Early on in my public speaking journey, I was scheduled to give a persuasive speech at my public speaking club. Being new to this mysterious form of communication, I was eager to learn from those who were more experienced. I wanted to know, how do you do this thing that most people would call the scariest thing they could possibly think of?
To address this question, I sat in as many audiences as I could and studied each speaker’s body language, facial expressions, tone, and use of the stage. After watching a lot of speeches, I determined that people who used the whole stage and made big dramatic gestures were the ones who were most effective at getting their point across.
Right before giving my five minute persuasive speech, I decided I would use the theatrical moves I had observed to really wow my audience. I was excited to show my new expert approach, my bigger than life presence, and my major improvement over my old skills. As I started to deliver my speech, I searched for the perfect moment to spread my dramatic wings. After getting through the first few lines, I found the ideal point and swept my arms in the air at the pinnacle of the sentence. Next, I walked back and forth across the stage taking obnoxiously large steps. I continued to throw my arms in the air each time I felt the need to add some drama and keep the energy moving.
Without warning, I felt myself become self-conscious. I started to feel embarrassed and flushed. I felt like a fraud. I suddenly couldn’t remember why I thought this was a good idea. I felt sick. Could my audience see my awkwardness, too? Rather than quit, I recommitted to my Shakespearean production and continued until the last word.
During the feedback portion of the meeting, my fellow club members couldn’t help but comment on my body language during the speech. They were trying to be supportive, but it was clear that they were all a little traumatized by my new soap opera-worthy performance. One woman said, “I wasn’t totally sure what you were doing with your arms there…?” One really nice man said, “I applaud your courage, but your body language was distracting from your well-crafted speech.” Most of the feedback I received that day was about my new stage presence…and it wasn’t positive.
I went home after that meeting feeling like a failure. I decided I wasn’t meant for public speaking because I couldn’t do it like the pros do it. I kept wondering where I went wrong. I was doing what the experts demonstrated, so how did I fail so miserably? I went to bed that night deciding I would quit public speaking and go back to being shy.
When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something about my performance the night before. While eating my scrambled eggs, the answer fell on me like maple syrup over a warm pancake. It was then that I realized if I wanted to connect with my audience, I needed to be ME, not some other speaker who has their own mannerisms and style. By being myself, I would be a more successful speaker.
That revelation came 10 years ago.
Since then, I have continued to work on my own style, weaving my own stories and experiences into my talks, creating new approaches to presenting, working with diverse groups, and experimenting with different types of energy on stage. After giving 700+ talks, I’ve realized there is a formula for being yourself on stage. I put it all together and created the STAGE System, part of the Speaker Sisterhood’s core training program.
The STAGE System is a method for crafting a speech that puts your personal stamp on every presentation. Rather than create another boring slide show or endlessly rattle through tons of data, this approach teaches you to build a presentation that showcases your personality, highlights your unique experiences, and allows you to deliver your stories and information in a way that feels good to you.
So what is the STAGE System?
It’s an acronym for Style, Truth, Art, Group, and Energy. It’s a checklist that acts as the blueprint for every speech you give, whether it’s your first or your 500th. It gives you the chance to pause and ask yourself who you want to bring to the stage. If you are naturally funny, how can you incorporate some humor into your talk? If you went through a life-changing experience, how can you tie that into your subject? If you love interacting with the audience, how can you make that a big part of your speech? By using the STAGE System as your guide, you build your talk so you are in your element and really shining on stage (and not being asked by your audience why you’re doing all those weird those things with your arms).
When people ask me what makes a great public speaker, I’ve determined it comes down to two key elements:
- The ability to make your audience feel comfortable.
- The ability to deliver your content so it makes a lasting impact.
As speakers, we are always so focused on our own experience as the presenter that we often forget there is another entity involved in the exchange: the audience. It’s your job as the speaker to lead the group and provide an element of comfiness that will allow them to listen, engage, and absorb what you are offering. In order for your audience to feel comfortable, first you have to feel comfortable. That only happens if you build a speech you can’t wait to give because you crafted it yourself using the STAGE System.
The second most important element to giving a memorable speech is impact. If your content falls flat and puts people to sleep, you’re not providing much value for anyone. Even if you have the most engaging data or best punch line in the world, if your delivery is off, your audience won’t get the same experience or lasting impression as they would if you had a stronger method of sharing your words of wisdom. You can avoid losing your audience when you craft a strong outline that gets you excited by using the STAGE System.
To use the STAGE System, you simply go through each step by addressing the questions in each category. It looks like this:
How will you bring your unique personality and quirks to this speech? What will put your “stamp” on this presentation?
What is true about this material for you? Where is the natural connection between you and your topic? Are there stories or experiences you can share?
What is the best way to share this material? Will you use humor, visuals, props, handouts, metaphor, stories, interactive exercises, or something else?
Who is in your audience for this talk? How will you tailor your speech to match their needs and goals?
How will you present this material so it transfers your energy for the subject to your audience? How do you want to leave them feeling? Energized, reflective, concerned, motivated, surprised, or something else?
By going through this exercise, you will avoid using dramatic arm gestures because you’ll already know that’s not your style. Or, you’ll dramatically gesture the whole time because that’s how you feel most comfortable. You’ll incorporate personal stories, use the types of tools and visual aids you like, and you’ll make sure you’re crafting a speech with impact because you’re keeping your audience in mind when you build it. This tool is not only useful for writing speeches, it’s also great for putting together courses, articles, books, and other creative offerings that require your own personal stamp.
Have fun with the STAGE System and know that it’s a tool that will continue to deliver deeper and clearer results each time you use it. Don’t forget that being a public speaker is always a work in progress and you’re never done learning and growing. With this method, you’re encouraged to try new things, be adventurous, and do things you think you can’t do. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself.
Angela Lussier is the founder of the Speaker Sisterhood and also an award-winning speaker, three-time author, and two-time TEDx presenter. She is the host of Claim the Stage, a public speaking podcast for courageous women. Her motto: Stop waiting. Start creating.