november 2009 | Brain Check
“Even as a small boy I was fascinated by controlling an audience and a stage. But instead of taking centre stage I began working as an editor of TV dramas, among other things, where I discovered the importance of stage presence.”
When does this feel genuine in the meeting with the audience?
– In that meeting the gaze is very important. Today I teach speakers and others the art of coming across as genuine and convincing in their presentation,” says Tord Pååg, who runs the company Dynamiskt Framträdande (Dynamic Appearance).
What should I consider when standing in front of my audience about to speak?
“Be yourself on stage. Be egoistical and use all the props you possibly can to take over the stage. Getting support from the audience is vital. You decide if I look positive and supportive in your eyes. If a man is sitting with arms folded looking dogged then he wants to protect his heart because he is deeply moved by what you’re saying. If somebody is looking away then you have affected them and they are pondering over what you said. If you decide that nobody is ever dismissive then you lose your self-assurance on stage. No matter how the audience behaves, decide that they are offering gifts and support.”
I’ve always interpreted people with folded arms as being dismissive. You don’t care about it?
“It’s based on experience. Many stern men come up to me afterwards and say “thank you that really moved me”. I never know what an audience thinks. Those who nod in encouragement are perhaps habitually supportive and pleasant, so I don’t really know what they’re thinking either.
You never know what’s behind the facade. I’ve held a great number of courses with people who work with this fear and this façade is always the stumbling block. I decide that everybody is positive instead of standing there fighting against it. If somebody gets up and leaves, it’s just to accept it and be grateful. I can shuffle my papers. If I start to reproach myself then I’m on a slippery slope, my inner critics have no place on stage. As long as I’m standing there then I’m exposed to the elements, I only create support. The critic come afterwards and says I shouldn’t have said it in that way and that I wasn’t sufficiently elaborate. That’s okay, but not on stage because I then become thought-controlled and begin to speculate. Standing on stage speaking is an emotional experience.”
Why have you specialised in this particular field?
“Stage presence has been my passion for some time, when does this feel genuine in the meeting with the audience? Here the gaze is very important. This was emphasised when I began as an editor at Swedish Television. Which images should I choose? I also discovered that I could stretch the pauses for emphasis or put in various long pauses before and after lines, and the whole content would change.”
How long have you worked with this?
“I worked for 17 years as an editor and casting manager at Swedish Television. I did news coverage, documentaries, fiction and was involved in TV2 Drama. I then became a freelance editor and parallel with that I trained in film production, film viewing and editing within TV and at the Dramatic Arts Institute in Stockholm. Suddenly education took over. Today I teach other lecturers, company employees, actors, TV news broadcasters and musicians in stage presence. Private sector companies are also among my clients.”
Does the meeting take place in the gaze?
“Yes, to a great extent. It’s face and body. It’s through my gaze that I subconsciously relate my feelings. This could be crucial in whether or not you believe what I say. I learned a great deal from editing documentaries, news coverage and drama. I constantly sought the genuine feeling and then chose the scene or the moment. Sometimes when I was uncertain as to which scene to choose, I would lower the sound. It was then clear which scene was best, the most genuine.”
What is basic procedure when you educate actors, company leaders, speakers and musicians?
“It’s basic training in presence based on preparing oneself and realising that it’s a total experience I’m creating with very special prerequisites. It’s not only intellectual and the first thing I do is to divert the focus from that which is brain-controlled.
They get to present themselves here and now; who am I, what are the fears and feelings that arise in this situation, what kind of history do I have with regard to standing on stage? Then I reflect it in questions such as: Why do you look up to the ceiling, what’s happening when you wobble your feet? I try to get a complete picture of what I call the ‘presence instrument’, which is body, voice, emotions and energy of presence. In this I place my message and it expresses itself through the hoarseness I have in my voice today, with fluttering of the voice and eye contact.
Here the words are just a small part of the message. Some say it is just fifteen or twenty per cent and the rest is influenced by the body, variations in tone, voice and body movement. This is spontaneous and I’m not aware of all I do. I encourage people not to keep it in but to let everything out. The body is wise and knows how to express itself. Don’t try to hide. Make contact and rest from eye contact as much as you can. And let the words flow as though they were born here and now, like good drama.”
“You have to stimulate yourself in order to inspire the audience.”
What’s the difference between acting and speaking, besides being more people on stage?
“Similarities include eye contact with adversaries, listening to them and letting the reply come spontaneously in the pause that arises. I should try to get the words to live every evening in the theatre. The same applies to the lecturer who has lectured on the same subject in the same way hundreds of times. The majority of actors rehearse from the morning to the evening performance. At 7pm they have to stand on stage and live the character. I listen to myself all day, feel where I am today, how my instrument is, what I can take with me onto the stage and how I can be creative with it. That is the central issue: How can I as a lecturer be creative and not block the meeting with the audience?”
