Stage presence is the core variable that determines if someone will spread the good word about your performance after the show, or tell their buddies not to bother next time you're in town.
"The band was really sucking that night and I don't even like that genre of music, but man, the vocalist was the most enthusiastic and funny person ever. It's worth seeing them just to watch this guy be a maniac on stage!"
If your stage presence is impeccable, you can weather any unforeseen mishaps and convert countless people into fans. This applies to rock bands, a single violinist in a large orchestra, a solo slam poet, a comedian, and anyone else that stands up in front of an audience of any size.
Of course, you can't apply all of these suggestions if you have an assigned seat in an orchestra, but otherwise if you have freedom of movement then you need to be exercising every tactic you can to your benefit. And we have everything you need below.
Obviously you're going to practice, study the greats and their star power, and try to emulate their charisma and charm, but that still doesn't tell you exactly how to command the audience. Let's break down exactly what stage presence is and then jump right into the 13 stage performance tips.
What is Stage Presence?
Stage presence is the ability of a performer to capture and command the attention of an audience, directing and controlling that attention by being impressive in one's visual appearance, body language, charismatic speech, and general mannerisms.
This can be achieved through eloquence like a politician, respect and intimidation like a military leader, humor and silliness like a comedian, authenticity like an author reading a new story, or by being the biggest personality in the room like a rock star performing on stage.
How to Have Good Stage Presence
We're here to talk about how to develop stage presence. Everyone already has a presence whether good or bad, so the task is really that of learning how to improve stage presence. The following 13 stage performance tips are all you need.
Taking these tips and expanding upon them in your own way is what will give you confidence and make your performance authentic. Being real is how you get through into people's hearts, but that also needs to have layers on top of it that make you seem bigger and better than the common person.
You'll develop your own cool things to do on stage while performing, and they'll all fit into the framework below. So take your time, take notes, write down ideas, and get ready to up your game to the next level.
#1 - Project the Most Idealized Version of Yourself
What I mean by this is that you first need to know who you are and what makes you unique. Once you identify that, then you can create a fantasy version of yourself in your head, but it still has to fit into reality. It has to be natural to be authentic, otherwise people will spot you're being a fake. Don't do that.
If you're not funny at all, your idealized version of yourself can't be the funniest guy ever. But that doesn't mean you can't tell purposefully bad jokes in between songs. If you deliver them right, that in itself will be extremely entertaining.
Notice the word "project." That means that you don't necessarily have to buy into your own delusion, but you can still outwardly show these qualities that you wish you had to the crowd. They'll believe it, and in time you will actually gain these qualities and come to believe it too.
What will happen is your self-esteem and confidence will sky rocket, which will lead to you being relaxed and comfortable on stage. And when that happens, magic will occur. You'll start to think on your toes, be witty, and find tons of opportunities to add extra flair to your shows. Your real persona will become your stage persona over time.
#2 - Mind Your Posture & Body Language
Out of all the things you're actively doing on stage, that only controls about 50% of what other people think of you. The other 50% is unspoken and comes from your body language. That means you can't stand there like a statue behind your instrument or the mic stand. You need to be moving to the music.
Whatever you do, the audience will be drawn to do the same. So if you're enjoying your own performance, so will they. You need to be showing their subconscious minds that you're the real deal and deserving of their focus. And that will only happen if you're truly enjoying yourself and confident.
You can force this to occur until it happens by itself. You should stand up straight, make eye contact with people, and speak or sing forcefully. Stand with your shoulders back and down, head held high, chest out, and stand with your legs at least shoulder width apart if not more.
Don't fidget about. Don't cross your arms. Don't sit down. Anything that you see other people do when they're uncomfortable, nervous, and self-conscious are all of the things you want to stay as far away from as possible.
All of this shows dominance and confidence. And without those two characteristics, nobody is going to want to look at you, let alone for an hour or more straight. You must be the alpha in the room that everyone would be watching even if they weren't in the spotlight.
#3 - Work the Whole Stage & All Sides of the Crowd
If you're telling a story to a group of five acquaintances and you keep ignoring one of them, guess what happens? They'll pull out their phone, go to the bathroom, start whispering to someone else, etc. You have to keep everyone engaged, and there's a way to do that.
First and foremost you should be taking up as much space as possible. That shows that you own the entire room. It is yours to do as you wish in, where you can move about freely.
On stage, that means "working the whole stage." In your mind, cut the stage up into parts. On a small stage that may be three sections or in a big theater that could mean there's five sections.
The point is, you need to be moving through these sections and stopping in them. And when you do, you'll engage that portion of the audience. Look at and sing towards the people in the front.
Then engage those in the middle, and finally those furthest back and in the balcony. Don't leave anyone out. Rotate through these sections of the stage and crowd constantly.
Get crazy, depending on the energy level of the show. You can jump on the speaker monitors, squat down and give the crowd high fives, and even hop down off the stage and run up and down the aisles. Try different things and if they go over well, add them to your repertoire.
