Speeches: Stage Acting Vs. Screen Acting

Next time you see a play in a large theater, pay attention to the actors. You may notice that they use big movements, sweeping gestures, and an energetic vocal delivery.

Next time you watch a suspenseful movie, you’ll probably notice the opposite. The actors are probably using small, subtle expressions to communicate their inner thoughts. Sometimes, a well-timed twitch of an eyebrow is all it takes to terrify a movie audience. 

The same differences between stage and screen play out in everyday speeches and business presentations – and you can up your game as a speaker by knowing how to adjust your performance to account for the different types of acting.

Large Audiences: Generally speaking, the larger the audience, the larger the movements and gestures. If you’re speaking to a crowd of 500 people, you can’t rely on subtle facial expressions to make your point. Except for the people in the front rows, no one will see them – so the format demands that you make your key points in more obvious ways.

That means that like a stage actor, your performance has to be “bigger” than it would be in everyday life. Use big, sweeping gestures, more exaggerated movements, and a greater emphasis on vocal variety.

Small Audiences: For smaller crowds, use smaller gestures, less exaggerated movements, and more nuanced facial expressions. Since everyone in the audience can see you well, your “screen” acting will effectively reach everybody in the room.

Large Audience With Video: My clients often ask what they should do when speaking to a large audience of hundreds, but when live video of their talk is simultaneously being shown on big screens on each side of the stage. In that situation, embrace the middle ground. That way, your gestures won’t be too big or too small, and your performance will look just about right to everyone in the audience – regardless of whether they’re looking at you or the video monitors.

Okay, I admit it. I’m courting you. Instead of flowers and a small (but unintimidating) gift, I’m using blog stories to win your heart. So if you like my blog, would you please respond to my humble gestures by following our tweets? I’m at @MrMediaTraining. 

Related: How to Write For a Speech, Not For The Page

Related: The Five Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes