Below is the conclusion of a two-part series that first appeared on The Developing Artist about improving stage presence. In this piece, I try to give some specific examples of good (and bad) onstage behavior, with tips to help you connect better with your audience when playing live. Enjoy!
In the previous post in this series, we started to talk about what stage presence is, how it makes a difference in a performance, and some things you can do to improve your own stage presence. In this followup post, let’s give some down-to-earth, practical do’s and don’ts about handling and owning the stage when you’re performing live.
DON’T…try to hype audience response by constantly coaching them what to do, or demanding a response.
DO… Encourage audience participation once in awhile.
WRONG: “I want everyone in this place to go nuts and shout at the top of your lungs NOW!”
RIGHT: “Hands in the air,” (as you demonstrate), or “Sing with me if you know it.”
The point: if you have to hype a crowd up that much, it’s probably a sign you need to work on substance more than style. Or, think of it this way–if you have to demand the audience’s participation, you’ve already lost them–and you are also sending a subtle message to them that your music can’t stand on its own merit. It doesn’t hurt to encourage the crowd a little, but going over the top with it makes you look desperate, arrogant, or both.
DON’T…use excessive and outrageous antics to get the audience’s attention.
DO…be energetic, animated, and geniuinely excited about what you’re doing.
The point: As a legitimate musical artist, you don’t want to be known for the wrong reasons (for example, people can remember how you almost got naked on stage, but can’t remember any of your songs). There is a fine line between demanding attention and commanding it. Stage presence commands attention; it doesn’t have to demand what it already owns.
At the same time, don’t get up onstage and be a bump on a log. If you love what you do, let it show, and if you do something crazy once in awhile, let it be a natural outflow of that excitement. Antics and hype are artificial and manipulative, and audiences don’t like to be manipulated. Genuine excitement/energy–that kind of thing is real, and it’s also contagious. The best thing you do can do to engage your audience is to demonstrate some genuine emotion about what you’re doing.
DON’T…get so lost in the music that you leave your audience behind.
DO…bring your audience into the moment with you.
The point: whether out of shyness or just the moment itself, lots of artists make the mistake of acting like they are alone in the room with their band and/or their song. It might seem like a good idea to get lost in the song, but if you haven’t made a connection with the audience, it can inadvertently make them feel like you’ve left them behind. Or, to put it simply, if you ignore the audience, they will ignore you right back. Don’t keep your eyes constantly closed; make occasional eye contact with people (if you can see them through the glare of the lights–otherwise, just look in their general direction). Treat the audience as though they are your guests, and play and sing with them in mind.
Now, there are exceptions; sometimes getting lost in the moment can be effective, and even downright magical. But the audience has to feel connected with you before that moment happens, or it won’t work. It’s okay to dwell in the moment with that song you love to sing, but just remember you’re not alone in the room; you have guests, and it’s rude to leave them out of the loop. Let your posture be one of inviting the audience to go to that place with you. When it’s done right, it can make the difference between a good performance and a great one.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS…Do you see a theme here? (Hint: It’s connection.) Good stage presence is more than confidence, arrogance, or even magnetism. It’s about making a connection with your audience, and then drawing them into the performance. The best performers on the planet have this in common. Beyond specific techniques, let everything you do be geared toward making that connection, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your stage presence.