#4 - Involve the Audience in Your Performance
Just because you're moving around the parts of the stage and looking at the various parts of the audience doesn't meant they're involved. They might be engaged, but not involved. You need to find ways to make your performance feel like a group effort.
Simple things to do would be to get them to clap along during certain songs. At other times you can point the microphone at the crowd during a simple chorus and let them sing it instead.
If you have a super fan that knows the lyrics, you can invite them on stage to sing a verse. Between songs you can comment on the crowd's energy, compliment how kind and nice the city is, etc.
Bigger things you can do is create a battle between the sections of the audience and see who can chant some phrase louder. You can invite several people on stage to perform air guitar solos and make the sounds with their mouths into the mic.
You can even invite people up to beatbox and create melodies, basically improvising a song on the spot. Then the band can perform it.
You have to be creative, but there's tons of cool things you do on stage to involve the audience. Don't think of it as "there's me and then there's the crowd." Think of the entire room as "us" and tune into the overall energy and raise it.
#5 - Don't Allow Silence - Use Skits, Jokes, Stories, & Timing
While all stage shows include visuals, the dominant sense to engage is hearing. If sounds are happening then we know we should be paying attention. As soon as you stop making noise, you start losing audience members to boredom and distraction.
So the rule is to not allow silence. But how do you do that? You need to fill every gap, and that's usually between songs in the context of musicians on stage. Think about when you've been in the crowd of a show. Nothing is more boring than hearing song after song with nothing else happening.
A lot of this needs preparation and coordination before you get on stage, but you can create skits and jokes that require multiple band members to execute. Interspersing these is great, but need to be rare.
Maybe two or three quick skits per show, maximum, or it'll become cheesy. You can also tell jokes between songs as your bandmates tune their instruments or grab some water.
And of course you can tell stories. Funny or interesting things that have happened to you on tour are perfect. You can tell the origin stories of some of your songs, the meaning of the lyrics, etc.
You can make up something ridiculous and then inform the crowd that you made all that up on the spot. Have fun with it. Goodhearted banter works too but be careful, you have to pull this off just right or you'll offend someone.
If you know you're going to go right into the next song without any downtime, give the audience time to clap for you. But as soon as you hear the volume of the clapping dying down, start the next song. Don't allow silence to occur!
#6 - Make It Personal for Various Fans
I mentioned earlier about giving fans high-fives, inviting some up to sing or to have an air guitar contest, etc. You have to make it become personal for a handful of people at the event. You can't do this for everyone but everyone will go home and tell the story about the other lucky people.
Making eye contact is huge and easy to do non-stop from on the stage. You can do things like ask the crowd to raise their hands if they've ever done something you enjoy (just make it make sense in context of the show). Then ask a couple what it is they like about that activity.
The point is to single out a few people (who look like they're willing and not introverted) and elevate them to a level in between "general audience" and "musicians on stage." This creates a sense of tension and urging to join that next higher level up, which keeps the eager audience engaged.
If you have time afterwards, walk through the crowd and shake some hands, take some pictures, and give autographs.
It doesn't take much to turn a first-time show-goer into a fan, or to turn a normal fan into a super fan that becomes a brand disciple. If one person has an extra special time, everyone will understand that and they'll all feel they had a better time.
#7 - Look Fashionably Larger Than Life
There's not a lot to say here. You know what it means. Although you can, you don't have to go into a full costume and face paint like KISS or the Insane Clown Posse. But you do need to look larger than life, which will match your amazing charisma.
This might mean hiring a fashion designer to help out, but what it doesn't mean is that you can wear your normal clothes on stage. If you look normal, you'll set the expectation that you sound normal and create a normal experience.
And even if you rock the house, the audience's mind will trick them into thinking you're normal. Dress big! Look special and abnormal, something the crowd recognizes as out of the ordinary.
Create a big look that is appropriate for your genre and those fan's expectations. Then take it a notch higher. It's also good if you can have one unique thing about your appearance that you can exploit in band photos, on album covers, and during each show.
Remember, the entire thing about commanding an audience's attention is to be more important and exciting than them and everyone else in the room. The way you look is a huge part of your stage presence, so put in some real effort. It will cost money and you might feel stupid to a certain degree, but it's a must.
#8 - Show High Energy Even in the Small Things
You can't plan to have high energy during certain "shticks" you do on stage. You either have it or don't and it will show. Every single thing you do needs to scream excitement.
When you first hit the stage, applaud the crowd, point at them, say "What's up, Town-I'm-In! Thanks for coming out, are you ready to rock?!"
Something as small as your entry on the stage can be exciting. Let's say you accidentally drop the mic at some point. You could go as far as to back up a few steps and then pick it up as you do a cartwheel. The crowd would go nuts.
Anything and everything that happens, no matter how minuscule, can become an unforgettable moment. Draw as much attention to yourself as possible, even during mishaps.
