The lights are bright. There is excitement in the air. You walk out on stage to an enthusiastic round of applause. Your smile grows from deep down inside. The applause starts to die down. Yikes! Don’t say a word. Not yet! You’ll miss that magic moment that can separate you from all of the other presenters. Hold on? Darren, are you saying, “Don’t say a word?” Exactly.
Let me back up. During our Humor Boot Camp® last week, we created a brand-new exercise on the spot for our VIPs. I had a flashback to my mentor Vinnie’s living room where I sat with nine other wannabe comedians. The furniture was pushed back to make space for a tiny stage. There was a microphone on a mic stand right in the middle. One at a time, we were told to just walk up and take the mic out of the stand. Sounds easy, right? Ha! Nope, not doing it with confidence under the pressure of everyone watching.
Here is what Vinnie was stressing to us: You have to start with confidence, and starting starts way before your first words. Corporate audiences are much more forgiving than a comedy club, but the principle is the same. It matters. Your body language and confidence are being judged immediately as you walk on stage.
After decades of studying and coaching presenters, here is what is clear to me- most presenters, especially those who are not confident, start speaking before the audience applause dies down. If most presenters do just that, it can be easy to separate you from the pack by not following the pack. If you speak too soon, your first words can be drowned out by the applause. You’ll also miss the opportunity to connect more deeply in a matter of seconds.
Your first words are important. Let them be clearly heard by your audience. Scanning the audience from side to side during your pause can help connect you to your audience. It also gives you something to do while possibly feeling anxious. If you pause after the applause, it can also get the audience to more greatly anticipate your first words. This also helps you create an emotional connection with your audience. These seconds of silence are priceless.
Your stance matters too. Standing still with confidence also helps get your audience to lean in and trust you. Patricia Fripp says, “The stability of your opening communicates the stability of your message.” Your body language matters. If your message matters, I challenge you to go back and study at least the first 90 seconds of a recent recording of one of your presentations. Watch it several times, maybe even with a friend. What does the audience see? If you are smiling, is it authentic? What are you communicating? Is there anything you could have done better?
Take the time to work on this. It matters. If you are a Toastmaster, try an exercise at your club. Ask what the audience notices. You will be shocked to hear all of the feedback they give you. I know the VIPs who were at our Boot Camp were surprised. Awareness and small changes made a big difference.
By the way, when we left my mentor’s living room back in the 90s, he gave us the homework to practice it on our own 100 times. Why? You may not be taking a mic out of a mic stand, but how you take the stage matters and initiates the trajectory of your presentation. We are being judged from the moment the audience sees us as we walk on stage. They are judging our body language and the micro expressions on our face. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it is human nature. Do you see the importance of the pause after the applause? Watch a recording and you will.
What do you take from this?
Please add your comments/read other comments, on this blog post.
What are the secrets, stories and strategies behind Unforgettable Presentations? Find out. Listen to Darren’s Brand New Podcast.