Stage Presence: What It Is, Why It Matters

Venetian Carnival Mask on Stage Floor

To engage your audience, drop your mask.

The last college acting course I took in my senior year was called “Acting Styles” and it was taught by James Parker, whom we all called “Parkie” (even the overly-intimidated freshman baby actors).

Parkie’s primary role during our eight (or so) yearly productions was to design & create the costumes, though he occasionally took the stage himself (Polonius in Hamlet, I recall…)

So why was a costume designer teaching a senior level acting class?

Well, besides the fact that he was (still is, I have no doubt) pretty fabulous at everything he did, Parkie also taught another class in the theater curriculum called “Visual Styles.”

In VS, we gathered in a small room on the second floor of the college library and watched slides and took notes in the dark from Parkie’s seamless narration. VS was about identifying the styles that evolved throughout history in art, architecture, and decorative arts.

An unsuspecting student might have been lulled by the sonorous setting and the effortless lecture into thinking it was an easy A class. That student would have been so, so wrong. Parkie’s final exam was freaking brutal.

So back to Acting Styles.

This was the acting counterpart to VS. In AS, a much smaller group of us (ten or so, I think?) started with masks and robes at the bottom of the huge theater parking lot working on monologues and scenes from the Ancient Greeks. Then we progressed on to medieval morality plays and then to Shakespeare and … well, you get the drift.

All of that is just the setup to the real story, which begins now:

Getting Schooled

Parkie’s syllabus required all of the AS students to keep a journal, which we had to turn in periodically to be read and checked. And it was during one assignment, while I was watching another female student who was a year behind me perform a scene from Moliere (I think?) that I wrote an entry that went something like this:

G. is effortless. She just is. It’s stage presence, I think. You just have to watch her.¬†And I feel awful for thinking this but this is truly what I’m feeling right now: stone-cold envy. Why can’t I have that effortless presence? It’s always such hard work for me, and even when I nail it, I don’t feel like I have whatever that is that G’s got. What is it? How do you get it?

I admit, I wrote it almost in a trance, ¬†never once thinking “Hmm, Parkie’s gonna see this…”

And sure as hell, the acerbic, blunt, and oh-so-true response came written in red ink in the margins of that page, the next time Parkie gave us back our journals, something like this:

Audiences are compelled to watch performers who are completely in the moment and aren’t thinking about things like stage presence.


And damn.

And sigh.

Ouch — ’cause it hurt.

Damn — ’cause it was that kind of quick and easy brilliance that just makes you go “Damn.”

And sigh — ’cause he was right.

That’s the kind of lesson that will stick with you right through 90-plus performances of an outdoor drama or a pinch-hit sub job for an out-of-town actor in a dinner theater production of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? or even a national tour for six-year-olds of Paddington Bear. (Shut up. I played the daughter. It’s how I got my Equity card.)

So what the hell does all of that have to do with marketing, anyway?

Good question.

Stage Presence Marketing

The more I work with solo biz owners in marketing their services and goods online, the more clearly I see how, in many respects, it’s just theater.

You’re the performer. Your market is your audience. Your website, your social media accounts and your interaction with your prospects — that’s your stage.

And the script? Well — that’s your content, and also your marketing plan.

You do have a plan, don’t you? If you don’t, drop me a line. That’s what I do best.

And stage presence is your ability to command that most precious commodity your prospects and readers bring to the exchange: their attention.

Just as G. did in that scene from Moliere, if you want your audience’s attention, you have to believe wholly and fervently in the part you play. You have to be solidly grounded in the moment. You have to take your stage confidently, and deliver the goods with a complete and whole-hearted belief in its value.

In your value.

And if you’re not getting the results you need and want, and your business isn’t growing despite your best efforts to put out all that great content, then there’s a problem somewhere in the production line:

  • Your website
  • Your content
  • Your delivery of that content

Solo business professionals are engaged in a monologue, until they can convince an audience member to jump on stage with them and make it a dialogue. You are your brand, and that brand must convince your audience you are a trustworthy expert in your field, if you want to convert them into customers or clients.

And a sense of theater — an eye for story-telling — a little attention to the details or the production as a whole — these things can radically ramp up your marketing success.

This is Stage Presence’s “why.” This is why I’m here on this site, and why I believe in the services I provide. And it’s why you can succeed at this marketing thing, because as even five minutes with any child will prove to you, we all have that theatrical streak inside.

You just have to learn how let it out in a controlled and strategic way.

In other words: you have to direct the play.



Photo credit: Haak78

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