Don’t let a poor stage attitude hold you back from getting the placings your physique deserves
DR. ANDREW CHAPPELL BSC (HONS), MSC, PHD, ANUTR (SPORT/EXERCISE): WNBF PRO NATURAL BODYBUILDER, JUDGE, COACH AND POSING COACH
if you want to connect with the audience and get on the good side of judges then aim to project a humble, open, approachable, confident, sporting and genuinely aurora.
Whenever I work with clients on posing, I always talk about the importance of stage presentation and confidence. The ones that aren’t confident, I try to teach them to fake it until they make it e.g. Look confident, even if you are nervous. I explain that bodybuilding is a combination of: sport, art, and entertainment. They should consider themselves as a performer rather than as simply a competitor. The greatest bodybuilder of them all, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the embodiment of the performer. As were all the great posers: Frank Zane, Ed Corney, Lee Labrada, Bob Paris, Lee Priest, Shawn Ray, Melvin Anthony.
The greats all understood human psychology, and how their demeanour could positively or negatively impact their placing. They understood how to use non-verbal ques to connect with the audience, e.g. facial expressions, posture, eye gaze. Now, some people are better at reading facial expressions than other, but humans are incredibly perceptive creatures, and you don’t have to be a professional poker player to tell what’s going on in someone’s head.
We are all hardwired to detect different facial expressions, and at the most basic level these signals tell us if we should approach, or avoid another human (e.g. is this a friend or foe).
Picture the following scenario, you walk down the street past three strangers: the first stranger scowls at you, the second stranger smiles, and the third has a blank expression. Which of the three strangers would you most want to meet for a coffee later? We are all hardwired to detect different facial expressions, and at the most basic level these signals tell us if we should approach, or avoid another human (e.g. is this a friend or foe). Moreover, it is for this reason that drama/dance performance schools teach their students the importance of non-verbal ques to convey emotions and connect with their audience.
Human behaviour is guided by these, and non-verbal ques, as they provide us with vital clues about how a person is feeling and what their intentions might be. Considering the example above, our eyes detect the facial pattern, posture, eye movements and signals are sent to the brain for processing. These signals go to both the amygdala as well as the prefrontal cortex in the brain. The former, a more primitive part of the brain is responsible for instant reactions like fight or flight responses, while the latter is involved in more complex processing. The division of these signals allows us to rapidly detect potential threats and respond. For example, if there is an element of danger, your amygdala may stimulate release of adrenaline causing your body to mobilise fuel stores and raise your heart rate in anticipation of danger; while the processing part is trying to work out the intentions of the stranger. This all happens automatically and using MRI, PET scanners and electromyographics scientists can detect activity in different regions of the brain that response to facial expressions associated with trust, disgust, ambivalence and pain. Curiously when we detect someone in pain, the same regions of the brain are activated in response, just like when your embarrassed on someone else behalf.
People can usually pick out smiles which are genuine and express humour, enjoyment and authentic happiness, compared to the arrogant side of the mouth smiles, or the rye disappointed smile.
Eye contact is another interesting social que and gazing with neutral and smiling expression can be perceived as either positive or negative. Scientists have coined terms such as “live” persons to characterise individuals who make eye contact and those who show interest and are engaged. This can be compared to a lack of eye gaze which can be perceived as deceitful or unengaged. People can also detect the subtle differences between smiles. For example, people can usually pick out smiles which are genuine and express humour, enjoyment and authentic happiness, compared to the arrogant side of the mouth smiles, or the rye disappointed smile.
So why does any of this matter? Well from a spectator’s and a judge’s perspective, we can all pick up on the non-verbal cue’s competitors make when they’re on stage. It’s clear to see which competitors are: confident and enjoying themselves, nervous and in distress, lacking confidence, unprepared and out of their depth, confused, disappointed, arrogant/smug, or are a good sportsman/woman. Your facial expressions, body language and general demeaner say a lot about you and people that work in marketing know this all too well. Think about the last set TV adverts you watched, you can bet the actor/actress had an open posture, a confident smile (with perfect teeth) and they look happy to be using that particular product. Judges although they are supposed to be non-bias are after only human and subject to all the same social cues the rest of us are. Your goal as the competitor therefore is to always try to attract their attention and get them onside and scowling, and looking mean doesn’t help your cause.
So, what’s my advice to those reading this article, well if you want to annoy the judges, alienate audience and damage your chance of placing then the following doesn’t go down to well:
THINGS THAT DON’T HELP YOU WHEN you stand on stage
- Smugness and arrogance e.g. where you project a “too cool for school” persona doesn’t help you.
- Treading the line between confident and cocky can be a difficult one, get it wrong and it can be hard for a judge or audience to relate to. They might even want to see you lose!
- Overly aggressive posing, stamping, elbow butting.
- This on the one hand can be unsporting, and on the other hand you can just look silly
- Grimacing, scowling and frowning, emotionless facial expressions
- You may look scary, unapproachable, lacking confidence, uninterested or lacking in confidence
- Antics like stretching, press ups, and constant fidgeting or posing
- This can look unprofessional, or that your unprepared (stretching/press ups), or it can just be annoying
I’ve seen all of the above from the judges table and these traits never help competitors. These competitors have forgot about or never learned the performance and artistic elements of bodybuilding.
If you want to connect with the audience and get on the good side of judges then aim to project a humble, open, approachable, confident, sporting and genuinely aurora.
THINGS THAT WILL HELP YOU WHEN YOU STAND ON STAGE
- A large confident smile, upright open posture
- Stand up tall, open your mouth show your teeth and smile like your genuinely happy to be there. You look awesome and this is supposed to be fun!
- Great posing and posing fitness
- If you can pose well, you’ll get noticed, particularly if you can flow through the poses. If your fit, you should be able to control your breathing and facial expressions. Even though it’s tough you should be able to make it look easy. Work on this.
- A positive mindset, and a genuine passion for the stage
- Don’t let call outs get the better of you. Put an effort into your posing routine, you can see the competitors who care and who love their routines. Be proud of what you’ve achieved and the physique you’ve produced, this is your chance to show it off what you’ve worked so hard all year for.
- Sporting and having fun
- Shake hands, be courteous on stage and back stage and even if you don’t get the results you want (or if you do), be mindful of your fellow competitors. Don’t let your face show you up.
- When someone is enjoying themselves they give off a positive almost intangible vibe that everyone can buy into. It really does draw your eye.
Margins are small when it comes to competition so don’t let a poor stage attitude let you down.
Mühlberger, A., Wieser, M.J., Gerdes, A.B., Frey, M.C., Weyers, P. and Pauli, P., 2011. Stop looking angry and smile, please: start and stop of the very same facial expression differentially activate threat-and reward-related brain networks. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 6(3), pp.321-329.
Pönkänen, L.M. and Hietanen, J.K., 2012. Eye contact with neutral and smiling faces: effects on autonomic responses and frontal EEG asymmetry. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, p.122.
Korb, S., Niedenthal, P., Kaiser, S. and Grandjean, D., 2014. The perception and mimicry of facial movements predict judgments of smile authenticity. PLoS One, 9(6), p.e99194.