I always tell my students and clients that there's truly nothing more important than being a great performer. Your talent can be mediocre. Your looks can be average. Even your music can be so-so. But your performance has to be electric if you want to get noticed and engage your audience.
Stage presence can be innate, and luckily for most of us, it can also be taught. Not everyone comes out of the womb with the ability to woo thousands of people with a single hip shake or bring an audience to tears with poetically profound lyrics. Understanding what it is that your audience is looking for and learning how to embody that and fully engage them from beginning to end is truly what defines great stage presence. Think of all the incredible performers you know. They all have that "X-factor" in their stage presence, which makes them memorable and successful in what they do.
Though there are a ton of factors that contribute to being a powerhouse performer, here are five tips that you can put into effect right now to enhance your stage presence.
1. Realize that it’s not all about you anymore
As artists, we all have some level of narcissism. I mean, you’ve really got to have some screws loose to be in love with showing your most vulnerable side to millions of people and hoping that they'll like you enough to pull out their wallets and pay money to witness your talent night after night. But it’s not about you anymore. In fact, you're the last person who matters when you're up on that stage.
From the second that spotlight shines down on you, it’s all about your audience and how you make them feel. What can you do to bring their innermost emotions to life with your sound? What can you awaken inside them with an honest performance through a lyrical portrayal of your genuine life experiences? What can you physically do to make sure that their eyes don’t come off of you for a second, even in a society polluted with handheld technological gadgets? It's your responsibility as a performer to give your audience the gift of transporting them somewhere else for the full three minutes and 32 seconds of your song.
2. Make sure your audience feels safe
Above all else, your audience must feel free to enjoy the artistry they're witnessing. No one wants to watch someone else squirm, drowning in their own insecurities. Think about the embarrassing audition rounds of all of those TV talent competition shows. Of course, there are the absurdly bad, funny auditions where the people are just purely delusional, but that’s not who I’m talking about here. I’m referring to the people that are trying so hard but just can't seem to get out of their own heads and end up physically embodying their nervous energy. That's uncomfortable to witness, even from your couch at home. Your audience doesn’t want to go through that struggle with you; they want to be entertained. Give them a show that is thoughtful and well-rehearsed for them to enjoy.
3. Give the people what they want
People don’t flip the channel or spend their hard-earned money for great seats at a concert to see something they can view at a middle school talent show. Great performers don't second-guess their performances or let their nerves take over; they know what the audience wants, and are damn well ready to give it to them. You need to outwardly love what you do and feel the music in your body. You need to flaunt the talent you’ve worked years and years to hone and show off that perfected mic stand trick, funky dance move, or upside-down and backwards guitar lick you’ve been practicing for months. Give the people what they came to see and then some.
4. Don’t tiptoe – leap out of your comfort zone
Good stage presence is always marked by confidence – and the only way someone gains confidence is from hard work, experience, and positive reinforcement. A good performer knows his or her weaknesses, quickly identifies them, and takes the necessary steps to improve those areas. No one is perfect, but capitalizing on your strengths and constantly working on improving your weaker areas defines an ever-evolving, true talent with staying power. Sign up for those private lessons you’ve been meaning to take, perform at that open mic you’ve been "too busy" for, or take that dance class to learn how to be more fluid in your movements. Whatever it is for you, get out of your comfort zone so you can build the confidence you need to bring into your stage performance.
5. Find your inner "Sasha Fierce"
We all have a part of ourselves that we wish would come out to play all the time. I call mine my "inner Beyoncé," and Beyoncé calls hers her "Sasha Fierce." You know what I’m talking about – that strong, confident, no-nonsense side of you that is fierce and fearless in your performance and life. And that's who people want to pay money to come out to see in concert over and over again. Find out what it is that makes you special and unique, that brings out the creative artist in you. Your performer persona and everyday persona don’t necessarily need to be one in the same, but they each need to know when it’s the other's turn to shine.
So get out of your own way, remember you can never be too prepared, understand that the learning process never stops for a professional, and embrace the special opportunities you get as an artist to share your talents and gifts with the world!
Christine Occhino is the founder and artistic director of The Pop Music Academy and has experience working at Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, in addition to working as a performing artist for over a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in music business & management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and vocal performance from Berklee College of Music, where she was a vocal scholarship recipient and former editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove.