Issue 12 of The Art of Keynoting
One of the most important speaking lessons I ever got was from a theatre director. He was Russian-born and Soviet-trained, old-school and proud, and once after having seen me perform he came up and said “You know, the stage is much bigger than you think it is.”
I didn’t understand him at first, and assumed he meant I should use more of the stage, something event-organizers and camera-men often hate due to concerns with lighting and viewing angles. But no, he had something else in mind. He explained that the key thing people misunderstand about the stage is that they think they're very visible. It’s understandable to think that when you’re alone on stage, with everyone looking at you, you should temper your performance – smaller movements, more careful gestures.
Yet the opposite is true. Captured in the middle of tons of empty space, you become very small indeed. Rather than tempering your movements, you should amplify them. A sweep of the arm that would look huge in conversation, will look small in the middle of a huge stage, so take it up a notch. A meaningful prod with your finger can become unintelligible by people not seeing it clearly enough, so when you point, you have to really point.
You may feel that everyone has their eyes on you while you’re on stage, but what you need to understand is that this doesn’t mean they can see you all that clearly. So you have to act up, take up more space, make your gestures far more pronounced. You're not being an arrogant peacock, you're helping the audience to see and to feel.
There's no movement you can make that would hide the fact that the stage is far bigger, so gesticulate with pride, and grace, and sweep. You've been given a stage, use it. Take strides, not baby steps. If you need to jump, jump. The stage can take it. All that will happen is that the audience will have a better chance to see what you're trying to say and do and communicate, and that is a good thing.