Have you noticed how comedians use a stage?
Very often, they’ll bound in holding a microphone, address the audience and then proceed to walk (or run) around the stage, making full use of the space available, working the crowd and building them up into a fervor.
I’ve seen a few public speakers use this technique, but often they fail because they’ve forgotten one critical aspect of their talk.
They’re not comedians.
When you go to a comedy show, you’re in a particular frame of mind. You know you’re going to get a belly full of laughs because you know that the person on stage will have written something with that in mind.
The comedian knows this too. But very often the comedian isn’t being them. They’re in fact acting out a persona, and this persona is taking part in a act and so gestures, movement and effect are all part of the whole experience.
A comedy show is a play, a story, an event. A business presentation very rarely is.
Take a rest
In all likelihood, as a presenter, you will be hoping to impart some wisdom and knowledge to your audience. If you have props or a presentation to refer to, then that will probably take centre stage. Either way, walking from one end of the stage to the other, won’t help, in fact, it will take the focus away from the point you’re trying to make. It may even make your audience believe you’re nervous, putting them on edge.
As you move around, your audience is having to follow you. If they’re trying to take notes, then they might find that when they look up again having written something down, you’ve moved. This merely serves to annoy and confuse.
One famous example of how this can go wrong was when Gordon Brown, who was speaking about the Labour Leadership election apparently walked 1.3 miles simply moving from one side of the stage to the other.
Some people took to Twitter to explain how annoying it was:
When it’s time to move
Of course, moving during a presentation can actually be used to good effect and to make a point. Standing at the lectern reading words off an autocue can be extremely dull, and so some of the best speakers in the world do, in fact, move around the stage. Sometimes it’s a big stage, it’s a shame not to use it, but as with most things, there’s a time and a place.
At certain points when you’re presenting, you’ll probably have to explain something in detail. This could be something that the audience will be expected to take away and action, or it could be some complex data or information. Either way, you need to make sure they are focussed.
This is when you should slow down. You need to remove all distractions to get your point across.
But here’s where you can have a bit of fun with the audience, and, in fact, help them.
Although always moving around is a distraction, when used sparingly, it is possible to use a transition from one part of the stage to another to great effect.
When you’ve made a point that you wish your audience to remember, simply pause so it will sink in, then move to another part of the stage, or, back to the presentation. It gives your audience time to breathe, to take in what has just been said and to relax.
Some presenters such as Tony Robins use this to great effect, and due to the often, information-dense nature of his talks, he uses this method to punctuate them perfectly. But, not all presentations lend themselves to this technique, and it’s really down to the presenter to understand their subject matter, plan it correctly and present it in a way that will give lasting impact on the audience.
How to ensure you don’t distract your audience
Practice obviously makes perfect, so the best way to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of distracting your audience is to either get someone to watch you, or film yourself.
Getting someone to watch you may be difficult, because who do you ask? If it’s a friend or relative, then you probably won’t get the feedback you really need.
If your subject matter is fairly niche, you may find you just bore them, and then you won’t be getting anything back other than a few sighs and yawns. So, we suggest simply filming yourself, and you don’t need any specialist equipment, either.
Do you have a smartphone? Then you have everything you need.
Set up your phone, in landscape, on a shelf and start recording. Then practice your speech from the other side of the room.
Don’t worry too much about getting the angle or lighting right, you’re not interested in that. Instead, make sure the phone camera is pointing to where you expect to stand. It should be easy then to tell whether you’re unconsciously moving out of shot.
The beauty of this approach is that you will be able to keep practicing until you get it right without involving anyone else and at absolutely no cost!