Working the Stage and Staying “In the Moment” During a Presentation

Working the stage

Working the stage

Every presentation is also a performance. Like an actor you need to know your lines and stay “in the moment,” always in character and focusing on what you’re doing when you’re doing it.

Actors are trained to stay in the moment and not think about what they’re having for dinner after the show or lose their concentration if a cell phone goes off in the audience.

Staying in the moment – or mindfulness – is a skill that is getting a lot of attention these days as our busy lives and the Internet intrude on our ability to focus, as The New York Times recently reported.

If you’re presenting, you can’t be thinking about what’s going on at work or let other distractions throw you off your game.

Staying in Character

Actors know they are always going to experience stage fright and actually welcome it because they know that their body is telling them they’re ready to rock and roll. No two performances are the same. The timing is different and audiences react and laugh in different places. Yet, actors must stay in character and keep going.

A classic example is Mia Farrow, who was in the middle of a scene in a Broadway play when the curtain came crashing down. A member of the audience had taken ill and the call for a doctor in the house delayed the production for 20 minutes.

Staying "In the Moment"

Staying “In the Moment”

When the curtain went back up, Farrow resumed doing exactly what she had been doing before the interruption. That’s focus and staying in the moment.

Actors know how to work the stage. They’re not going to step on a laugh line. Sometimes the laughter goes on and on and at other times it doesn’t. Actors don’t say their next lines until the laughter stops.

An actor is essentially playing the same character and reciting the same lines every night.

We never recommend that our clients memorize their lines but we do encourage them to internalize the flow to know what’s coming next. It’s always desirable to personalize your presentation to different audiences. If you’re making a sales presentation, for example, you can change the anecdotes, statistics and examples. However, the key messages and takeaways remain the same.

Learning How to Move on Stage

Since a presentation is also a performance, you need to know how to move on the stage or when standing in a conference room. I’ve worked with the CEO of a major health care association for many years. The first time was for his appearance before a very large audience.

The stage was decorated with huge leafy planters. Our first move was to get rid of them. Next, we dispatched the lectern along with the Presidential Prompters at each side of the lectern.

Instead, we had the production company install three floor monitors at the foot of the stage allowing the CEO to work the stage. This helped him appear to be talking directly to the audience, creating a personal and more intimate connection. It also helped him to stay in the moment because he wasn’t distracted by planters or locked in behind a lectern.

The monitors weren’t visible and you couldn’t see that he was reading his lines. His keynote was a great success.

Getting Even Better

A CEO who is a great communicator can be even better when he learns when to move and when not to move on stage. I had coached another CEO for his presentation and since I could not attend the final on-site rehearsal, I asked the PR director to videotape the last rehearsal on her iPhone and send it to me.

I was horrified to see the CEO galloping back and forth across the stage. I immediately contacted the CEO to ask why he was literally running from one side of the huge stage to the other. He said the production team told him he needed to use the whole stage.

I reminded him that I had blocked out the stage with X’s so that he would know how far and when to move in any direction thus using the stage more appropriately … not to mention avoiding getting out of breath from all the running and the potential for cardiac arrest.

The production team pushed back but I told them I’d stake my reputation on the fact that this would work. And it did because the CEO didn’t have the distraction of sprinting back and forth across the huge stage. He was able to stay in the moment.

Staying in the moment requires concentration and practice. While you’re rehearsing, get rid of a distracting thought as soon as it pops into your head. Use little reminders like winding a string around your wrist and then touching it as needed to bring your focus back to what you’re doing.

How do you stay in the moment? Do you have any techniques that keep you focused?

1 comment to Working the Stage and Staying “In the Moment” During a Presentation

  • Great blog post! The example of the CEO dashing from one side of the stage to the other is not only a distraction for the speaker, but it’s just as distracting to the audience. I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve seen where the speaker is constantly moving. It’s difficult to follow a presentation or capture those golden nuggets when the delivery is ill-paced.

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