3 Staging Strategies to Help Your Audience Really SEE Your Speech

3 Staging Strategies to Help Your Audience Really SEE Your Speech
by Craig Valentine

1. Let the action prompt your movements

The action in your story prompts your movement on stage. Let the action drive. If you’re telling a story about standing in line, guess what? You shouldn’t move much. In the video,  I let the action drive. When I said, “You should have been with my wife and me 7 years ago as we took our 6 month old daughter Tori to her doctor’s appointment,” you saw me physically walking into the doctor’s office. When I talked about me walking over the scale to step on it, you saw me physically walk over the where the scale was represented on stage and you saw me stand on it. It’s not enough to say it, I also had to show it.

2. Let Time Prompt your Movement on Stage

All stories involve the element of time, which means you can use the imaginary timeline on stage for greater impact. In North America we read a timeline from the left to the right. Therefore, imagine how I might move when giving this part of my speech:
Now fast-forward 10 years to today…2010. My re-hire rate has now reached above 93%.

When I say the phrase “Fast forward 10 years to today,” I physically walk from my audience’s left up the timeline to my audience’s right to symbolize the difference between the year 2000 and the year 2010. Why is this important? Two reasons:
1. It makes the scene more clear for my audience
2. It allows me to eventually do a visual AND verbal call back to places on the timeline.
For example, later in this message I say, “I’ll tell you what made the difference between my failure in 2000 and my success today. [I walk back down the timeline to my audience’s left where the year 2000 is represented]. After my embarrassment in the year 2000, I re-dedicated myself to the art of public speaking…” Then, as I explain what I did in between 2000 and 2010 (i.e. coaching, re-dedication, etc.), I slowly and subtly walk back up the timeline until I get to 2010. Make sense?
This call back is visual, verbal, emotional, and clear for my audience members all because I set the stage up as a timeline and walked it.

3. Remember where you placed everybody and everything on stage

In the video, it’s clear where my wife is represented on stage and where the scale is represented on stage. You should plan this all out ahead of time. Otherwise, you might have a situation I witnessed years ago.
Darren LaCroix (2001 World Champion of Public Speaking) and I were giving a speaking bootcamp in Vegas and we had one of our attendees rise up to make a speech. His story was very emotional and, in it, his uncle passed away. They held the funeral and had the casket on a particular spot on the stage. Later on in the story, this speaker went to that same exact spot on the stage to have lunch!  Darren and I looked at him and said, “Do you realize you’re having lunch on your uncle?!” Please know ahead of time where everything will be represented on your stage.

4. Step up to your point

After I gave my story about the scale, you saw me step forward slightly and look directly at my audience as I started asking questions and driving home my point. This subtle step forward (and the direct eye-contact with my audience) lets my audience know I’m now out of my story and into a conversation with them. Occassionally step forward to make your point. Sometimes it even helps to step out into the audience.

Final thoughts on Staging

Does staging really make that much of a difference in your speech? Yes. Here are three reasons why:
  1. Good staging provides clarity to your story and your message. For example, when I have 3 points in my keynote speech, many times I’ll have each point be represented by a section on the stage. Then I can do visual/verbal call backs.
  2. If you use staging correctly (i.e. visually and verbally calling back to spots and situations on the stage) it can bring forth emotions from your audience because they’ll still be able to remember what happened earlier in those spaces and scenes
  3. Patricia Fripp told me (I’m paraphrasing here) that people won’t remember what you say as much as they’ll remember what they see when you say it. In other words, you have to make your speech very visual. Staging helps with this in a tremendously impactful way.
 Oh, one last thought. Everything you do staging-wise should be subtle. It should look natural and not forced. But keep this in mind, looking natural is on the far side of preparation…not the near side. When you prepare effectively, you won’t have to think about what you’re doing. It will become second-nature. In other words, it will be natural.

 Everything in speaking is about subtlety. If you’re being obvious about what you’re doing, it will break your connection with your audience. Therefore, when you move, make it subtle. I’ve seen some speakers move the entire length of the stage for their timeline. That’s not necessary. A few steps in one direction should suffice when moving to the future or back to the past. The same goes for characters in dialogue. Don’t travel so far between characters. A subtle head turn should suffice to allow us audience members to know which character is talking. Be subtle.

Stand Completely Still when Delivering Your MOST Important Phrases

However, when you get to your most important phrase (often your Foundational Phrase) it creates quite an impact when you stand  completely still, look directly at one individual in your audience, and hold his/her gaze for your entire Foundational Phrase.
For example, I scan the audience until I get to the phrase where I say, “Your dream is not for sale” and that’s when I look at one person and hold his/her gaze. Then, once I finish the phrase, I go back to scanning the room and moving if appropriate.  In other words, hold their gaze for your entire phrase.