Historically, audiences were seated on flat ground and the theater’s stage was raked on an incline. Downstage was closest to the audience, upstage was further away. To upstage someone has come to mean that I divert attention to me when the focus should be on them. When presenting/speaking, it is only natural to have the audience focus on us for much of the presentation. But can we upstage the message?
Before I answer, consider this recap: I have come to discover that presenting/speaking can be similar to tires in that both can become over-inflated or under-inflated, often resulting in a negative impact. A speaker may over-inflate a presentation with a misguided attitude such as K.I.S.S., forgetting the value of one, or the improv myth. Under-inflating our presentation usually happens through misguided actions by the speaker. Movement without purpose often distracts the audience, thereby under-inflating the impact/potency of the presentation. So, movement is good, unless it's not.
So, back to my original question: Can we upstage the message? Absolutely. Consider what can happen when showing a video.
A video, as part of a presentation, may be a great addition to convey important parts of the overall message. But I can easily under-inflate the impact of the video message when I don’t watch the video with the same focused interest I hope each audience member has. If I show little interest in the video, the audience will conclude it’s not important and will dismiss it themselves. My misguided actions have upstaged/diverted attention away from the message in the video.
Likewise, if I am co-presenting with someone and they're speaking, that is not the time to check my phone! An even more subtle way to upstage my co-presenter than checking my phone is to not consciously direct my focus toward them when he or she is speaking.
Finally, coming back to the original understanding of downstage and upstage: If both presenters are conversing together, be sure to stand in the same plane. Otherwise, you risk upstaging the other person — and the message.
About the Author
Shawn Ritchey is an educator and storyteller who finds great joy in breathing life into each presentation in which he plays a part. The imagery of breathing life is significant as he spent nearly three decades in emergency services as an EMT. Additionally, Shawn spent over 15 years in the wellness industry as a licensed massage therapist, and on individual projects as a safety and health consultant.
As an educator, Shawn specializes in safety and wellness subjects where he blends his EMT and massage therapy experience with his professional theater background to provide energized education you’ll remember. As a corporate storyteller, Shawn can partner with your organization to either reinforce important messages you already have, or provide presentations that will both equip and inspire. As an inspirational storyteller, Shawn offers seasonal or theme-based monologues that will entertain and even encourage viewers to action.
Shawn’s commitment, passion and skillset equip and inspire others to remember what they have learned so a life — theirs or someone else’s — can be improved, made well or kept safe. Contact Shawn directly at (206) 355-9926
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