March 8, 2012
CRITERION #1: POISE
How comfortable is your presentation for you?
How comfortable does it make your audience feel?
Poise is comprised of many things, but it might be generally referred to as that hard-to-put-your-finger-on quality called “stage presence”. In short, it’s very important to be present upon the stage as though you own it, and you have a right to be there. You DO. One of the first imperatives for making an effective presentation in front of an audience is that you must work toward looking comfortable on-stage – even if you aren’t. Easy to say, but not so easy to do, right? Well, the good news is that it is possible to appear comfortable in the eyes of your audience, even when you’re dying inside.
It’s rather intriguing that the word death comes into the discussion at this (early) point. It’s well known, of course, that humankind’s most dreaded fear – greater even than the fear of death – is public speaking. You’d think the Grim Reaper would be the scariest guy you’d ever want to meet… but apparently not. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise when you hear a speaker remark after a difficult presentation “I died up there, tonight. I just died.” Looking out at an audience that looks back at you with just glum and mournful expressions on their faces truly is a near death experience… and, unlike the Big Sleep, you’ve got to get through it, climb out of the depths of despair once it’s (mercifully) over, and go on living.
A speaker that’s dying on-stage is a zombie. Literally, he or she is the walking dead… a soulless body brought back to life again. Well, that’s a little macabre, so let’s refer to a dictionary definition that describes a zombie as someone who lacks energy, enthusiasm, or the ability to think independently.
But… wait a minute… we’re kind of luxuriating in negative thinking aren’t we? Crighton’s Criteria are supposed to lift your spirits and make you positively embrace the public speaking opportunity. Sure, those pesky fears exist but, in the words of the original Teddy bear, Theodore Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” What he’s talking about is the uncanny, subversive influence in our brains, which happily latches onto little dark spots it finds there, and blows them out of all proportion. Teddy was a realist, who subscribed to the idea that obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take you eyes off your dreams. If the rules of oxymoron will allow, he was a ‘practical dreamer’. Perhaps he learned it from Eleanor, who said that “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’.
One thing’s for sure – they were both great public speakers!
It’s a tribute to the power of the mind that it’s capable of turning what is really a very benign situation into an experience fraught with peril. It’s rather like the fear of heights. Those of us, who are vertiginously challenged, have nothing to fear but fear itself. We stand on a firm platform high above the ground, and our minds transform it into a precarious ledge. Common sense tells us that if the platform were three feet off the ground, we wouldn’t give it a second thought, but our mind sets the alarm bells ringing. And that’s just the way things work.
In the same way, the alarm bells go off when we contemplate standing up in front of a group of people. In reality, the situation is not perilous at all. They are just ordinary, everyday people with the same frailties and foibles that we all have. They all put their trousers on one leg at a time… just like you. However, the mind turns them into ogres, giants, and ill-intentioned naysayers. They’re not… but that’s cold comfort when you get that unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Legend has it that Winston Churchill had his own special way of calming himself down before a speech. He played a little game within his imagination that helped him to see his audience in a non-threatening light. He scanned the group for a few seconds and tried to imagine them all sitting there in their underwear! Somehow, that seemed to defuse the situation. It works. Try it.
Poise. It’s essential to have it, because if you don’t, your discomfort will be communicated to the audience… and it will interfere with the reception of the message that you are trying to deliver. It may be comforting to know that even the best actors have “stage fright”, but they have learned how to appear comfortable on-stage, and how to channel their anxieties in order to add energy and intensity to the performance.