Sunday, 23 January 2011

Smooth criminals: the power of performance presence

What makes this clip so astounding to watch? 

Is it the quality of filming? The drama and passion the musicians display? Or is it the demonstration of absolute excellence; human performance at its finest and most captivating?

I think we’re all attracted by excellence. We’re inspired by it and motivated to achieve our own best. And have you ever noticed that people onstage seem disproportionately good-looking? Imagine watching a local band gigging at a nearby live music venue, or the pianist playing familiar tunes at a classic city piano bar. As the audience, we’re drawn to the performers; mesmerised by their presence and confident that they’re above average in every way. Then whilst they chat to you after the show you notice their flaws. You realise they’re quite normal looking and seem far less exotic and exciting than when they were wowing the crowd onstage. 

It’s also true for speakers, presenters and sports stars. It might even work for a handful of politicians.

Perhaps the ‘halo effect’ is at work. We overemphasise performers’ positive qualities because of the recognition that they’re on stage at all; that the rest of the room likes and finds them attractive, so we should too. Perhaps it’s because we recognise their talent. And everyone loves to see top talent in action. In 1954, Leon Festinger wrote about social comparison theory, and the fact that we look to others to evaluate how successful we are. When we see greatness, we want to improve our own competence levels to be great.

So how can we all display a bit of stage magic every day? Whether we’re meeting clients or friends, pitching new business or selling an idea, the ability to enthral our audience is sure to reap benefits:

    Whatever you do, do it brilliantly. Build up your skills at work so you’re at the top of your game. And if you’ve got a hobby or outside interest, put the effort into making yourself great.

    Seek feedback along the way, so you know it’s not just in your own opinion that you’re good. Then find ways to show people your excellence. You’ve put all that time in; now reveal to the world how skilled you are. An online presence through Twitter and blogs is a great way to build up a following.

    At work you might not get too many opportunities to hop on stage and start playing an instrument. So we need to find other ways of getting people to like and value us. One is building up our skills. The second is by bubbling over with excitement, energy and valuable comments so that your audience is hooked on every word.

    How to get there? Easy. Be interested and interesting. Read up on your subject so you’ve always got an interesting fact or current bit of insight to drop into the conversation. And ask a continuous string of perceptive questions to show the people you’re with that you care about what they have to say.
And just in case you’re still not sure what I mean, no one can forget Susan Boyle’s infamous audition on Britain’s Got Talent. No matter what the journey’s been since, she wowed her audience for all the right reasons; her talent.  

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