Want to Own the Stage? Master the Core Four. | Darren LaCroix

Want to Own the Stage? Master the Core Four.

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

Darren LaCroix, WCPS, AS


If you are serious about owning the stage, this could be the most important article you ever read.

Any presenter can take the stage, but very few presenters walk on and own it. There is an enormous difference. Do you understand what that is? Do you want to own the stage? What is the difference? After over a decade of coaching speakers and presenters, I see many who want to be good at it but very few who commit to doing what it takes to own it. In order to own the stage, consider this: you must master The Core Four.

Let’s clarify an important distinction. Almost anyone can stand in front of a group of people and give a presentation. That is speaking. That is someone’s preparing a presentation and standing up in front of an audience to deliver it. They may have even had an attentive, polite audience that listened and applauded. They may have seen slides that accompanied that presentation. The problem is that nothing changed. No one was educated or inspired, and no idea was transferred to the audience. Many great, entertaining presenters are also doing just that: entertaining, but no actually change takes place in the audience’s mind.

What about being heard? Being heard, leaving a memorable impact, and influencing the audience are very different. In that case someone prepares a presentation, and, as a result of delivering it well, some change occurs in the audience’s mind. Either a new perspective is planted, or a new belief has been set in place. Very few can do that well. Inspiring, educating, or selling your product or idea is vastly different. On the surface they can seem similar.

Speak / Be HeardConsider this: speaking is received with the conscious mind. No real change occurs. When your message reaches the subconscious mind, it has actually been heard. Perspective is changed. Lasting impact happens. People’s habits and beliefs are affected.

The real problem exists when presenters think they are being heard, even though they are actually only speaking. After seven years as a presenter and speaker, I had thought I was pretty good. The average presenter could not give me much feedback on how to improve, but I was in a speaking rut. The worst part was that I didn’t even know it. My ego would not let me see the truth. I thought I was good enough.

Direction vs. EffortThen in 2001 I met the 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking, Mark Brown. I asked Mark for some coaching tips. Mark held up a mirror and showed me many mistakes that I did not even know I was making. I realized I was focused on getting a few tips and strategies rather than intentionally trying to impact my audience at a deeper level. Because I had confidence on stage, I was speaking, but I was not being heard. It was not until 2001 that I truly became a student who was committed to mastery.

Some people are willing to work hard but, like me, are unaware of where to focus and in which direction to go. Even with passion, trial and error is not a great strategy for learning how to own the stage. There is a clear path from where you are to presentation mastery, but what if you focus in the wrong area? Working in the wrong direction leads to wasting your time and will leave you feeling frustrated and no closer to mastery.

“A little effort in the right direction will outperform
massive effort in the wrong direction.”

So, what is the direction? If you are serious about owning the stage, you must master The Core Four

These Core Four competencies are the foundation of presentation mastery.

Core 1 – Create Content & Structure = Confidence

Most presenters can hold an audience’s attention for five minutes, but to keep an audience in rapt attention as you deliver a one-hour presentation is extremely challenging. It is almost impossible to figure out how to do that on your own or by trial and error. Those methods will lead you to frustration while your audiences are left wondering when the suffering will end.

You have powerful stories inside you just waiting to be discovered. You just need to know where to look so that you can find your own unique stories. Once you understand where to look and what to look for, you will find never-ending veins of gold and stories around you every day.

Next, you need the backbone of confidence, solid speech structure. Structure is the order and framework of your presentation. This is the foundation that eluded me and was a boat anchor for my career for years. I was seemingly able to do well as a presenter based on the strength of my delivery skills honed from years of stand-up comedy and improv. I was speaking but not being heard.

I had learned to tell them what I was going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what I had told them. That is a sound structure when you are just getting started and building your confidence. It is simple and easy to understand. That does help the presenter who is dealing with their inner critic and self-doubt when working on a five-minute speech. This has its place and purpose, but it is just not world-class structure.

Poor StructureThen I learned to tell a story and make a point. I mistakenly thought that that was speech structure. It is great advice from the legendary speech coach, Bill Gove. It is not, however, great speech structure. I thought at that point that good structure meant having an open and a close and telling stories and making points in the middle. Here is the problem: all of these stories are not tied together to thrust forward one main purpose or idea. That is a huge problem.

