Public Speaking Tips for Stance
Let us step straight into area of speaking controversy!
Should I stand still or should I move around?
Some speaking coaches will recommend standing in one spot.
Others point out that many speakers and stage performers move around constantly; they take control and command their space.
So on the one hand if you are totally glued to one spot, that may not create the right impression and on the other, if you are incapable of staying still, that is also not ideal.
So what do we do?
In the end it comes down to answering a simple question:
How do I want to come across?
It will depend on your personality, your message and your audience.
However in the simplest terms, let me sum it up like this:
moving around is usually about asserting and commanding;
standing still is usually about relating and sharing.
Picture a Head Teacher telling the students off at a school assembly.
If you can imagine that, the chances are that he or she will be vigorously moving about the stage, gesticulating strongly, expressing much of their annoyance and their authority through motion.
Arms will be going all over the place and fingers will be pointing, as they pace up and down, working themselves up into frenzy. That is about Power!
Many speaking coaches will recommend moving about on the stage, and they back it up with phrases like ‘own the room’, ‘assert you strength’, ‘take control ‘ - and in certain instances that may be exactly the right thing to do to achieve your aim.
However I would like you to notice that in each of these phrases the focus is always on ‘you’ the speaker.
It is ‘you’ – owning the room; ‘you’ – asserting strength; ‘you’ - taking control.
Therefore for motivational speakers, managers and for that matter, Sergeant Majors in the army, motion on stage asserts an important physical message.
It says: ‘I am in charge, listen to me; respect my authority!’
Therefore what the comedian on stage is communicating to the audience is:
‘Look at me. I am very funny.’
While the manager is saying:
‘I have the authority. You need to listen to me.’
And the motivational speaker is saying:
‘I am the expert. I have the knowledge. You should learn from me.’
Standing still on the other hand does something very different:
‘Let me share my thoughts and feelings.’
‘This is not about me, it is about you!’
This is more about the message than the messenger.
Now this time, instead of thinking of a school principal, a manager or a motivational speaker, imagine an ‘ordinary person’ openly sharing their personal experience, being honest, maybe even displaying some vulnerability.
They are unlikely to be pacing around the stage waving their arms in the air.
And often the real power or ‘connection’ with the audience will reside in the speaker’s words rather than their actions.
Standing still and solidly sends its own powerful message.
It is a visual metaphor that says:
‘I know where I stand; I know what I think.’
‘It is not about ME. I ‘stand’ by what I believe.’
I have even found with many motivational speakers, who having spent much of their presentation bouncing across the stage and exuding dynamic energy, that when they come to their key message, they plant themselves solidly on the floor to deliver it. It is no longer about them; they now want to offer advice or encouragement to the audience and they realise that moment of ‘sharing’ is best expressed through standing still.
I am not promoting standing still as some ‘Golden Rule’; that you should stand still and never move,
I am simply saying:
Be aware of what effect your physical manner has on your message.
Are you trying to exert your power or are you trying to make a connection?
Because you will never create rapport by taking on an attitude of lecturing!
I occasionally do an informal experiment with a group of students. I play a couple of videos without sound. They can see the speaker, but they cannot hear what is being said.
One recording is of a speaker standing solidly, using his hands to support his words and the other is of a speaker pacing around the room while speaking. The general response is that the first speaker appears to be sharing amongst equals and the second speaker is lecturing; often the second speaker is interpreted as being assertive, aggressive and sometimes even patronising.
Even though we cannot hear the words being spoken or even the tone of voice, there is an overriding impression we receive simply from how the words are being delivered.
Therefore standing still or moving around is not in itself right or wrong. It is about making sure that your words match your music. More often than not you will want to take an attitude of ‘sharing’ with your audience, rather than ‘lecturing’, so a solid stance will imply greater empathy, yet still demonstrating sufficient confidence and authority that ‘you know where you stand’.
In spite all of this on occasions a student will still tell me they had been advised to walk around, literally, they say, to provide a moving image because they have been told if the audience has to look at the same spot the whole time that would become boring for them.
My feeling is that if you think the only way to hold your audience’s attention is by moving around the room that displays a lack of belief in the power of the message you intend to deliver.
There may be times when we will need our audience to buy into our authority before they will listen to our words, in which case ‘owning the room’ may prove to be a necessary first step to getting the message across.
However – and here is my point - there comes a moment when
– dare I say it –
it is no longer about you’! The best presentations are always about ‘them’.
