I was sitting in the comfort of my home in upper, upper Manhattan waiting for a friend of mine to give a Ted Talk in Denver, CO and I started thinking about how much power we can potentially give to the audience as a presenter/performer. We can easily project on to our audience our thoughts about whether or not they are enjoying our performance based on their slumped body language, or a stifled yawn or their resting (insert adjective of choice) face. With our virtual world, this can be multiplied by how many comments or chats or attendees we have.
I remember a time when I directed a show with a small cast of three and there was an added, sold out performance. It was a night where I was expected to be there to hobnob with patrons and to watch the show. Somehow, there wasn't a reserved ticket for me so I sat in the last remaining seat in the front row. When this highly comedic and clever show was over, one of the actors walked up to me afterwards and asked me if I hated the performance. This question startled me because I absolutely did not hate the performance. In fact, for most of the show I was thinking in delight about how much it had grown and watching how the audience was receiving it. My mind was on overdrive with noticing and appreciating. I asked her why she thought this and she said that she had not seen me smile once and so she assumed I hated the performances. This taught me 2 things: first, if I am the director of a show and sitting in the front row, then fuck yeah, of course the actors are going to notice, and "oops!" ---- I am so much more conscious of this now. And secondly, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT AUDIENCE MEMBERS ARE REALLY THINKING OR FEELING and it will be the death of you to try to read their brains while presenting at the same time. Here's the deal. And I mean this. Your audience WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED. They may not agree with your point of view, but they definitely want you to succeed. Always assume best intent and do your job. If you believe in your content and have rehearsed it well, then you have got this!
Here are a few tips to help you stay present and not project the latest conspiracy theory on Dude in the Front Row with the Sunglasses on:
Breathe! I say this all of the time at the risk of sounding like a broken record, but I can't stress it enough. It is incredibly important to breathe so you can manage your nerves, slow down and connect. I have several great breathing exercises that I am happy to share. Shoot me a message and I am more than happy to send them your way. I, too, genuinely want you to succeed.
Rehearse! To memorize or not to memorize, that is the question and a question that is often debated. So here is my take on it... the tighter the container, the more room there is for formlessness. What does this mean? This means that you REALLY need to know your content. You need to rehearse it out loud. You need to feel 100% comfortable with it. There are very few people who can get away with improvising their entire presentation. Once you have it nailed down, and only then will you be able engage fully with your audience without the risk of it throwing you off.
Be present! The breathing will help with this, but so will listening to the words you are saying as you are saying them. Really connect with what you are saying. As Allen Ginsberg once said, "Notice what you notice." Feel the floor beneath your feet, the ceiling above your head, the energy of the room that surrounds you. Embrace the space and what it is energetically telling you. If this happens to be in your own home, then make sure you give yourself the gift of preparation and set up the space around you so you can feel confident and present.
Remember at the beginning of this short article when I mentioned that I was waiting for a friend to give her Ted Talk? Well she gave it, and it was magical. Why? Because at the beginning of her talk she gave herself the gift of breath where she stood in silence for about 5 seconds and took 3 calming breaths, she was well rehearsed and she was clearly listening to the words as she was saying them. It was vulnerable, engaging and yes, the audience loved it!