Want to know a not-so-well-kept secret? I LOVE live performances. From the moment the curtain opens, I’m all in! And whenever I hear the words to my favorite songs—from musicals like Wicked, Cabaret, Annie, and Jersey Boys—I will absolutely break into song. In these moments, I know anything is possible. If you haven’t recently sung along to some of your favorite show tunes, give it a try!
But what does my love of live performances have to do with giving a presentation? Everything! You see, both genres are high stakes. And just like stage actors must rehearse and mentally prepare for each performance, you should develop your own “ritual” to get ready for each and every presentation.
Lessons in Becoming More Memorable.
Outstanding performances stick with the audience long after the curtain closes. Although it has been decades since I saw Annie live, I can still recall particular scenes and how I couldn’t stop singing, “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” for weeks afterwards. One mark of a skilled performer is being memorable.
Like a talented performer, effective presenters leave their audiences with a memorable core message. This means crafting masterful content that speaks to the needs of your audience. Once you have a clear message wrapped in a wonderfully compelling story, it’s time to shift your focus to delivery. To ensure that your message sticks with your audience long after you’ve left the stage, try this effective five-step pre-performance ritual:
1. Rehearse aloud.
I can’t emphasize this first step enough. Just as live performers use intensive rehearsals to work out any kinks, you should rehearse out loud. This is the only way to know what sections of your content and delivery “work.” You need to discover what trips you up, what’s too complicated, and what doesn’t sound like you.
I recommend a minimum of three-to-five rehearsals. After a few focused rehearsals, you’ll be able to eliminate words you find hard to pronounce, determine pacing, and find where to pause or add emphasis. Expect to do a great deal of editing and rewriting during your rehearsals…seize the opportunity to make refinements that will only be revealed when hearing your presentation out loud!
2. Scout your stage by arriving early.
Knowing your venue will help you mentally prepare to present. When we visualize the audience and feel our feet on the stage, it’s easier to connect with your audience. This is the whole reason stage performers do dress rehearsals.
My suggestion? Plan to arrive at the venue at least an hour prior to your scheduled start time.
Get comfortable, familiarize yourself with the room, test any equipment, and troubleshoot any logistical problems. When you’re confident about the space in which you present, you can focus on authentically connecting to your message and your audience.
3. Meet and greet.
As people arrive, circulate and introduce yourself to members of your audience. It’s the equivalent of live performers working the crowd and meeting their fans before they take the stage. After introducing yourself, try to find out a little bit about attendees and their interest in your topic. This way, you’re gazing at familiar faces while you talk and can use their names or reference their anecdotal comments as appropriate. This alone will help keep your audience alert and plugged in.
If you’re feeling nervous and are hesitant about mingling with your audience, I encourage you to brave it and experience the benefits! I believe you will find it calms your nerves and makes it easier for you to turn your attention toward your listeners when you step up to speak.
4. Practice the introduction and hand-off.
Another good reason to arrive early is so you can seek out the person who will be introducing you. Making a personal connection can transform what could sound like a boring recitation of a curriculum vitae into a friendly, engaging introduction that sets you up for success.
In addition to making this connection, I always ask the person who is introducing me to wait for me on the dais so I can shake his or her hand to have a “warm” hand-off. This may seem like a small detail relative to the other steps in this ritual, but we all know how much weight first impressions carry. Starting things off right will make a big difference to how your audience receives you.
5. Lights, camera, action!
Keep in mind, you are “on” from the moment you’re introduced, so approach the podium with a confident stride and shake hands with your introducer. But also, be considerate of your listeners. Acknowledge they may not be quite ready for you to jump into your presentation. Before you say a word, take a breath, look out at your audience and smile. Those few seconds allow everyone to settle down, change gears and prepare to listen to your presentation.
Whether belting out “It’s a Hard Knock Life” live on stage or presenting last quarter’s sales figures, performers and presenters have one thing in common—when the lights go on, they must be ready to give it their all. By integrating these five steps into your preparation ritual, you’ll handle the podium as gracefully as the stars take Broadway.