Every performer knows stage presence is important, but it can be hard to evaluate, let alone improve, your own visual effect on an audience.
The visual image you present before you play a note can make the audience predisposed to enjoy your performance. Or not. And while we like to think that audiences use what they hear to judge us, the human truth is that they see us before they hear us. And first impressions are long-lasting.
Besides asking your best friend for his opinion (often tricky) or getting your teacher’s advice, how can you develop a stage presence that is a winning one with audiences and still feels and looks natural? I have three easy suggestions.
But before I tell you my three tips to improve your stage presence, I will tell you what I never suggest to my students. I never tell them to watch themselves on video for this purpose. It is true that you can learn a lot from a video of your performance, but often this creates more self-consciousness, which defeats the purpose.
This is what I do suggest:
1. Emulate someone you admire. This could be a celebrity who is gracious and elegant, a debonair movie star, a charismatic leader or another performer. (I was always a fan of Audrey Hepburn, for you old movie buffs.) Observe how that person moves, carries himself, looks and speaks. Privately practice acting the way you think he or she would in a performance situation like yours. Carry that picture in your mind and think about it just before you walk on stage. It will help relieve some of your self-consciousness to know that it’s your personal hero walking on with you!
2. Choose your wardrobe with your audience in mind. Clothes may or may not be very important to you, but the clothes you wear on stage are part of your performance. And while comfort and ease in playing is an important consideration, you must understand and respect the expectations of your audience. An audience assumes that your clothing choice is your statement about how important you consider the performance to be. If your audience has dressed up to come hear you, they will feel let down if your clothing is too casual. Your performance is going to be something special; show your audience that from the first time they see you. For a critic’s look at concert attire, read this article.
3. Communicate your pride. You don’t have to tell the audience how good you are. Let your face and attitude show it. Smile openly; imagine yourself smiling at your best friend. Talk clearly. Pace your words as you do your music. Practicing your speaking is as important as practicing your music. Engage the audience with your eyes. I don’t mean anything hypnotic; just allow yourself to scan the audience as if they were friends you were meeting for the first time. Let your expression welcome them, just as if they were guests at your house. Here’s a link to an interesting perspective on why we smile.
A good stage presence from an audience’s perspective looks confident, poised, respectful and smooth. And the performer should feel calm, unhurried, friendly and open. None of these are things a performer is likely to actually feel before she walks on stage. There is a curious phenomenon that often occurs, however. When you strive to project those qualities, to some extent you actually experience them inside, which by itself is the best reason to develop a good stage presence.