Sunday night was an important night in the British Theatre calendar. Some of the biggest names is show-business gathered at London’s Royal Opera House for the 39th annual Oliver Awards, ready to celebrate the best performances, productions and stage craft of the previous twelve months.
One of the highlights for me was seeing arguably two of the worlds greatest living actors sharing the stage. After 10 years at the helm of the Old Vic Theatre, Kevin Spacey is standing down as Artistic Director. So who better to present him with an outstanding contribution award than the wonderful Dame Judy Dench? Watching these two amazing performers standing side by side, I was struck by the ease with which they held the entire audience in the palms of their hands. Without a shadow of a doubt this was a faultless display of “Star Quality”. So what exactly is it that made them so easy to watch and how can you or I get hold of some of the “fairy dust”?
The key to lighting up the stage (or the meeting room) is to be truly present. Just as the word suggests, presence is about being in the “here and now”. It’s one of the most popular topics that my clients ask for my help with and with some conscious effort it’s relatively simple to fix. We live in an incredibly busy world. Emails, text messages, phone calls, plus a million-and-one push notifications from our various social media channels, all compete for our attention. If we’ve just walked out of a bad meeting or know we have a difficult conversation coming up later in the day, sometimes it is very hard to shake those things off and focus on the task at hand. The best way to engage with your audience, whether from the stage or in a one-to-one situation is to make sure that you stay with them in the moment. Don’t allow your attention to wonder or allow other things to distract you. Taking a deep breath and finding a moment to pause before you start a new interaction are a great ways to ensure that you don’t carry your past, or your future into your present.
Care About Your Audience
Another word for “present” is “gift”. When we make the people we are talking to feel special, when we are generous, when we take the time to care, we instantly begin to develop “The X Factor” as a communicator. Human beings are very good a spotting a fake. If you don’t genuinely demonstrate respect for your audience (especially when delivering a difficult message) you instantly begin to loose rapport. What actors like Dench and Spacey do so well is make the audience feel comfortable and at home. We’re never worried about what they might say next. Instead we feel like we’re listening to an old friend, completely at ease and excited to hear what they have to say next. When you focus on yourself and forget about the people you are talking to, you instantly increase your own anxiety and alienate those listening. Shine your light on your audience instead and your “Star Quality” will be visible for all to see.
Whilst it’s sometimes easier said than done, enjoying your time in the limelight is vital if you want to be remembered as a star performer. That doesn’t mean you need to use “jazz hands” or crack lots of jokes. However, it’s a simple fact that if you are enjoying yourself, then your audience are much more likely to be enjoying themselves too. Enthusiasm is infectious! Great communication is a skill that can be learned and as with anything you want to master, targeted practice is vital. Many famous actors freely admit that whilst their performances appear effortless on stage or in front of the camera, in their private lives they are very shy and introverted. Look for opportunities to practice and to step outside of your comfort zone. The more you do it, the easier and more enjoyable engaging with an audience will become.
You don’t have to be an award winning actor to be have “Star Quality”. On a regular basis I am lucky enough to work with people from all walks of life who discover their power to excite and inspire. They touch the hearts and minds of their audience and their message has lasting impact. What steps do you need to take today so that you shine more brightly? I’d love to hear your comments in the box below.