What is Stage Presence & How to Master It

If you’ve ever been to a concert, comedy show, or any stage performance you have witnessed the best stage presence. The degree of quality varies depending on who you watched, but chances are the performances you loved most had outstanding stage presence.

Why is strong stage presence important? The music industry creates star power when band members have great stage presence, which translates to more ticket sales. The best performers have their own style that sets them apart and can be tracked throughout their music career. The power of stage presence leaves the live audience waiting in anticipation for the next song.

Stage presence is both seen and unseen. It encapsulates how the coolest person on stage projects him or herself to the audience with body language, voice, how they move around the whole stage, and a lot more. It’s true that some individuals are naturals when it comes to great stage presence, but for most of us mortals, it’s a skill we can learn with practice.

When people generally talk about stage presence they reference entertainment performers; however, the same principles apply when you’re speaking in public. One of the most important and little talked about keys to an unforgettable speech or presentation is – you guessed it – stage presence.

In this article, we’re going to peel away the layers of what stage presence really is, and what you can do to improve stage presence.

What is Stage Presence?
How to Know if You Have Good Stage Presence
How to Develop Better Stage Presence
How Does Stage Presence Compare to Executive Presence?
How Can I Improve My Stage Presence in a Speech?

Why is Presentation Structure so Important?

why is stage presence important

When it comes to public speaking, stage presence means connecting with your audience in such a way that they feel like they must watch and listen to you.

We have an audience every time we speak to anyone. You don’t even need a stage to have it. You can have great presence in a boardroom meeting or even on a video conference call.

A myth about stage presence persists, and we’d like to dispel this myth in this article. Most people when asked will acknowledge that stage presence is something that exists, but think it’s something you’re born with.

Stage presence is like executive presence—connecting deeply with an audience in a way that wins hearts and minds.

The truth is while few people are more naturally inclined to have it, the reality is it’s a skill. And just like any other skill it can be learned and continuously improved.

Most adults have either seen a motivational speaker in person or online. Do you remember how their stage presence looked? They likely navigated the stage with same energy, took meaningful pauses, and varied their intonation signaling importance to the audience. Great motivational speakers are masters of stage performance.

Unless you’re living off the grid you’ve likely seen a TedTalk or two in your lifetime. TedTalks are a great resource for studying stage presence. They are public speaking at its best, and although not every TedTalk presenter has equal stage presence skills, most have a solid foundation worth studying.

How to tell your story so the audience feels it’s their story.

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How to Know if You Have Good Stage Presence

what is stage presence

There is no “best” presentation structure, but there are proven structures that have passed the test of time. It’s important to stick with what’s worked, especially when starting out. You must first master the rules before you can break them. The traditional structure of effective presentations should first be mastered before you deviate.

Opening Sequence

How do your audience members appear throughout your presentation – interested and engaged? Are they laughing or reacting when you want them to? Are they paying attention to you or checking their phones? What kind of feedback did you get once your presentation was over?

Staying Power

Another useful metric to look at is the short or long-term impact of your presentation. Did you notice your audience talking about your presentation immediately after it ended? Are they sharing their unique experience with friends, family, and colleagues? Were there memorable quotes or anecdotes in your speech that the audience keeps referencing days or weeks later?

Your Own Experience

Although we don’t always have a clear view of our own performance, most of the time we know if we did well or not. Ask yourself how well you think it went. Did you feel like you executed the presentation you prepared for? How did you feel on stage? What went well or better than expected? What part or parts fell flat or didn’t receive the reaction you hoped for?

These are all important questions to think about when accessing if you have stage presence. The answers can help you understand what’s working, what needs improvement, and what you can cut from your presentation.

How to Develop Better Stage Presence

how to have stage presence

Remember that stage presence doesn’t only happen on big stage. Everything from communicating with colleagues to presenting big ideas to decision-makers involves the elements of strong stage presence so your message is heard.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More

Use verbalization to practice by repeatedly delivering your presentation aloud to an imaginary audience.

Yes, as much as we’d like it not to be true sometimes, it is – practice makes perfect. The most important thing practice does is calm your nerves. If you practice like you play as the saying goes your body feels like it’s been there before and you’re able to better relax. When you’re not nervous, you can focus on what’s important and perform more effectively.

Practicing for a speech or presentation allows you to nail down your main points, feel how the delivery sounds, and give you room to discover areas that can be improved.

Use Strategic Visuals

If you’re not a naturally high-energy type A personality that’s going to bounce around the stage that’s okay. Enhancing your stage presence can be done in many ways. One way is by using engaging visuals. You should always remain the main focus of your presentation, however, the right visual aids can support your message.

Considering that over 65% of the population are visual learners, visual content helps reinforce your message. Using slides can evoke emotions in your audience, keep them engaged, and strengthen your key points.

Invite Your Audience into Your Presentation

Whether you’re using an anecdote, an analogy, or a rhetorical question, creatively drawing your audience into your performance is one of the best ways to make them feel valued and keep them engaged.

You’ll notice your audience’s body language change when they feel like they’re active participants. If your presentation allows for it, you can create camaraderie and rapport with your audience by bringing them into it.

Improve Every Performance

What do the best presenters in the world have in common? They’re always looking for ways to improve. There is always room for improvement, and when you take this attitude every speech and presentation you give will get better over time.

Always try to record your presentations so you can review them later and look at areas you could have done better. Watch yourself and track how the audience is reacting throughout your speech. What did they like or dislike? When did they start losing interest?

After reviewing your speech you might realize your anecdote wasn’t quite right for the point you were trying to make. Notes like this can help you continually refine your presentation and make sure it gets better every time.

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Use the Stage

Use the stage purposefully so your movements are meaningful and support your message

Whether on stage, in the boardroom, or on a video conference call, utilize all the room you have. Work the stage as the saying goes – but do so with purpose. This is especially important if you’re presenting to a large audience. Make sure to engage with each section of the audience.

Staying still in one place can feel dull for your audience. Moving around purposefully forces your audience to stay active and follow you. Remember they’re likely sitting in one place and need some help from you to keep them active despite being stationary.

Aside from helping your audience, moving helps you elevate your energy level and alleviate nerves. Try to pay attention to what kind of movements and body language your audience responds to most.

Take Advantage of the Pause

Getting comfortable with silence is one the most powerful things you can do to create strong stage presence. The masters use the pause to build momentum and anticipation for what is coming next. A confident well-placed pause shows the audience that you’re comfortable, self-assured, and in control. It also gets their attention.

Speaking too fast without breaks and pauses is just as bad as speaking too slowly and in a monotone voice. Vary your volume and cadence, and use dramatic pauses in the right spots between phrases to build interest and capture the audience’s attention.

Dress to Impress

Dress like you are “+1” which means to dress one level above the audience and be perceived as the expert.

Your audience will judge you on how you look both consciously and subconsciously. It’s important that you dress the part. Make sure to wear something you feel comfortable in that aligns with the context of your presentation.

Since you will most likely want to be perceived as the expert, dress one level above the audience. Note that there’s a fine line here here: dress to differentiate yourself as the presenter while still “fitting in.” While you most likely wouldn’t under-dress, don’t over-dress either. If you’re giving a presentation to a group outside your organization, take the time to find out how the audience will dress, and then dress subtly better. If you’re giving a presentation within your organization, i.e., you’re a Director speaking to a group of VPs, and you hope to be promoted to VP – then dress like a VP (or, dress to be promoted!).

Don’t Let Mistakes Derail You

Huge part of connecting with your audience is looking human. Making mistakes is a defining feature of the human experience. Although you’re not aiming to make a mistake, how you handle it will make all the huge difference during your presentation.

A lot of things can go wrong during a presentation. You can forget a key point, stumble over words, lose your train of thought, or have technical difficulties. When these things happen your reaction can actually strengthen your presentation. Don’t panic and look frustrated. Acknowledge that that mistake is happening and find some humor in it. Your audience will appreciate how calm and cool you’re staying in what should be a stressful situation. It shows you’re not bigger than the moment. When you’re able to remain confident and when things go wrong it builds trust and confidence in your audience.

Check Your Equipment First

One great way to avoid equipment failure is with a test run. As much as it’s important to stay confident when things go wrong, it’s better that nothing goes wrong at all.

Whether you’re presenting in a conference room, on a physical stage, or virtually, make sure everything you need is working properly before you go live. Check microphones, screens, cameras, lighting, and all other technology.

Even when you’re presenting virtually your stage presence will be noticed. It’s critical that you master the equipment and technology you’ll be using. Not knowing how to un-mute yourself or share your screen can derail your momentum and audience confidence.