In which case, get out of the way, stand still and let your words speak for you!
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11 golden tips for stance
Take a moment
For many of us Public Speaking is associated with tension and worry and that is not very good for posture! So before you go out or into the room, give yourself a moment, stand straight, stand tall, repeat a few words of encouragement to yourself, as you breathe slowly and deeply, making a conscious connection with breathing right down into your diaphragm: head tall, feet in contact with the floor.
Find your spot
Find the best spot in the room, probably central, where everyone can see you.
Once you are there, look at the spread of students in front of you, identify the centre of the group;
stand facing that point, so that if you drew a ‘V’ from where you are standing, the students on the extreme left and right of the room would be contained just inside that ‘V’ and your resting line of vision bisects the middle of the ‘V’.
The closer you are to the group the wider the ‘V’ is going to have to be, which will require greater effort on your part to capture the whole room with your eye contact.
Therefore there is usually a ‘sweet spot’ where you are close enough to make the connection, but far enough away that you can engage the whole room comfortably while speaking.
Start when ready
Give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts before you start. Often through nervousness we start before we are really settled, so plant your feet, look at your audience and speak your first words. If you are anxious, avoid starting to speak before you even get to your place on stage. Get there, make sure the audience is ready, make sure you are ready - and then speak.
Shoulders over feet
It is important to look balanced. Often we have a tendency to stand on one hip, which can lead us on to shifting weight from leg to leg and even swaying while we speak. Following on from the earlier metaphor of ‘knowing where you stand’, if you ‘look balanced’ your argument or point of view will also appear more balanced to your audience. You will send a message of relaxed even-handedness.
So place your feet shoulder-width apart beneath you . If you stance is too wide, you might look like a cowboy in a gun-fight and it becomes harder to move naturally if you want to change your position on the stage. Feet too close together and you can look and feel a little unstable.
Move with purpose
If you do move, move with purpose. Maybe you want to visually indicate a change of state or time and a change in position allows the audience to see a new section or chapter in your presentation. Too much movement can become distracting and being too literal can slip into amateur-dramatics.
You can indicate the significance of a ‘big leap’ into the unknown through your vocal emphasis and maybe an indication of movement, rather than literally jumping in the air!
Either you are moving or you are not. A problem many speakers experience is to find themselves either shuffling as they speak or shifting weight from one foot t the other or swaying from side to side. Visually it can be off-putting and anything that is not supporting your words can become a distraction. This is why giving yourself a moment to settle before starting is so important. If you start off shuffling or swaying, it is very hard to stop.
Be a platform for your voice and gestures
The real ‘action’ is coming out of your mouth. Your gestures and your facial expression are there to support the words you speak, so any extra wandering or swaying from below can actually be off-putting. Therefore think of your stance as a platform: relaxed, balanced, capable of movement if required, but essentially a supportive base for the speaker working up above.
The only reason I mention eye contact here is to point out that eyes to the floor or buried in your notes are not indicative of a good stance or good posture, so simply by making sure that you are keeping your head up, looking out and at your audience will help your body position and make you look more in control.
Keep in contact with the whole room
The advantage of standing in one place is that you can engage the whole room with your eye contact and by moving your head. The danger of moving to one or other side of the stage is that in engaging more with one part of the audience, you may be disengaging with another part; by moving over to speak with one group, you may be turning your back on another. Once again the message is not: Don’t move! Instead if you do choose to move to another part of the stage, remain extra aware of the rest of the room. You will notice that many comedians like to engage in one to one conversations with an audience member on the front row. You will notice how quickly they then relay the person’s answer to the rest of the room, or even while speaking to one person they are making an effort to maintain eye contact with the rest of the group.
Match words and music
This takes us back to where we started. If your message is personal and sharing, that will be best delivered from one spot. If you want to cajole or enthuse, then maybe move movement is the right approach. My suggestion is that walking or ‘leg movement’ should grow out of the energy of the speech. It is as if the voice and the gestures are at full throttle and spill over into other movement.
Walking should never be instead of, or detract from the energy of the voice or gestures.
Don’t leave too fast
In the same way as you give yourself a moment before you start, give yourself a moment when you finish. In this respect a speech is like a performance. A musician will come on stage, tune up, get ready, gather themselves and then start. At the end they will let their last notes reverberate and fade, then they will stand up and take applause.
If you have an important message to your presentation (which of course you do, otherwise why are you there in the first place), let that message sink in for a moment with your audience before walking off (who knows – you might even get a round of applause!)