5 Things stage actors can teach you about professional speaking

4 min readMay 14, 2018

Stage actors spend their entire careers learning how to enthrall audiences.

It’s not just about flawlessly memorizing entire scripts, but about mastering the ability to make audiences laugh and cry, delight and engage for hours on end.

What can presenters learn from stage actors when it comes to giving a great performance?

1. Grab attention: It would be unimaginable if an actor walked to the middle of stage and said “Hi there everyone, my name is John, and today I am going to act out the part of Shylock in this performance of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”. So….let’s get started.”

They get on stage and immediately the show starts, the audiences is plunged right into the story.

As speakers, starting your presentation with the same type of immersion can grab hold of your audience’s attention, making them sit up and pay attention.

2. Own the stage: Actos learn early on to get very comfortable with being on stage, and comfortable with being the centre of attention. If they were a bundle of nerves, they would have a hard time selling us on their character, so being confident on stage is key.

Likewise, they know how to use the space on the stage. They don’t stick to one small corner, they use the whole platform, moving around and switching things up.

Speakers can do the same: get comfortable with being on stage and using the space, it will create a more interesting show for the audience.

3. Engage emotionally: The ability to tap into the emotions of their character is the foundation of great acting. It is this ability that can make audiences both laugh, cry, feel outraged or filled with joy.

Playing a character on stage is a process of role-playing within role-playing, and it is how actors tap into the real emotional core of a scene. We feel their emotions, and this is what is so engaging to watch.

Speakers can take lessons from this, instead of just reciting facts or quotes, get to the emotional core of what you are saying, your stories, your message, and feel them. They emotions will come out in your voice and body language, and help your audience better understand and engage.

An article titled “Techniques from the Stage: Actors’ Advice to Presenters” published by the Powerspeaking, Inc., explores how professional speakers can take some key lessons from stage actors to improve their presentation skills.

We’ve summarized the article visually to give you the main ideas.

Page 1: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Page 2: Nowhere is this a more apt metaphor than when giving a presentation. Many of the techniques that actors use to convey emotion and captivate audiences can be used to make presentations better.

Page 3: 1. Stage presence

Page 4: That magnetic charisma that draws an audience in and leaves them hanging on every word has a lot to do with being comfortable and natural on the stage. Claim the stage. Understanding the dynamics of the space. Visualize a successful presentation and an appreciative audience.

Page 5: 2. Know your ‘character’

Page 6: Take a tip from actors and approach preparing for a speech as an actor might approach a role by understanding your main objectives and the way that complements the objectives of your audience.

Page 7: 3. Hone your voice

Page 8: Even with a microphone that is working perfectly: swallowed or mumbled words will be difficult to understand. Actors project their voices, so that even when speaking softly or tenderly, there is a resonance that carries past the stage.

Page 9: 4. Emotional enunciation

Page 10: “When I ask the actor or speaker to enunciate his emotions, I am asking him to feel and express his emotions more precisely, to the same end, that I may more clearly understand them. We, the audience, don’t want any what-is-she-feeling ambiguity … We want to be able to read what the actor is feeling. And we want the same clear emotional and intellectual read of our speakers.”

-Kathryn Marie Bild, Presentation Coach

Page 11: 5. Read your audience

Page 12: A presentation — like a play — can be highly rehearsed, but when performed, it is essential that you take cues from your audience. Pause for applause, laughs or gasps, keep yourself facing the crowd at all times and tailor your presentation to this specific crowd and their values.

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.