Six Tips for Successful Public Performance (Speech/Talk/ Poetry)

Six Tips for Successful Public Performance  
  If you want to just brush up your technique, read on.  If the idea of performing induces mental paralysis, then you might want to take part in my next Performing Skills workshop (Dates to be posted soon for January 2016, let me know if you want to be put on the list.  Spaces are limited). Performing well, like anything else, can be learnt.  I acquired this skill a long time ago. Before that, the idea of speaking up in front of an audience or cameras froze my brain into utter panic. Because I learnt how, I can teach you. I’ve spent many years as both a workshop leader and a performer.
     But let’s start at the beginning. Here’s some basic tips, they may sound obvious but people often ignore them resulting in poor performances:
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Performance Basics:

1. PLANT YOUR FEET – that’s both feet firmly on the ground, hip distance apart.  Feel the floor. What colour are the walls? What furniture is in the room? How many people in the audience? And breathe – notice if you’re holding your breath, let it go. Take a deep breath – bring oxygen to the brain cells.
This is all part of ‘grounding.’ When you’re in a place of fear, your mind flies off with the fairies.  These techniques can bring it back. Look at your audience (inexperienced performers look everywhere but …), make eye contact with some of them, briefly. Most audiences are rooting for you.  They want you to succeed. Get a friend to sit in the front row. Ask them to smile and clap in all the right places

2. introducE yourself.  It’s amazing how many new public speakers/performance poets forget to do that (done it myself).  You look out at a sea of faces, you pull out your piece and start reading your topic quickly, hiding behind your sheet of paper. Start by looking at your audience and say your name.  Say something brief about the poem, or a small fact about you as a poet.
‘My name’s X and I’m going to talk about/tell you about/read you this poem about …. whatever!’

3. Speak up and project your voice.  I’ve been to so many venues where the new (or sometimes more experienced speakers even)  mumbles into their page with their head down.  Even if they’re asked to speak up, they usually increase the volume for 30 seconds and then sure enough the voice drops gradually back to a mumble.
Do you want anyone to hear what you have to say?  May be you need to take more writing classes,  until you’ve got something that could entertain an audience.
To project your voice means to lift your head up, stand firm and look to the back of the room.  Aim your voice, as if a missile, to bounce off the walls at the back, so EVERYONE can hear what you say. That’s your job as a performer - at the very least, let us hear you.

4. USE THE MIC.  If you don’t (yet) have a strong voice, at least learn to use the mic correctly.  Most people make the mistake of standing too far away from it. It should be adjusted for your height so the mic’s a few inches away from your mouth, which should be about a hand’s span away.  Further than that and the mic will NOT pick up your voice – so unless you have a Megavoice that can be heard anyway, we are back to square one – NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU.

5. SLOW DOWN. Beginners not only mumble but they talk through their piece at mega-speed  - why? It’s like their thinking ‘Let’s get through this torture as fast as possible.’ They’re sure no one will want to listen to what they’ve written.  Pace it slowly.  You don’t have to learn your piece by heart.  Don’t hold your sheet of paper high in front of your face. Use it as a prompt if possible, glance at it, don’t appear to be reading every word.  AND SPEAK THE PIECE SLOWLY AND CLEARLY.

6. Entertain your audience.   Finally don’t just read out a long diatribe of pain and angst. I’ve heard that pretty often with beginners (and others).  We all go through bad times, but don’t wallow. Highlight it with humour if you can, tone it down and hint at pain and angst (if that’s your topic today), allude to it briefly. Don’t drag us all down with the endless misery of it.      
     The other mistake new speakers/performers/poets make is to produce the Opus Magnus, their BIG work, pages of it. Please don’t inflict an inexperienced performing style on the audience, together with a long dirge.  Make us laugh, keep it light. The audience is inwardly groaning and stops listening before the end of the first page. KEEP IT SHORT – less than ONE PAGE if you’re new to the game.  Save the OPUS MAGNUS for when you’re an experienced performer who can follow the above tips with practised ease.
     After a while if you follow these techniques, you'll start to enjoy performing, have fun with it and what's more important - so will your audience!

Anna Meryt
Nov 2nd 2015

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