Half of the speakers seemed to have better projection, better stage presence and an overall more engaging presentation, while the other half of the presentations seemed less effective.
When we analyzed the differences, it came down to one basic factor: where the speakers were putting their attention.
The more effective speakers looked like this:
1. Tall, open posture
2. Heads up
3. Eye contact with the room
4. Natural, open gestures
The less effective speakers looked more like this:
1. Gestures small, close to body, or hands in pockets
2. Eyes down or looking at a place between speaker and audience
3. Standing small instead of tall posture and taking up space
Here's an interesting note. All of the more effective speakers were also perceived to have better projection and voice quality. We were in a small conference room which seats only about ten people, so how is it possible that even in a small room, some people's voices carry better?
Good posture leads to better breathing, which leads to better vocal projection. Good posture and open gestures also enable a speaker to take up more space, to "own the room." These speakers came across as more centered, more confident, better prepared and more accomplished, mostly because they took command of the room with their physical presence.
In putting their attention out to the room, out to the audience, they became connected with the audience. The other group of speakers gave more attention to the space immediately surrounding them and their notes, therefore closing off the energy to the rest of the room and creating an invisible barrier between them and the audience.
Last night on American Idol, judge Kara DioGuardi suggested to one of the contestants, Aaron, that he needs to bring more charisma to his performance. The songs performed on the show were all Sinatra hits, and Kara reminded Aaron that, while Sinatra was not tall, he "filled the stage" with his presence.
It seems that some people were just born with charisma and presence, and you either have it or you don't.
This is false.
Conveying confidence, conviction and assertiveness through your physical presence can be learned. You can learn how to own the room and fill the stage.
Start with your posture, tall, relaxed and open, facing the audience with your feet squared and your eyes forward. No slumping, slouching, hands in pockets or shifting back and forth on your feet. Learn how to ground yourself; it makes a huge difference.
Then look at your gestures. Are your movements small and uncertain or are they flowing and natural? They don't have to be "big" if that's not your style, but you don't want to look like you're wearing a straitjacket, either.
Keep your head up and your eyes out. When trying to remember something, it's tempting to look down at the floor or at the air in front of you. Don't do it! Keep your eyes out and forward.
Finally, give your attention to the audience. Be with them, not in front of them. Encompass them with your eyes and movements rather than creating a cage for yourself where you're standing. Embrace them with your eyes, voice and arms.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you also need a strong message and well-prepared content. All the charisma in the world will only momentarily cover up poor preparation and bad material.
You can fill the space with your presence, and demonstrate confidence and charisma. It takes awareness (so videotape yourself) and practice.
Get out of the cage and own the stage!