In 2001 I saw Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, present, and she showed her Fripp Speech Model. I finally got it, and I realized the problem I had had for the past seven years with the speech structure I was using. I had not clarified a premise. Patricia defines premise as the thought or idea you are selling. The way her world-class speech model ties every part of a presentation together working as one body with one mission and purpose is brilliant.

You see, if your presentation is not well-structured, your audience can easily get lost. If they are confused, you both lose. Powerful speech structure gives you the presenter confidence while also bringing clarity to your audience. If your audience cannot clearly absorb your message, your efforts will be in vain.  Find your unique stories, master structure, and you will have a solid foundation to move to Core 2.

Core 2 – Stories that Stick

“Want to be a $10,000 Speaker? You have to tell $10,000 stories.”
– Craig Valentine

Stories are the heartbeat of what we do as presenters. Even Jesus used parables. Whether you believe it or not, stories do work. People are still talking about those stories today. We are trained from childhood to enjoy and listen to stories.

The value of our presentations is judged on the value of our stories. Most presenters think that telling a story will be good enough. Not so. Even if you are entertaining, has any real change taken place? Have you really served your audience? Will they remember you three days after you speak?

Here is a huge problem. Most people think they are good storytellers. Anyone can tell a story, but are your stories heard? You hear stories every single day, but which ones do you actually remember? Can you remember stories from your youth or stories from a great presenter you heard years ago? Why do you remember? You remember because that story made it into your subconscious mind. Think back to our diagram of the conscious and subconscious mind: it takes a story well-told to make it down there. Are your stories that sticky? Everyone may have one or two, but do all of them stick? Does everyone remember them?

The reason I entered the speech contest in 2001 was because of powerful advice from a mentor. Dave Fitzgerald told me, “Stop trying to find that story to launch your career. Instead take the stories you already have and make them so good that someone will pay to hear them.” Yikes!

That advice got into my subconscious and changed my perspective. I was looking for more and more stories and not perfecting the ones I had. How about you? Do you know what to cut out of your stories to make them more compelling? Do you know what to add to enhance your stories and make them memorable?

Commit to mastering and constantly improving all of your stories while constantly searching for more. Make all of your stories sticky. Then move to Core 3.

Core 3 – Make ‘Em Laugh

“At the end of laughter is the height of listening.”

Jeffrey Gitomer, Sales Guru

Wish you were funnier? Audiences wish most presenters were funnier. If they are laughing, they are listening. Why does humor matter? Though it is not required, it is much more fun for both the presenter and the audience. When choosing experts for their events, meeting planners would much prefer an expert who makes the audience laugh in addition to delivering great content.

Most people think you are either born funny or you are not. That’s not the truth, and I’m living proof. You may already know that in 1992 I bombed miserably at a Boston comedy club. Without a funny bone in my body but with a willingness to fail, nine years later I outspoke 25,000 contestants from 14 countries to become the World Champion of Public Speaking. My speech was not only compelling, but some say it was also one of the funniest speeches in contest history.

Would you agree that funny people think differently? They do, and to master humor you must understand the way they think. There is a definite creation process that funny people go through that most people are not even aware of. Funny presenters know where to find potential humor nuggets and how to polish those nuggets into humor gems.

“Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas, which, before their union,
were not perceived to have any relation.”

Mark Twain

Witty people are ones who see connections that other people do not. Why? Because they think and see things differently. You just have to train your brain to search and see a bit differently. Just as when you get a new software program, you need to learn how it works and how to use it. There is a learning curve for thinking funny like with anything else new. Maybe you just didn’t realize you could learn it. You can.

Many presenters come to me and tell me their speech is done, but they just need to make it funny. Usually with one quick look, I can see they have not structured their speech well or their story is not sticky. If you try to make something funny that has poor structure or isn’t a sticky story, some folks would say that you are polishing poop. Many presenters try to jump too quickly into making their speech funny before they make it good.

