As a television pro, I'm used to speaking to a live audience. Being put on the spot does not frighten me anymore.
What does still intimidate me from time to time is speaking to a room full of blinking, live human beings. It's one thing to stare into a camera lens; it's quite another to feel the collective breath and energy of a banquet hall and hope you don't fall flat.
Some of the skills required are the same--you need to be articulate, intelligent, and fast-thinking. But being able to command a room from one singular point on stage requires much more, which is why so few people are able to do it successfully (think Tony Robbins or Gary Vaynerchuk). You don't have to be 6'7″ or run around in cool looking kicks to stand out, but you can use some of the techniques I've learned below to help make you an onstage star.
1. Be a snazzy dresser.
This is the easiest but often the most overlooked way to show confidence. People are visual animals and love seeing people dressed nicely on stage, whether it's a man in a finely tailored suit or a woman in a bright, patterned dress. A friend in fashion calls it "peacocking"--that is, dressing to stand out among all the brown and black outfits in the audience. I like to wear bold, jewel-toned colors on stage because a bright color lifts not only my mood, but the mood of the audience too.
2. Tell stories.
Storytelling is the new black. Every advertiser, brand, and company knows the power of storytelling as a means to connect with the consumer. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways you can communicate with your own audience. Stories command the person to listen from the beginning to the end and creates a sense of trust because of the authentic connection. Whenever I moderate a panel, I tell my panelists to always tell stories--those stories often make the most indelible marks on the listeners. Steve Jobs was a master at this, as evidenced by his much-touted Stanford University commencement speech.
3. Compliment the audience.
No matter whether someone is seated in row 1 or row 55, every audience member wants to feel like he or she is being spoken to individually. Everyone is "in the room" so to speak--they're all in this together for the next 45 minutes of your speech. The easiest way to make each person feel special is to compliment the audience and know who they are. If I'm speaking to a group of accomplished, professional women, then I make sure to note that detail in my opening remarks; the same is true if I'm speaking to an audience of corporate CEOs. Everyone wants to be special and your job onstage is to help make the audience feel that not only are they privileged to hear you speak, but that you're privileged to speak to them.
4. Get away from the podium.
One of the reasons why I love TED Talks is that there's no podium, no PowerPoints, no scripts. The speaker is talking directly to the audience with nothing standing in the way. These talks take months to prepare and memorize but the overall effect is that the speaker is talking casually to you, as if he or she had made this all up along the way. Being able to go off script like this takes a long time--I couldn't do it right away myself. But after lots of practice, you too can learn to talk off script and leave the podium, which will create a connection you've never experienced before and will improve your on-stage persona 100-fold. Among my favorite TED Talks is this one and this one.
5. Tell a few jokes.
The easiest way to relax a room is to open with a few jokes. I tend to have a few standard ones (don't kill me if you've heard them before). A speechwriter friend of mine, if he was running out of good ones, would borrow jokes from the late-night comics, since they would always have one or two good zingers about current news events. Why are jokes important? They break the tension in the room, because no matter what, onstage is a very authoritarian place to be. You're literally up there commanding everyone to pay attention. For the first few moments, the audience is judging whether they want to go with you on this journey or whether they're ready to tune you out. A few jokes at the outset go a long way in convincing the audience to climb aboard and hear you out.
Follow these steps and soon everyone will be clamoring for you to speak to them. Just be sure you have something to say.