Being on stage is an art form of its own. We all know how it feels to experience a good show, an exceptional speaker or a brilliant band. We also know everything about bad shows. If you want to emulate one or the other, it is inherently easier to copy a bad show. However, standing out and perform to your best potential is a long road and needs a lot of practise and self-reflection.
After the summer break I've been back a few times on stage in my free time as a hobby musician, particitpating in a band contest (still running) and a small theatrical production. Being absent from both for a few months now I have a new and fresh perspective of what has changed and what has not. I'm certain there is a valuable lesson to be found. So, here we go:
Build a relationship with your audience
Possibly the biggest factor for any show is your personal relation and your relation as a performer to your audience. As you might know, a really good show makes you not only learn or hear something you want to hear or learn about, it makes you feel something. Giving presentations or playing a music piece can both change your life and give you goose bumps. The best way to make people receptive to your message is through relationships.
I always share a personal story or a personal message with my audience. "Hey John, good to see you hear, hope you're having a blast!", "Where are you guys from?", "Can anyone please raise their mobile phone high above their head and shut it off so we have no disstraction. Thanks!". Highly depending on the context of the show of course.
It relaxes the tension and people get to know you, the ice melts and you've suddenly become human. You are not that god-like creature on a pedestal, you are one of them and that makes all the difference.
You usually hear people comment or scream something at concerts. As a performer, you will hear some of them and you can actually react to it. "I love that song too, but we won't play it tonight...at least not right now..", "Hey, you in the front row, that was an excellent question. What's your name?".
In my expereince, those small moments make people smile and remember you. They will also feel more confident in approaching you after your performance. Which can be a great business opportunity for you. And this is true for concerts as it is for recruiting fairs, trust me.
You need to give 200% for people to experience 80%
One of the crucial lessons you usually learn by performing more and more often. Of course, you can have a bad day or your audience could be a bit stiff, but the most dynamic and loudest part has to be you. This is something that you can learn best by recording yourself.
The first time I heard myself talk, it was one of the weirdest moments of my life. Do I really sound like this? Combine sound with video and you will be shoked even more. But yeah, this is pretty much how people see and hear you. But it is the best medicine you can give to yourself to really work on your performance.
Record yourself by presenting 10 minutes of your talk for example, how you'd think you want to give it. Before watching, record another sample with exaggerated gestures, more voice variation and basically too much of everything. Look at the footage and decide for yourself which is better.
Just remind yourself, it's a give and take situation. Since you usually have no direct physical contact and you have to talk to more than 1 person, the energy has to be multiplied, otherwise you will come of as boring.
Just to make it clear: I don't recommend to make everything a clown show, of course not. The context is key, but even in a serious environment you can come of as too boring. When you are a leader, the audience expects vision and passion. If you are a finance manager, people want you to be correct and in love with numbers. And so on...
My background is Marketing and Music, so this is my context. But it is applicable to any other genre, as you might have experienced yourself.
Your audience wants you to succeed
One of the biggest fears you have as someone who stands on a stage is that people are going to "boo" you off the stage, throw tomatos at you or that they judge you.
Those people might be there, but let me assure you, it's the minority. I will also tell you, that most mistakes you make on stage won't even be noticed by anyone but you.
It's all in your head. Imagine yourself sitting in a conference or in a concert hall listening to a performacne. You have somewhat of a clue what is going to happen, but you don't really know. With bands, you don't know the order of songs, light show etc. In conferences you go to speakers to learn from them. So, as someone standing on the stage, you have more knowledge. People want to know what you know, so it don't matter what happens, people will be kind if you are honest to them.
When I'm listening to a concert, of course I'm going to notice if a beat is missed or a note was not played, but most people won't, they don't have the time to think about it. Especially if they don't play music themselves. Even within the context of a presentation among your peers. They'll probably tell you later, that something was odd, but overall it was a pleasant experience. So, what is the worst that could happen to you?
The essence of your showmanship
In the end, it comes down to your view on the matter. There are people who love being onstage and others hate it. Sometimes it can be helpful to overcome stage frigth for your personal development. In my case, I've always had a passion for the stage, not a particular stage but a platform to stand on and people watching. It started in school, with plays and music gigs, now it's giving presentations, recording myself or making music as a hobby.
It is important that you audit yourself on why you are doing it and what you can bring to the table.
Listen to feedback and perform as much as possible and watch the recordings. Everything can help you to find your style. I've been doing this for roughly 10 years now in different contexts and I still have a lot to learn. You can always be better and you can always change.
Thanks for reading!