Tried & Tested Stage Presence Techniques
"I didn’t truly feel comfortable with my stage presence until I was able to tour my own music." - Caroline Kingsbury
Your knees are shaking, along with the cold sweats. Your throat is suddenly very dry, your sense of balance is off. In your head a sing-song voice blares “Oh shit what are the words to this song, I guess I’ll just make it up.” You thrust yourself onto the stage where the lights are hot and the crowd is indifferent. Now what?
Hi, I am Caroline Kingsbury, world renowned (nope) recording artist and performer, and I am here today to teach you my tried and tested stage performance techniques. You probably think this is an infomercial...
I first learnt how important stage presence is in front of the TV watching American Idol with my mom. We were ruthless judges - critiquing every single move and eye twitch of the contestants, discussing what they could have done better or different. You could say we were the Simon’s of our household but we really just loved when a contestant could sing the freaking phone book.
Once I realized I could sing and my mom forced me to go to singing lessons in middle school, I received conflicting stage performance tips from the few teachers I rotated through in my small Florida town. “Don’t look anyone in the eye.” “Don’t gyrate your hips, you will look like a stripper.” “Cross your legs while playing guitar so you don’t give the wrong impression.”
However, when I think about my stage performance techniques today, I ignore all of that advice. After coming out as Queer, I felt a lot more freedom to be expressive on stage. However, I didn’t truly feel comfortable with my stage presence until I was able to tour my own music in 2019. Nowadays I perform pop/rock music twinged with punk and 80’s new wave influences.
The best advice I have ever received in regards to my music career is "fake it till you make it, and when you make it, fake it again."
Music careers are like Shakespearean tragedies - full of ups and downs and moments that make you swoon and cry. Perfecting your stage presence will not be an easy ride, but if you view it as a performance of presence rather than an 'exposé of the soul where you have to be so incredibly present and peaceful all the time,' you might be able to develop a healthy relationship with it.
5 Tips For Great Stage Presence
Who are some artists that make you excited, old or new? David Bowie? Beyonce? Tupac? Selena? Olivia Rodrigo? Watch some of their performances. You can absolutely copy some of their body language as long as it’s not super obvious. Watching performances of artists that make you excited will stir up some ideas for your own artist persona.
Practice unfortunately makes perfect. Think through your set, where you will stand, how you will move on the stage, take into consideration how big the stage is - you don’t want to fall off but if that’s part of your performance I applaud you. Practice enough so you don’t have to think about what comes next. That will help you be more 'present.'
Move your body in ways you normally wouldn’t on stage. Make faces you normally wouldn’t. Gyrate your hips like a stripper until you feel all loosened up. Then make a general plan of where you will be moving on the stage. Having a general plan will help you feel prepared when you step out. From there, let the moment take you. Choreographing movement is also helpful depending on what kind of performer you are, but most of the time a general plan works.
Please stop caring so much what you look like. Put on an outfit that you feel amazing in and then stop caring from that point. Some of the best performers in my mind (Elvis, Billie Holiday, Prince, Freddie Mercury) enveloped the character of themselves on stage and left the fear of judgement off stage. We love watching them because they don’t care what you think. They are themselves, the performance character of themselves, that we want to watch do literally anything.
The gender binary is so over. Even if you identify as a 'man or woman', you don’t have to be the world accepted stereotypes of those genders on stage. On stage you are free. It’s your moment, be expressive in the ways that feel right. Your gender performance on stage is yours and yours alone. If you are typically masculine presenting in your normal life, you can completely shed that and wear a dress like Kurt Cobain did. I used to stress so much over how people would perceive me on stage, and that really held me back from just presenting the way that felt right. Wear crazy makeup. Don’t wear makeup. Wear the elaborate costume. Just wear a bra and stockings. Whatever feels right is what is ultimately going to make you a better performer.
Good stage presence is not about impressing people from the stage. Yes it’s about your wardrobe, hair, makeup, attitude and sound, but most importantly, it’s about belief.
Does the audience believe what you’re singing, saying, rapping or screaming? Are you embracing your artist persona as if you have 10 oscars? That’s where the faking comes into play.
Even if you are the most sincere folk singer around, you are performing. You are essentially a character of your sincere little self. Having a great stage presence means faking it till you make it, preparation, and allowing yourself to be who you are in front of people.
Now get out there, ignore the indifference of the crowd, and give them the best damn show they’ve ever seen.
You can read more from Caroline Kingsbury here.