Know how to read the chats in a chat box, break participants into discussion groups, run polls, and ensure your internet connection is strong. Keep your background simple and ensure your lighting is complimentary.

Respect Your Audience

Nobody likes to wait. You must always respect your audience’s time. This means starting and ending on time. You can do this by making sure all your equipment works before you start. Know how long your presentation will take without interruptions and make time for greetings and departures.

If you’re going to have Q&A after the presentation make sure to factor in that time. If you’re doing Q&A throughout the presentation you’ll need to manage your time effectively so you can complete all of your content.

How Does Stage Presence Compare to Executive Presence?

stage presence examples

Stage presence and executive presence are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. If you look at what makes a strong executive, you’ll notice that many of the attributes apply to stage presence.

  • Stage presence and executive presence both require frequent practice to gain confidence.
  • Eye contact is an important element for connecting with audience members non-verbally.
  • Movements and gestures are vital to maintaining both speaker and audience enthusiasm.
  • Move with purpose, and use body language to emphasize important points.
  • Be aware of your space and obstacles on the stage like wires.
  • Clear articulation and vocal variety are important to establish authority and credibility.
  • Never speak in monotone, use a variety of vocal expressions.


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How Can I Improve My Stage Presence in a Speech?

stage presence in speech

You know what stage presence is and why it’s important and now you’re ready for some practical on-the-stage strategy so you can own the stage and make the impact you want during your next presentation or speech.

Most people spend the majority of their time developing their story. However, your presentation success also depends on your body language. The way you command your use of space signals your perceptions and mindsets. For example, if you enter the stage and go directly behind the podium stand this can signal to the audience that you feel nervous or closed off.

On the other hand, if you enter the stage with no notes, open body language, and work the entire space, it signals to your audience that you feel comfortable and, in turn, the audience mirrors your comfort. They trust that you’re comfortable and confident, and thus let their guard down to become more open to what you’re about to say.

Make a Stage Action Plan

Just like you plan your speech you should make a detailed plan on how to use your entire stage. Start by taking note of what you have to work with.

Will you be entering on steps or from backstage? From stage left or right?

Determine where you will first come into view from the audience’s perspective. Know where you will stand as you deliver your introduction. When you know where you’re heading your entrance will look purposeful and confident.

If you can visit the stage and map it out before your presentation this is ideal. If not, arrive early and make a plan then. Not only does utilizing the stage space make you look more in control to your audience, you can use the stage as transition points to remind yourself what’s next in your speech or presentation.

How to Create a Virtual Stage Presence

If you’re giving a webinar or making an online speech or presentation it becomes even more difficult to capture and hold your audience’s attention.

Nevertheless, there are ways to do it, and in today’s remote world it pays off.

Choose the Right Background

The first thing your audience will notice when they enter a virtual room is your background. Whether you’re speaking in a virtual conference, going on a livestream podcast, or having a virtual session with a client, it’s important to look professional and interesting.

If you can design your background in a way that matches your brand, that’s ideal as long as it doesn’t detract from the presenter.

Optimize Your Lighting

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a professional light kit, but lighting can and often does make all the difference. Even the best cameras will not make you look good if they don’t have the right lighting. If your space is filled with natural light just adding a simple key light should be enough.

Dress Like You’re on a Real Stage

Many people are tempted to keep it casual because they’re at home. This is a mistake. You need to look just as professional on camera as you would in person. You can typically get away with dressing down below the waist – yes you can wear sweatpants with your sports coat if you like. However, psychologically you feel the way you dress, so dress up and it will show through with your energy.

Check Your Tech

Make sure your camera, lighting, microphone, and internet connection are working as should. The biggest pitfalls of online presentations are technical difficulties which can be overcome with test runs and familiarity.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just like you’d practice for an in-person speech practice for your virtual speeches and presentations. Get the camera rolling and record yourself. You can play it back and see what’s working.

Finally, if you can stand up during your virtual presentation, do it. It will give you more energy and make every audience member feel like you’re engaged and doing everything you can to connect. Sitting always looks low energy. Make sure your virtual stage presence looks strong.


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Suasive, Inc. is a Silicon Valley-based communication consulting company that offers stage presence for organizations and individuals. To date, we’ve coached over 600 CEOs and helped individuals in some of the world’s biggest companies including Netflix, eBay, Sonos, Lyft, and Freshworks.

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