If you've ever attended live theatre, you know how riveting the experience can be, to the point where you feel you are right in the middle of the action on stage, aligned with the characters, experiencing their emotions. Have you ever wondered how the actors create such an engaging experience?
And if you could figure it out, wouldn't you want to duplicate that engagement the next time you're on the business stage?
Pshaw, you say, that's entertainment [well, perhaps you wouldn't say pshaw]. What does that have to do with a business person standing in front of a business audience, armed with bushels of PowerPoint slides?
Plenty, I say. There are three key lessons we can adapt from the acting stage.
By the time stage actors get in front of their audience, they are well rehearsed and well prepared. They know their lines. They know where to pause for a laugh, for a tear or to let a point sink in. They don't stumble over their words. They don't forget what they wanted to say. They don't speak too fast or too slowly, because they have practiced their lines until they get just the right tone and pace.
I am certainly not advocating that, as business presenters, you memorize a script, word for word. But I am saying that if you practice your presentation enough times to become very familiar with your content and how you want to say it, you can come across as polished and intentional as an actor delivering lines. Once you know your content backward and forward, it frees you up to focus on fine tuning: for example, where is it best to pause to let the audience absorb what you've just said or where should you speak very distinctly to give added emphasis to a significant point.
In a play there is a story line. There is a beginning where the overall premise is set forth, characters are introduced and some conflict is presented. There is a middle where action takes place, the story is advanced and potential solutions to the conflict are considered. And there is an end where the characters resolve (or don't) the conflict they've been grappling with.
A business presentation benefits from a story line as well. You should structure a beginning, a middle and an end, each section distinct yet integrated with the rest. Add a dollop of conflict to engage the listeners.
Now I'm not suggesting that you insult someone or pick an argument to create conflict. In theatre, conflict is a technique where problems and obstacles are introduced into the action for characters to confront. Makes for a good story, because without conflict, nothing would happen. So in the business presentation, introduce conflict by describing the existing problems that the new system (or process or product) will overcome. Or talk about the skepticism and apprehension that everyone is feeling about the reorganization.
Stage actors clearly know what emotion they want to evoke in the audience with each section of the play. Word choice, vocal tone, body language and physical movement are the tools they use.
As business presenters, we often don't think about what emotion we want our presentation to elicit from our audience. But having a vision of where you want the audience to empathize, where you want them to be outraged, where you want them to be enthusiastic, where you want them to be proud helps you choose the most effective combination of tools to accomplish that.
Emotions play a key role in comprehension, so proactively engage your audience's hearts as well as their minds to make your message even more powerful.
What other techniques can we learn and apply from the acting stage?