The art of developing stage presence
I was at a workshop some years ago with a famous Swedish actress, Lena Endre, and learnt some wonderful useful things about stage presence. This story was one of the most memorable.
Ingmar Bergman was to give a lecture to a large amphitheater full of students. The room was packed to bursting and everyone eagerly awaited his entry. Finally he came in, walked slowly around to the front of the long table that lecturers normally shelter behind, and sat himself up on it with legs dangling. Said not a word.
He looked around the whole room slowly and finally, after a long silence, he pointed to a person far back in the corner of the room and asked if they could please move a little to one side as they were not so easy to see from the front.
Then he started his lecture.
Think about what it felt like to be in that lecture theater? You KNOW that he can see you. Many people experience that they are invisible to the speaker because he or she shows no signs of seeing them. They can do what they like, write SMSs, sleep, look out the window.
There are several ways to ensure the audience’s attention, but without at least eye contact you won’t get anywhere.
And not just any kind of eye contact will work, you need to really see people.
Along with all the other things that will give you the best chance of being listened to, there’s one simple thing in this story that is particularly powerful. Silence. Don’t start speaking until you’ve got to where you’re going to stand. Face the audience and count off a few seconds. Wait for silence and attention. Stand there like you expect their full attention, not like you’re preparing to turn tail and run for it.
As a speaker, you have an automatic mandate at the very beginning of a talk, a power and control that you can very easily throw away. So use it, at least for a moment or two. Maybe you’ll enjoy it just a little bit.