and being directed to different parts of the 4-dimensional - and all of it is intentional.
The other thing we realize in entertainment, is that your audience doesn't really come there for you - the entertainer. They come there to be around other people like them. Great entertainers know how to cultivate a sense of "Tribe" - "people like us are here in this moment and who's like us? Damn few. So here's what you get to do!"
I'm a former live music/entertainment manager for a cruise line, and this post resonated with me.