Many life-changing speeches were not funny, but they were well-structured and contained sticky stories. “Making ‘Em Laugh” is an optional Core foundation. If you really are not funny and choose not to learn it, no problem. It is not required. I would love, though, to encourage you to commit to becoming a student of humor. You and your audience will both love the presentation process even more. Master humor; then move to Core 4.

Core 4 – Delivery and Strategies to Own the Stage

Have you ever noticed that most presenters take the stage, but only a rare few own the stage? What is the difference? It is rarely one key ingredient that makes the difference. They are usually presenters who mastered the Core 1-3 and are now looking for those tiny little tweaks that take a presentation from good to great.

This is where we focus more on delivery. Core 1 is what you say; now we focus on how you say it. It was not until World Champion Speaker Craig Valentine and I were coached ourselves that we truly got the world-class insights we needed. Subtle, small, seemingly insignificant challenges can quickly disconnect you from your audience, and you might not even know it! It is incredibly challenging to get and keep the attention of today’s skeptical audiences. As a presentation professional, I know that it is even more challenging to move an audience to action.

When I brought version 1.0 of my award-winning speech to my coach, Mark Brown, he took one look at it and said, “Oh, Darren, we have some work to do.” Yikes again! In two minutes, he could easily see the mistakes I was making, ones that I could not see after seven years on stage. Ouch!

Core Four is also where your own personal style comes into play. Some people can get away with breaking some of the rules thanks to style and delivery. I could not own the stage delivering Patricia Fripp’s material. I can reference it and even playfully deliver some of her lines in character, but that is my style. Does that make sense? When she talks about a powerful closing, she says, “Your last words linger.” The word linger is not in my day-to-day vocabulary. Here is great coaching advice from World Champion Speaker Jock Elliott: “My words will not fit into your mouth.”

Core 4 is also where authenticity is crucial. You have to own your material and style in order to own the stage. This is where you need some kind of coach. It is challenging to step back and see yourself as a presentation coach does. After years of coaching, I have started to see commonalities and have learned what to look for, but it varies from presenter to presenter. It wasn’t until I got a coach that I really knew what to work on.

Good coaches have studied this and have developed an eye for what to look for. If you truly want to own the stage, find a coach. I get asked weekly if I will be someone’s coach. I won’t. I coach only our VIPs at our Live Master Workshops. I know I’m a better teacher than I am a coach. Why? I love teaching more than I love coaching. Find someone who loves coaching.

There are many coaches out there, but do your research and ask for referrals. Not every coach is right for every presenter. They have to get and understand you. A good coach will ask you many questions and want to see you actually present. Each coach may have a specialty, like writing, delivery, or humor. My strengths are delivery and use of stage. A good coach should know their strengths.

When you master the coach’s eye, you’ll see things from a higher perspective. That’s Core 4.

Core 1 – Create Content & Structure = Confidence

Core 2 – Stories that Stick

Core 3 – Make ‘Em Laugh

Core 4 – Delivery and Strategies to Own the Stage

Please do not make the mistake I did. I wanted to own the stage and tried to figure it out myself through tips and trial and error. After seven years I had ego-inflated confidence. I was in a rut and did not know it.

I don’t care what your level is; I care how committed you are to becoming better. How hard you are working to own the stage. I believe there is an invisible intention that the audience can notice, good or bad. They will listen to passionate people with the right intention who are trying to improve themselves and will open up to them more than to a know-it-all. You own the stage when you are climbing, not when you are sliding backwards. Please, for yourself and your audience, commit to mastery.

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PS: If you want to focus on one of the cores or all of them, check out my programs:

If you are ready to get the insights you need to become a presentation master faster, join us and get all access to all of our programs. You’ll also become part of our community and can participate in our monthly Coaching Corner Call and Darren’s Ask the Expert Interview. We are committed to keeping you growing along with us.

Get all access: http://www.stagetimeuniversity.com

Individual programs

Core 1 Solution: Create Your Keynote by Next Week

Core 2 Solution: Secrets of Storytelling

Core 3 Solution: Get More Laughs by Next Week

Core 4 Solution: Find a Coach -or- Own the Stage

Stage Time,


Feature Image by Angie Key, Keyframe Photography


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