July 12, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight
How To Command an Audience: Tips From a Spoken-Word Poet
There are a number of myths surrounding public performance that spoken-word poet and co-founder of Project Voice Sarah Kay helps to dispel. Perhaps the chief myth is that you can’t both be nervous and enjoy the experience of public speaking. In reality, being nervous is an inevitable part of the experience, but understanding why the audience came to see you — they just want to have fun — can help conquer your fear. Kay has plenty of tips and tricks that will make you feel more comfortable on stage and in the process of preparing your performance or speech.
Watch Sarah explain how she speaks on-stage here.
Some artists try to zone out while they’re performing. Perhaps because it is strange to be the spectacle, to know that everyone in the room has their eyes on them, ears on them, hoping they’ll be great but squinting hard to catch mistakes. It’s easier to go through a speech imagining all the audience in their underwear, just as embarrassed and ashamed. But it’s not better.
Button Poetry alumni Jesse Parent and Neil Hilborn stay similarly attuned to their audience. They can tell when the audience is getting sucked in. Jesse Parent listens to the laughter in the audience, and holds off on continuing his poetry until it dies down, reacting to the whoops and cheers of the people listening.
It’s such moments that capture something deeply mesmerizing: honesty. Kay thinks those unplanned moments are when the truth comes out. When an accident happens on stage, it’s the most authentic and real thing about the whole show. That’s the moment of connection between the watcher and the speaker. It’s the speaker’s job to create an experience for every member in the audience, and while this can be incredibly hard, especially as Kay recalls performing for 3000 people, it isn’t impossible. But to do it, you can’t imagine your audience isn’t there, and can’t pretend they’re too busy being humiliated in their underwear to be paying attention. They are looking at you. Face it. Smile back.
Kay refines her performances by listening and paying attention to every person in the audience. As Jesse Parent holds up his hand to acknowledge the people in the audience, Kay remarks on the person in the red sweater and jokes on their surroundings or the news of the day to show everyone that this is a moment, not just a speech.