Showmanship – Stage Presence


Connecting With An Audience

By Duane Laflin

Excerpt from February 2013 Grand Magic Magazine: 

To purchase the entire issue, click here.

Last month, in talking about connecting with an audience, we discussed the “power of the first impression”, and the “self-fulfilling prophecy”. This month we continue with two more aspects of getting started right when on stage.

III. The 15 Second Rule

This really is not a rule. It is an observation, made by a number of wise people in show business, that should be treated like a rule. The observation is that audience members typically form their first opinion of a performer, and what they can expect out of him, within fifteen seconds of his coming into view. First impressions happen quickly! If it takes more than fifteen seconds to create a good impression, the audience likely already has come to possess a bad impression.

In practical terms this means performers must figure out how to immediately project a positive image. It should be a paramount concern to instantly capture interest. It is a good idea to literally put a stop watch to the first moments of your show to see how long it is before you do something that is truly worthwhile from the spectator’s point of view.

ImpressionMake a good first impression!

This is why the typical superstar entertainer comes on stage with fog, lighting effects, and fireworks surrounding him. He is telling all who have come to see him, “This is a fantastic show. You know it the moment you see me”! The performer, if a singer, will then immediately launch into one of his well known songs that gets a cheer out of the audience when they hear the first notes. Within 15 seconds, he has them “eating out of the palm of his hand”.

If a person is a magician, the first trick he does must happen right away, or the first thing he says must be quickly and distinctly entertaining. There is not time for careless comments. There are only fifteen seconds to make the audience glad you are there.

If a person is a clown, the moment he is in view he must walk in a funny way, or make a funny expression, or deliver a funny remark. He must work as if there are only 15 seconds to deliver the message that he can, and will, entertain with humor.

Whatever kind of entertainer or communicator a person might be, the window of time in which an audience can be captivated must be viewed as only being open for one fourth of a minute.

Even if a person does not believe in this 15 second rule, and thinks there are more seconds to work with, it is good discipline, and it really can’t hurt, to attempt to perform by the 15 second rule anyway. Why not work at instantly making the audience delighted with your presence?

IV. The Means By Which Audiences Make Quick Judgments.

Once a person accepts the necessity of making a powerful first impression, and understands the matter of self-fulling prophecy, and embraces the 15 second rule, what can be done to take advantage of these concepts?

The first thing to consider is the ears of the audience. Music is a great tool for making a positive impression. If the moment the announcer says your name, people hear the exciting and appealing notes of a song, they are likely to get a good feeling.

This is why many well-known entertainers have a theme song. This is why talk shows have upbeat music playing when hosts and guests are introduced. This is why TV shows and movies almost always have a musical soundtrack that starts immediately.

A wise performer gives much attention to the music that plays before and when he walks onto the stage. A performer who does not combine music with his introduction has increased his difficulty in making a good first impression.

To state the matter simply: give yourself a theme song, or a least a few notes of “walk on” music. If the “best in the entertainment business” use this technique, why wouldn’t you?

The next thing to consider is the eyes of the audience. By way of the ears, it is possible to impress an audience even before they see you.

Apart from that, the thing that comes into their mind most quickly is what they view when you first step onto the stage. With that in mind, do not ignore the truism that people do judge by appearances.

Have you ever taken time to ponder the fact that high profile entertainers rarely look like the “person next door”? As a general truth, if you were to take a high profile entertainer and remove him from the stage to put him on the street to stand among normal people, people around him would still realize he is somebody special, or at least wonder, “Who is this person”. It would be because of what they see when they notice him.

I know a successful magician who was on vacation in Florida. While he was looking around in a store, someone came up to him and said, “I don’t know who you are, but I know you must be somebody. May I have your autograph?” The magician laughs when he tells about it. The autograph seeker did not have a clue as to his identity, but did recognize that he must be someone of more than ordinary reputation. The interesting thingin this is that the autograph seeker was correct. The magician is a celebrity in the region where he performs.

The question is: How is it that just viewing these entertainers leads people to believe they are individuals of significance? The answer is: their style, their dress, and there carriage.

People who do well in the entertainment business almost always have confident movements and hair and/ or apparel that are interesting. Whether grungy or beautiful, careless or glam, cutting edge fashion or a throwback to another generation, there is something about them that calls for attention. They do not look normal and this is deliberate on their part. They do not want to look normal. Normal tends to be boring. The unusual is what is interesting.

So when a person is making a first impression from the stage, he should realize that his appearance is a tremendous means of generating interest, curiosity, excitement, and more. He will be wise to cultivate a “look” that makes people want to know more about him.

A performer who walks onto the stage in jeans, tennis shoes, and a polo shirt, just like what is worn by other audience members, faces an extra challenge in convincing people that he merits their attention.

A performer who puts thought and effort into dressing, walking, and styling himself in a manner that is appealing, unusual, and credible, gives himself a strong advantage. My opinion is that costuming is an often neglected and underused tool by many who want to be successful entertainers. They fail to understand that, as the saying goes, “looking the part is at least half the battle”.

Another means by which the audience makes a quick judgement is the setting of the stage. Fancy props and unusual stage furnishings produce a degree of excitement as people anticipate what might be done with them. A classy backdrop, along with a clean and well organized stage, can suggest that one is an accomplished performer who deserves an audience. The goal in how a stage is arranged should be that of making people look forward to what will happen when the performer steps upon it.

Beyond music that is heard, costuming/styling that is seen, and creating a stage situation that is appealing; consider these things…

A. Walk with confidence. Step into view with your body open to the audience. Let the audience get a good look at you, then move toward them. If your act is about comedy, add a humorous expression or odd gait to your movement. If you are a clown, learn how to do a good pratfall, then use it. Treat the manner in which you walk as part of the entertainment.

B. If you are using a microphone that is on a stand, rather than going directly to it, stop next to it. When you put yourself in line with the microphone, applause begins to die down because people want to hear what you might say. If you first step to the side of the microphone and do a slight bow of greeting, the welcoming applause will last longer. By way of the extended applause, the message is communicated, especially to those who know nothing about you, that you must be someone special.

C. Consider having your opening remark be a clever question. Good questions generate interest. Rather than the inane “How are you all doing?” that so many inexperienced performers tend to say when starting their shows, try saying something such as, “By a show of hands, how many of you have seen me before, or are seeing me for the very first time?” (It is a standard joke, but still effective as an opening remark). If doing a magic trick, your first words might be, “Does anyone here know how to make a full bottle of ketchup disappear?” (Then go right into the trick).

For the purpose of immediately drawing an audience into a relationship with an entertainer (or communicator), a query is normally much stronger than a statement.

D. Develop a strong routine that does not rely on words at all. Doing something that is flashy and fun, while great music plays in the background, may be the best way of all to make a powerful first impression as a stage performer.

E. Do not let technical glitches overshadow your efforts to make a good first impression. Check the level of your microphone and make sure there is proper lighting before the program begins. If you have to do this after you have arrived on the stage, it will likely detract from the positive image you need to create.

F. Have a written introduction to give to the announcer. Work hard in preparing it so it is brief, properly informative, and provocative. It should make the audience want to experience what you are about to do for them.

Below are two examples of how this might be done. They are not introductions for actual individuals, but they would work well if they were to be used. These introductions would be written out and the emcee would be instructed to read them as written.

Example #1. (For a magician)

What do you get when you combine award winning talent with a magical attitude and a love for having fun? What do you get when this combination of interesting and entertaining things comes from Columbus, Georgia? We are about to find out!

Please welcome to the stage….

Example #2. (For a clown)

His name is Bananas, his aim is laugher, his claim is that he would make a good president…because he would fit right in with all the other clowns that have already been elected to office. !

Please welcome to the stage…

A review of what we said last month, and this month, about getting your show started right.

1. A first impression is likely to be a final impression, so make sure you make a good one.

2. A good first impression equates with the audience wanting you to succeed throughout the rest of the show. A poor first impression equates with people expecting you to do poorly and watching for verification of this throughout the rest of the show.

3. The window of opportunity for making a good first impression is rarely open longer than fifteen seconds.

4. The audience makes quick judgments based on what they hear, so use music to immediately appeal to them. They also make quick judgments based on what they see. So use costuming and style to win them over. The look of the stage, confident bearing, clever questions, and flashy routines are other tools that help captivate their interest.

5. Even details such as how a microphone is approached, and what kind of introduction is offered by the emcee, impact the making of a first impression.

Every effort must be made to ensure that the first impression is a wonderful impression.

Give yourself an assignment. Think about your most recent show and seriously analyze how it started. Hopefully it went well, but is there a way to do it better? Consider the next show you will do and figure out some ways to “amp up” how it will begin. If you are serious about improving your shows, the best place to start is at the beginning!


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