Performance Tips for Captivating an Audience

“Stories are equipment for living”

- Robert McKee

At the end of 2015, Ludic Creatives scribed the WOBI’s in New York City. The speakers, who included Kevin Spacey and Richard Branson, spoke about the importance and need for storytelling.

As Spacey put it, “stories are the very substance of what we are.”

Knowing your story is important, but in order for a story to live on it has to be shared in a way that connects with and inspires an audience.

The speakers at WOBI understood this. Their keynotes spoke to those in attendance because they were every bit about the delivery as they were the content.

However, speaking in front of an audience can be daunting. To help you manage nerves so you can more deeply connect with your audience and share your story, Louise Ashcroft, a performance expert who works with Ludic Creatives to coach leadership teams and high-level executives in FTSE 100 organizations, shares some top tips:

Know why you are telling your story.

Find the reason, the passion why you want to tell the story.  The ‘why’ provides a point of focus as you step on stage, or into the boardroom/meeting room.  

A simple way to do this is to complete this phrase, “I’m sharing this story because I want ______.”  Top tip for completing this phrase: If you can also make the “why” audience focused, it turns the story into a journey, and connects you to your audience straight away.  For example, I’m telling this story because I want you to join me in building a better future.

Breath is your superpower.

Now that you have your “why,” you can start to use it as a way to help control nerves.  The easiest way to do this is with breath.  There’s a point of view that if you can control your breath, you can start to manage your nerves.  Hence it’s superpower status. 

Connecting with an audience requires being internally connected yourself, so here’s a quick exercise to help centre and connect up. Offstage, or before you start rehearsing: Stand with feet hip width apart, knees unlocked, shoulders relaxed.  Look out onto a horizon and close your eyes.  Place your hands onto your navel.  Think of the “why” as you breathe deeply into your navel.  Onstage: Before you begin saying your speech, take a moment to find your place on stage or in the meeting room, look around your audience, breathe from the navel and think about your “why.”  By giving yourself and the audience this moment to connect, you are now ready to share the story.

Get in the room.

With the “why” and breath in place, you can continue to build rapport with an audience from your centered state.  One way to do this is by getting comfortable with the room you are presenting in.  For example, as you first walk into the room, take a few seconds to look around the space.  Seeing the room messages to the brain that you are safe because you know the environment.  Our mind, knowing that we are not in danger, cancels flight and fight mode and anxiety is minimized further.

In the conference room:  If presenting at a conference, there is often the opportunity to rehearse in the space.  Maximize your rehearsal time by taking a few moments to stand on stage and breathe the space.  As you do so, look around the space and in your head, list five things that you can see in the auditorium.  Make sure you breathe to the farthest chairs, to encourage you to think as wide as your audience.

Listen to your audience.

When we focus our attention on ourselves, we stop listening to the audience and self-monitor.  In that moment, people often describe this as an outer body experience, where we can see ourselves giving the speech, or our inner critic lists loudly in our ear everything we are doing are wrong.  When this happens, everything feels out of control and nothing feels real.

To overcome this, take back the control and focus all your attention back on your audience by remembering the “why” and breathing into the navel.  Putting attention on others builds trust and connectivity because it is an act of generosity.  As a presenter, you’ll also get pay back too.  By shifting your focus to your audience, you’ll minimize your nerves and be able to tap into the audience’s companionship.

Eye contact. 

When viewed from the lens of speaking, eye contact is another word for generosity.  Through eye contact, we build a rapport with our audience because we acknowledge that we are all in this together.  Eye contact is an equalizer, it’s human, and it creates trust.  Eye contact in a room should scan all of the audience area, occasionally taking in the audience at eye level too.  You can give a line or two to one person, if you feel that the rapport is in place.

Eye contact can also make us feel vulnerable.  To manage this, remember the “why,” then you know why you are looking at your audience.  This shifts us into a more positive mindset too: Shifting from you and me (where it can feel like it's ourselves against the audience) to us (we're in this together and the audience becomes our companion).

Be in the moment.

Sharing a story is something that happens moment to moment.  It’s the magic of live performance that connects audience and speaker.  Instead of aiming to make the performance perfect, make it real.  That’s where authenticity and connection lives.  If you go on stage with the expectation of being perfect you won’t fully connect with your audience because you’ve put all the attention on yourself.  But if you go on stage to be real, you can now connect, influence and inspire.  To ride the wave of being in the moment, use the “why.”  It’s the one constant you have.

The story we tell ourselves can also take us out of the moment.  Monitor the story you are telling yourself and if it’s not helpful, change it – after all you are the author.  For example, if you have a particularly loud inner critic, there are many exercises you can do to manage it.  Here’s a quick one to try.  If, before you go on stage, the inner critic thunders in your head that you can’t do this and it’ll go wrong. 

1. Remind them that it’s not about perfection but connection. 

2. Play your soundtrack in your head to drown out the noise of the critic. To do this, you’re looking for your equivalent of Rocky’s motivational theme tune.  Have fun with your personal playlist and choose a few songs that help shift your mindset into a positive one.

See, then say.

An authentic presence as a speaker comes from being joined up.  To connect breath with thought, make sure that you see the people or places you reference in your speech as you talk about them.  Or, if you are talking about a future state, make it live in the minds of your audience by seeing it yourself.  As the actor’s adage goes: If you see it, your audience sees it.

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We hope these top tips help maximize your story telling the next time you’re giving a pitch, presentation or speech. To find out more, email creative@ludicgroup.com.

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