(Or Lessons in Peak Performance from an Italian Waiter)
While dining in a rooftop restaurant in Venice, Italy, I was struck by our waiter’s commitment to providing us with a memorable, meaningful dining experience. “Giacomo” made sure to provide every little thing we needed—from changes of silverware between each course, to finger-bowls with lemon after we’d dug into our mussels and clams appetizer. And he plated and served our food with the kind of focus and dramatic flair reserved for top-level magicians or performing artists. As I watched him lovingly twirl a pyramid of pasta onto my plate, and meticulously dress it with the tasty dregs of sauce remaining in its copper serving dish, I thought “this waiter is honoring his version of the Sacred Stage.”
The sacred stage is the playing field, arena, or stage in—or on—which you perform. For our waiter, the dining room floor is his stage, and the diners are his audience. For you as a speaker, the space in–or on–which you deliver your message (a boardroom, a platform in a hotel ballroom, the area at the front of a classroom, the stage in a proscenium theater) is your sacred stage, and the folks in the seats (whether they are sitting a conference table or in a darkened theater) are your audience. As a speaker, your job is to honor the sacred stage by doing two things fully and well: Being prepared, and being focused (or “concentrated,” as my NYC acting teacher, Michael Howard used to term it).
For a speaker, being prepared means several things: Creating and thoroughly rehearsing your speech or presentation; making sure the space in which you’re presenting is arranged to your liking; doing a thorough audio-visual check long before the audience arrives; checking that your props and notes are in place; and engaging in a few pre-show rituals and routines (e.g. deep breathing, positive self-talk) that help calm and center you before you step into the spotlight.
Being focused means staying completely in the moment–breathing, listening and feeling—in a relaxed body. It also means concentrating on developing and maintaining that special connection between you and the members of your audience. And it means not letting yourself get distracted or pulled off course, so you can deliver your message as you intended.
As a speaker, how well do you honor the sacred stage? Are you as prepared and focused as you could be? What more could you do to prepare yourself, or to focus more effectively when delivering your speech? How willing are you to do what it takes to honor the sacred stage in the name of delivering an optimal performance?
It was obvious that Giacomo was willing to honor the sacred stage with every ounce of his being when he grated a cloud of Parmigiano-Reggiano onto our plates of pasta with the flourish of a Flamenco dancer, and then gave it a dramatic dusting of freshly ground pepper from a four-foot long wooden peppermill. We oohed-and-ahed, took pictures (see above) and parked the memory of that special dining experience–and Giacomo’s magnetic performance–in the “special moments” files in our brains.…just as you hope your audience might do when you deliver your presentation.
Because as Giacomo understood, when you honor the sacred stage, you honor your audience–whether you’re dishing up succulent pasta to a table-full of diners, or delivering a delicious presentation to a roomful of audience members.