Friday, May 27, 2011

Stage Presence

The manager of an events venue told me this week that he'd decided that the difference between a hobbyist and a professional was stage presence. That he liked to encourage performers who were just starting out, but had begun to realize that they were never going to move up to his main floor venue if they didn't know how to communicate with their audiences. And that he saw the same problem with fine artists when he staged an art show. "They don't know how to talk to potential buyers," he said. "It's all about presence."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Technique vs. Communication

I watched a classical guitar player a few weeks ago. I say "watched" rather than heard because no matter how often I tried to force myself to listen to the music, I found myself watching his hands instead. Marvelous technique. How does he manage to do that? Wow, look at those hands move. I can still mentally see the performance, but I can't hear it at all. How great it would have been if he had included the audience in the music.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Critics

Richard I. Garber commented here about voluntary/involuntary audiences. Yes, indeed, I refer often in "Speak Up" to the differences between the two and how they need to be treated. But how do we treat the 1 or 2 members of a voluntary audience who are there to critique or distract or who knows what? What do you do when you can see your competition in the audience and know that they're there to criticize? I didn't have an answer until a few days later when I attended an orchestra concert at which a group of conservatory students in front of me wanted to make sure that everyone knew that they, too, were brilliant musicians. No matter how loud their comments, they only affected 6 people at most. The rest of the audience–probably 800 people–remained attentive to the stage. Although one would ordinarily treat the show-offs as an involuntary audience, their effect was so minimal that they weren't worth consideration. At a presentation I did a few days ago, one man arrived early, took a seat at the back of the room, and began to read a newspaper. He read his paper for the next hour and a half. I have no idea why he was there. But his disinterested energy was far outweighed by the enthusiastic energy of the larger audience and, therefore, didn't deserve special treatment.

Monday, May 23, 2011


We all know that public speaking terrifies more people than snakes, spiders, or airplane trips. Those who are the most terrified of public speaking itself, are terrified of taking a class to learning how to speak in public without being terrified. I led a workshop on "Writing after 50" this weekend at the Blue Ridge Bookfest, and one woman told me she had been afraid to write because of what she might find out. But it had occurred to her that if she wrote about her fear she could write a different ending. Yes, I said, and you could create a character that isn't you to live through whatever frightens you. So why not create a different persona to speak in public? We create different personas all the time in our daily lives. Hopefully, we present a different persona at work than we present to a child, a different persona to a lover than to a father. I have a chapter about creating a performing persona in Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer. One of the exercises asks the reader to choose characteristics they want their performing persona to have–confidence, to be respected, etc.–and then to use body memories of a time when they were confident, and a time when they were respected. Sometimes workshop participants will realize that they don't really need one characteristic that they thought they were missing in their everyday personality; always do they realize that they really can create who they want to be.