Delivering powerful keynote speeches takes more than words. Public speaking is in many ways a form of art or entertainment - presenting yourself and your ideas to an audience. While there is no single formula for a good performance, there are many techniques that you can employ to make it work for you.
As a speaker you have to convey an idea. But to do that, you need to bring people into the same feeling, the same wavelength around that single idea. TED curator Chris Anderson encourages speakers to organize their speeches following this simple framework:
Focus on a single idea
Choose an idea that you’re most passionate about. Explain that idea and try to give it context as well as offer examples.
Give people a reason to care
Your audience is most likely not as aware of the idea you want to approach. Stir their curiosity by using guiding questions. Try to spark in them the desire to bridge the knowledge gap.
Build your idea piece by piece
Speak the same language as your audience, especially if you have a technical presentation to deliver. The more you can use visual explanations and patterns, the easier it will be for your audience to understand and to Have those “Aha!” moments.
Make your idea worth sharing
TED’s tagline encourage speakers to consider who does their ideas benefit. An idea worthy of being shared is one that has the potential to change someone else’ perspective and inspire. It’s not a selfish presentation serving only a few or, worse, your own interests exclusively.
Now, ideas come in all shapes and sizes from the complex and analytical to the simple and aesthetic. To convey them, you have to stimulate your audience’s minds. How? By delivering a performance, not just a speech. This is how you’ll be able to transfer your idea from your head to theirs.
Try these 3 theatre techniques for public speaking and you can deliver bolder, more memorable and more engaging keynote speeches than you ever dreamed possible.
1. Use the space around you
Genevieve Aichele is a theatre artist - a performer, director, teacher and playwright. To help create an experience out of a keynote speech, she recommends staging your speech in a way that uses movement and visual pictures to enhance content. Our brains are already familiar with these patterns so they’ll be more receptive to information being delivered in a certain way.
Did you know that, in a play, directors block the movements of actors to emphasize dramatic meaning and to maintain clear sightlines? In fact, actors never wander aimlessly around the stage. Their every move is done with purposeful intention to emphasize, draw attention to, or otherwise offer context or subtext. In your case, you will have to be your own director, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
What you need to know is that the downstage area, closest to the audience, is a strong position and is the best place to present the opening, closing, and most important content of your speech. Upstage, however, is a less powerful position because it’s further away from the audience. However, you can use the upstage for reflective pauses or moments of offhand humor. Genevieve’s advice it to move from upstage to downstage when you want to make an important point.
2. Know how to move during your speech
When you move from place to place on a stage, it’s called a cross. These movements should be precise from one place to another. Each cross should be done with purpose, at a specific point in your presentation. If you wander, pace or shift your weight unconsciously you risk drawing attention at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, weakening the impact of your speech.
Aside from upstage and downstage, you should also be aware of the left and right division of the stage. You might think that is of no importance but it is actually a powerful piece of information in the world of acting and performing.
Downstage right from the actor’s point of view is where you’ll most likely see love scenes, monologues and narration in a theatre play. This area is perceived by western audiences as having intimacy and importance. One possible explanation for that is that most people read from left to right. You can use this position for your speech delivery to deliver the most important content or to enhance an emotional effect.
Downstage left, on the other hand, has a more secretive or obscure feel to it. If you look carefully, you’ll notice it’s a place where most plots and discussions take place in the theatre. It’s here where you have the best chance of entertaining your audience with some humor.
3. Work on your body language
I’m sure you already know that body language is a crucial element of public speaking and presentation delivery. Body language isn’t a set of strict rules, instead it’s a form of self-expression. Start by observing how you currently use body language and nonverbal communication. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How do I prepare my body and voice before a speech?
- What facial expressions do I make in a similar space when I’m not speaking in a public engagement?
- How does my voice inflect when I introduce myself to the audience?
- What did I do in my last speech that worked well?
- Did body language contribute to my last less effective speech? What did I do and how can I change it?
Once you have done some self-diagnosis, you can try the following body language hacks for actors:
- Practice controlling your microexpressions
- Smile genuinely
- Practice your launch stance
- Lean with purpose
- Warm-up your voice beforehand
- Use eye contact to your advantage
- Create your own success routine in preparation of a speech
The final piece of advice is this: Tell a story.
Throw out the rule book and forget what you think you know about public speaking and presentation delivery. Create a performance, tell a story and be yourself.
Anyone can be a compelling, interesting and inspiring public speaker, you just need to have confidence and convey that to your audience. These theatre techniques are a great way to help you feel more in control, more relaxed and more organized in delivering your keynote speeches. Use them and your presentation as helpers and remember to rehearse more than you think you need to.