When I first started giving presentations 10 years ago, the voice inside my head was always telling me to speak quickly, not waste everyone’s time, and to try to sound smart. That’s a rough combo when you’re a beginner and lack basic public speaking skills.
The pressure I put on myself to be perfect made me lack personality, lose the connection with the audience, and feel like no matter what, I was sinking. Since then, I’ve changed my focus from getting it over with as quickly as possible to creating an experience that is fun, engaging, energizing and uniquely me.
It took me years to realise I couldn’t just show up for a presentation, read some notes and hope no one asks too many questions. There are a few necessary steps that need to be taken so you not only provide good information, but also create a talk that is emotionally compelling and helps your audience to get to know you.
The STAGE System is a method of speech craft I created that puts your personal stamp on every presentation you give. It’s an acronym for style, truth, art, group, and energy and it serves as a checklist for every speech you give, whether it’s your first or your 500th.
The STAGE System gives you a chance to pause and ask yourself who you want to be on stage. If you are naturally funny, how can you incorporate some humor into your talk? If you went through a life-changing experience, how can you tie that into your subject? If you love interacting with the audience, how can you make that a big part of your speech? By using the STAGE System as your guide, you build your talk so you are in your element and really shining on stage.
To use the STAGE System, go through each step and address the questions.
STYLE. How will you bring your unique personality and quirks to this speech? What will put your "stamp" on this presentation? What mood or attitude do you want to display in your talk? (Amused, serious, skeptical, vulnerable, preaching, etc.)
When I first started speaking, I saw advanced speakers gesturing with their arms to help them make a point. I thought I should do that, too, so I changed my body language to mirror what I saw the pros doing. It wasn’t until my audience started looking at me like there was something wrong that I realised it wasn’t my style to be so gregarious. It just looked weird. I now gesture occasionally, but I don’t go out of my way to move a lot because it’s just not natural for me to do so. Being comfortable on stage means being comfortable with who you are. That’s what the audience connects with.
TRUTH. What is true and meaningful about this material for you? Where is the natural connection between you and your topic? Are there stories or experiences you can share that connect the audience to the purpose of your speech? What are they?
This is where storytelling comes in. It’s so critical to create a strong connection with your audience because it’s what helps them trust and want to listen to you. Data and figures are great for providing proof and research, but the stories are the emotional component that drive people to take action. Telling a good story means taking your audience through a moment in time that was significant for you or someone else and spending time on the details that make you feel something. Good speakers are always working on their stories and paying attention to what gets a reaction from the audience. Incorporating moving stories makes any speech more engaging and memorable.
ART. What is the best way to share this material? Will you use visuals, props, handouts, interactive exercises, dance moves, low lighting, or something else?
Giving a presentation doesn’t automatically mean it’s time to fire up PowerPoint and start working on slides. As the presenter, you’re the orchestrator of the talk. You get to design the experience by incorporating props, handouts, crayons, costumes, lighting arrangements, different room setups, interaction, games, and more. Have fun with your presentations by thinking about them as more than public speaking - they’re an experience for everyone in the room and it’s your job to create something that people are excited to be part of.
GROUP. Who is in your audience for this talk? How will you tailor your speech to match their needs and goals?
Understanding who is sitting in front of you and what they need is what will determine how successful your talk is. Consider their goals, needs, fears, challenges, and why they came to see you speak. Keeping your audience in mind and how you can best serve them takes the focus off of what you need and puts their interests front and center. The best speakers are tuned into their audience and are able to improvise as the presentation goes on.
ENERGY. What kind of energy do you want to create in the audience during and after the talk? Will you leave them feeling energized, reflective, concerned, surprised, or something else?
This is the most overlooked element of public speaking and yet it’s one of the most important. How do you want to leave the people who just saw you speak? How will you accomplish that? By determining the end game upfront, you can work backward to build a talk that will help you reach this goal.
Have fun with the STAGE System and know that it’s a tool that will continue to deliver deeper and clearer results each time you use it. Don’t forget that public speaking is always a work in progress and you’re never done learning and growing. With this method, you’re encouraged to try new things, be adventurous, and do things you think you can’t. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself and your audience.