The X Factor For Standing Out As A Key Note Speaker
It’s something very few people possess and even fewer know how to cultivate unless it comes naturally to them
There’s a great responsibility that befalls a speaker when they step in front of an audience. Because for that moment, as the audience sits to listen to them speak, they are giving the speaker permission to use their time (their only un-renewable resource) as the speaker sees fit. Being tasked with educating, entertaining and inspiring a room full of people is no easy task, some speeches are remembered and some, forgotten, but if you’d rather be remembered, I believe it comes down to one simple word: Presence.
To me, presence is the energy and gravitas you possess as you walk into a room. It’s the way you disturb what was and introduce what is new. There’s a concept that I love which preaches that all learning is about state elicitation, in other words taking your students from a passive or depressed emotional state to a more active, affirmative emotional state, because while an audience wont always remember what you say, they will remember how you made them feel and that starts with presence.
We’ve all heard of the phrase “in the presence of greatness” before and while that phrase can be misused, especially if the person who utters it is referring to themselves, greatness does have an energy to it. Think about the language we use to describe great speakers:
“She had a presence when she walked in the room.”
“She had the whole crowd in the palm of her hand,”
“It was like he had this aura around him,”
“When they spoke, you just wanted to listen,”
“I just remember when she walked in, the whole room went silent,”
“I just remember he walked on stage, the whole crowd went mental.”
One of the easiest ways to change an audience’s state is to already be in the state yourself from the beginning of your speech. If you want your audience to be fascinated, you have to be fascinated, if you want your audience to be affirmative and ready to act, then you have to be affirmative and ready to act etc. Legend has it that on Oprah Winfrey’s office door there is a sign that says “You are responsible for the energy you bring into this room,” and the same thing is true on stage. Too many speakers think that a speech is simply about information and what is being said, but the energy surrounding a speech does more to ingrain what is being said into the minds of your audience than sheer logic ever will.
The most common mistake speakers make is they think that they will rise to the occasion when they walk on stage, but what is far more common is that they fall to their lowest level of conditioning. How they’ve prepared on average is how they perform in the moment. If you have a process of getting yourself into state before going on stage, which you do every time, you give yourself an immeasurably higher chance of having a great presence when you walk on stage.
Some people use music, others use meditation, some call on evocative imagery and others use short, sharp, bursts of high intensity movement, like push ups etc. These little rituals physiologically change the speakers body and launch them into their desired state. There’s a great story about a famous Australian actress who was playing a queen in a production that my movement teacher at WAAPA had gone to see, when telling us about the show she described the actresses entrance as one the best bits of theatre she’d ever seen. HER ENTRANCE! After the show she went up to the actress and asked how she’d done it and the actress said “oh that was easy, in my mind I just imagined I was a Man-of-War ship, under full sail.” If you’ve ever seen a ship like that, under full sail, you would understand that it is a sight to behold. The magnitude and inevitability of a ship like that as it moves through the water is… well… moving! Taking the time to breathe, centre herself and inhabit the image of being that ship in her mind, led to a monumental entrance and a great presence coming with her on stage.
When you find something that gives you a way in like this it’s important not to keep it to yourself and remember: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. So when you’re giving a speech from a place of some authority, such as an expert teacher, running an event, after you’ve explored the kind of energy you want to have when you come on stage and you’ve developed your routine for getting into that state, try out parts of your routine on the audience.
If there’s a song that gets you in the right emotional state for your content, why not trying playing it as you enter? If you like a good shoulder massage before stepping on stage, get your audience to stand up and give the person next to them a massage as well. Not only does this speed up the process of state elicitation in your audience as well as their emotional experience of the moment, music is proven to be much more powerful for evoking emotions than the sound of the human voice by itself, therefore it’s a great tool to add to any big moment.
At the end of the day your job is to be the conduit of an important message getting to your audience. The more clear and impactful your presence can be, the more likely you are to be heard and the more likely your message is to be remembered. There is no one way to cultivate presence and that’s not what’s important. What’s important, is that you take the time to consider the energy you want to have when you walk on stage and that you’re deliberate about the steps you take that allow you to inhabit that energy. That’s the way to stand out as a key note speaker.