What should I consider if I feel uncertain?
“Accept it in yourself. Today I’m sensitive and feel lost. Then I permit the uncertainty, land in it and, paradoxically, become substantiated in it. If I do the opposite and think ‘help, I can’t feel this way’, everything will get worse. I become even more tense and seek even more confirmation that things are not good. We always have an inner monologue when we speak and it is important to listen to that.”
How do you practice prior to a lecture?
“By preparing the whole time. I have my thoughts and that which I will speak about. That which I offer the audience is the whole of me; I create feeling with my presence, how I feel and how open I am. It’s important that I don’t see my lecture as an intellectual exercise, but realise that I’m creating an experience, something I can only do by standing here. And the audience is constantly ticking off what I say against how I feel. As the feeling is significant in the meeting with the audience, to be genuine I prepare by feeling: who am I today? What’s happening inside me? Some days I’m completely blocked, other days I just don’t want to look people in the eye. Then I know, today it’s too sensitive for me to stand on stage. Getting up to my best shape, that’s my preparation. I prepare for being spontaneous, careful preparation is the mother of all spontaneity and improvisation. Then of course I have to know my subject inside out, just like an actor must learn their words. Then let the text come to life in the moment and the eye contact with you in a fairly quite audience.”
In an article I read you say that one shouldn’t let one’s gaze glide over the audience but make real eye contact. What’s the difference?
“The difference is that you create trust with the person who meets the gaze, because that person feels that it is genuine contact. Even those sitting next to them feel that you dare to seek contact. This inspires trust, it feels genuine. When your gaze sweeps across without landing anywhere it creates a goldfish bowl. I try to avoid that. Even if the audience says nothing it is still one-way communication, I want them to feel part of things. Then the moment of contact is important because it opens up for participation.”
“It’s through my gaze that I subconsciously relate my feelings.”
How long is it acceptable to gaze at somebody?
“When you and I look at each other, you could say there is a flow of energy between our eyes. You notice immediately if I’m unfocused or introvert. I look as long as I notice that you react when I look at you. And as long as I notice that it’s full of vitality and gives me energy then I stay there. Perhaps two, three, four seconds. I then go over to the next person.”
There are daily meetings with companies, do you think in the same way there?
“I train company employees and I say you’re standing on a stage when presenting something. It’s the same basic situation, same nervousness and blockages as though you were on stage holding a wedding speech. It’s a good idea to wind down before making your speech, take a walk in the woods or meditate to escape the noise, stress and calendar.”
Is there a difference between women and men with regard to holding a lecture?
“We’re quite similar. It’s the same vulnerability and exposure when it comes to standing on a stage. This sits really deep. How much space can I take, am I good enough for this group, do I have permission to own such a large audience that are sitting quietly listening to me?”
Is it easier for me to create trust if I have a management position?
“Our daily role does not help when we’re standing on stage. Those who take it for granted that people will listen to them just because they’re in a management position in a large company soon experience problems when they’re standing in front of their employees, the media or shareholders waiting for them to present something. We want to see the person behind the words. Who are you, is the great underlying question. How do you guarantee this with your whole body, voice, emotions and presence? Why should I trust you?”
Do we look at each other differently in different cultures?
“To take an example, I’ve trained power plant engineers from all corners of the earth. I asked them about eye contact at their daily meetings in their cultures, and about eye contact when standing on stage in front of an audience in their cultures. The first question got a variety of responses with everything from no eye contact whatsoever to eye contact for several seconds. The other question got the same response: on stage you’re expected to have eye contact with the audience to ensure a meeting takes place.”
The brain works in a way that all focus is drawn to a movement. Is it a good idea to move about on stage?
“Move about. You become stimulated as a lecturer. You have to stimulate yourself in order to inspire the audience. As the eye is always drawn to a movement this means that the audience become more involved when you move about.”
How should I distribute my gaze when speaking?
“Try to spread it around the whole audience, but that’s not always possible. If the audience is large I divide it into sections and try to contact people in the different sections.”
Is there anything you should not do with your gaze?
“Never regard anybody as a sex object. The person you’re looking at and the people next to them feel this immediately.”
Who uses their gaze more than others?
“Abusers and certain criminal groups are extremely sensitive and scan the people they meet. They’re extremely oversensitive. It could all go terribly wrong, so they have to sense what kind of person it is they are meeting.
Others are interviewers, people who work in human resources departments, CEOs, sellers and negotiators. They must be especially sensitive.”