The currency you're concerned with is attention. That's what stage presence is. The crowd shouldn't dare look away in case they miss something cool, even in the tiniest of moments.
#9 - Record & Watch Yourself to Find Strengths & Weaknesses
Have some one record your shows once in a while so you can review the footage at home. Your goal is to watch yourself and at the same time be taking note of how the audience is reacting.
What did they like or dislike? When did you start losing their attention? How are the transitions between songs going?
Watch to find out what your strengths are so you can play into them. Find out what your weaknesses are so you can either improve them or avoid those scenarios.
Your goal is to become a super human on stage, where everything you do or say places you on a tier above a mere mortal. And this takes work and study.
In addition to watching yourself, you should be watching the greats. Watch rock band performances, watch professional wrestlers talk smack to each other, watch comedians, and even watch business leaders give lectures on stage.
But don't watch their show. Keep your mind at a meta-level and watch how they perform. Take notes and apply it to your own style.
#10 - Never Do or Say Anything Negative, Ever
This is huge. Never trash an audience member or another musician, no matter what's happening. Someone will take offense or you'll slip up and your sarcasm won't go over well. Just don't do it. Everything must be all positivity all the time.
One reason is that these moments are never forgotten. And that's doubly worse in the modern age because it will undoubtedly be caught on video and audio, hit the internet, and spread far and wide damaging your brand and reputation.
What you do want to do is be caught on tape constantly being kind, positive, and doing so with the most authenticity possible. Never chastise, insult, or even make silly negative jokes. Don't even make self-deprecating jokes. Keep it 100% positive, always.
If you want to know how to start a band, the most important thing is to find bandmates that can follow this philosophy, between themselves, their family and friends, and their fans. It only takes one bad moment to ruin an entire career.
#11 - Don't Self-Reflect on Your Stage Presence As It's Happening
It is absolutely impossible to give a speech or have a flowing conversation if you're using your meta-cognition to review your performance as it's happening. And the same goes for a stage show.
If you second-guess or start moping about because you did something that disappoints you, that will poison the rest of the show. And it will completely throw you off your game.
Always wait until the show is over to reflect on your performance. Never do it during set breaks, while you're on stage, between songs, etc. Stay fully engaged in delivering your performance.
Remember, it's not about you. You're the primary point of focus, but it's about the audience. Save the self-pity or even self-congratulatory nonsense for later. If you flub something, ignore it or turn it into a joke, then keep going.
If you lose yourself to that, you'll lose the crowd too and worse, you'll break the illusion that you're a super star. You'll expose the fact that you're just another human being, and that's not why anyone came to see you. They're paying you to give them hope and joy, not remind them that even you are susceptible to self-doubt.
#12 - Never Announce You Feel Nervous or Confused
This is wrapped up in the point above but is so important it needs to be stated separately. So many people will come out on stage and say something like "I'm pretty nervous so please bare with me."
No, don't do that. It doesn't lessen anyone's expectations or relieve you of the responsibility of not being nervous. It just makes you look weak.
Your audience is tuned into you and your internal state while they watch you, dreaming of being you, and enjoying your music. If you expose yourself as being nervous, which a lot of people will do as an ice breaker, you'll ruin the fantasy that you're worth giving attention to.
As you continue to perform that night, the nervousness will pass within minutes. And as you continue your career, you'll stop having stage fright altogether. It's perfectly normal and everyone in the crowd experiences it, so there's no need to announce it.
If you don't announce your anxiety, very few people might even notice it. Just get on with the show, because the show must go on regardless. You're supposed to be nervous, because you're busting out of your comfort zone, and that should give you confidence in itself. It's an amazing thing to do that few people ever do in their entire life.
#13 - Having Fun is Being Authentic
I save this one for last and while you probably think it goes without saying, the most important thing you can do is have fun. People want to be around the person that's having fun. Laugh, dance, act goofy, say goofy things and do it confidently. If you have fun, so will the crowd. It's as simple as that.
And while you're being larger than life for the sake of the audience, that's still your life so make sure your personality shines through. Your performance has to feel real, and for that to occur it has to be real. And there's no better way to cut through the games and hit the genuine, authentic level than to make sure you're just out there having fun.
This will draw the audience into your world rather than you being sucked into theirs (meaning you start to become nervous). And if they're in your world, then you run the show and have their attention.
And that's what stage presence is. It's your world and they came to see you and even opened up their wallets for you. Be confident and have fun.
Your Stage Presence Will Improve With Practice!
Like I said before, nobody starts at ground zero. Everyone already has a stage presence and the task is improving it so it not only doesn't suck but blasts your career into the next level. The real goal is to make sure people enjoy being in your presence while you're the center of attention.
The 13 tips above are really rules. Everything else falls within one of those categories, and it is your job to practice and experiment so you can flesh out this framework and make it your own. It will take time for you to become comfortable, but once you do you'll have impeccable stage presence.