Stage presence can be a mysterious term. We often hear that someone has an "amazing presence." But what does that actually mean?
It's not necessarily being flashy. I've been to enough open mics to know that the guy jumping around on the stage the most doesn't necessarily exude the most presence. (Sometime he exudes the opposite). While a high energy performer can have a great stage presence, a subdued folk singer can command a crowd just as well. Sometimes with an equal or even greater magnitude. So what is this elusive quality?
The term itself gives a clue: presence. Great performers are fully engaged with the moment. Each movement, each sentence carries a sense of fullness. They are not thinking about what to say or what to do or how they are doing it. They are just doing. And that commands a lot of attention.
The funny thing is, though, we are all living in this moment. We're here now -- how could we not be in the moment? But it's not the case that everyone has great presence. In that way, "living in the moment" isn't even that accurate to what it means to be present. It's more about being fully engaged with the moment.
It's important to realize what prevents that engagement: thoughts. Thoughts about the future, thoughts about the past, thoughts about how we are being perceived all take us away from complete engagement with the moment at hand.
Try this: think of a memory. Any memory. Make it a positive memory. Where do your thoughts go? How do you feel when you think this thought? Now, make it a negative memory. Where do your thoughts go? How do you feel when your thoughts go there?
The body responds to the mind's activity as if it's actually happening. We often project our thoughts onto the world, and the body responds to them as if that's what's going on. Now, presence requires a very, very easy, but very, very elusive shift: the body itself informs the thoughts.
Cueing in to physical sensation in the moment can reveal more about how to act and what to say than the thoughts we have. It's a more engaged, responsive way of being. We can be more sensitive to the energy of our audiences. We can be more sensitive to our own expression rather than getting caught in worry about how it's being perceived.
And the body is always present -- even when our thoughts are not. By tuning in to physical sensations, we can immediately bring our engagement into the here and now. When this happens, it can almost seem like a magic shift that an audience cannot necessarily see, but they respond to it.
And this is stage presence. I'll write more next time about how to use the body to cultivate presence. For now, leave a comment -- do you relate to this?