Training in Public Speaking 'Place or Pace'
Training in Public Speaking 'Place or Pace'
A frequent question in Public Speaking is:
‘Is it better to stand in one spot when I speak, or should I move around the stage?’
And as always - it depends on what you aim to achieve.
So let me give you an explanation and some suggestions for each.
First of all there should be a purpose to your choice.
don’t wander around simply because it makes you feel more comfortable
and don’t stand in one spot just because that is what you were told to do!
avoid a weak, non-commital mixture of both, where you find yourself nervously shuffling around or just shifting from foot to foot.
(I always point out to students that someone who looks ‘shifty’ is likely to be interpreted as being ‘shifty’.)
Stay in place or pace around
So in simplest terms:
- standing on one spot usually sends out a message of ‘sharing’, whereas
- moving across the full range of the stage is more likely to send out a message of ‘asserting’.
And below I will give you a couple of brief examples of each.
If you want to inform, lecture, assert yourself or establish your superior knowledge or status, wandering around the stage will help to create that impression. Think of a sergeant-major on parade in the army. The soldiers stand in rows, in one spot (a bit like an audience) and the sergeant-major (a bit like a speaker or performer) is the focus of attention and has the freedom to assert his power and rank through movement.
So let’s start with an extreme example.
Steve Ballmer, acting as CEO of Microsoft was famed for his high energy, rampaging presentations
Here is a very short famous example
You do not need the volume up on this recording to know that he is urging, demanding and asserting
This is not:
‘Let us share…’
‘Let me tell you..!’
Think back to a time at school when you and your year group were held back at the end of a school assembly to be harangued by a senior teacher about poor behaviour or ill discipline. The chances are the senior teacher would have been pacing up and down and probably aggressively gesticulating at you. Visually you would know who was in the position of power.
Walking around the stage says:
‘I am in charge.’ ‘Listen to me!’
However, this does not always have to be aggressive.
Many comedians will do this, as will motivational speakers.
The visual message simply promotes the importance of the ‘I’ on stage.
You do not need to perspire quite as much as Steve Ballmer does in this clip, but what he clearly demonstrates is that this approach will usually be powerful high energy and declamatory. This is about convincing the audience, not just by argument but by force of personality.
The speaker is charged up and passes that charge to the audience.
Public Speaking's most powerful tool - Repetition
Steve Ballmer’s example is also a demonstration of another important principle of Public Speaking, that goes hand in hand with an assertive style – having one single clear message.
Anyone walking away from that presentation will be in no doubt that the Number 1 priority for Microsoft at that time was for ‘developers!’
Most rhetorical techniques are founded on some form of repetition. That may be a repetition of words, a repetition of sounds or a repetition of rhythm (please note the three-fold rhetorical repetition of ‘a repetition’ in that last sentence!).
Steve Ballmer is in fact using an extreme version of a technique called ‘epizeuxis’ – when he repeats the word ‘developers’.
It is the rhetorical equivalent of hitting someone over the head repeatedly with a short piece of wood.
This is what Tony Blair was doing in 1997 when he told us that his three priorities were:
’Education, Education, Education’
or the Ukrainian minister who said they needed:
‘Weapons, weapons, weapons’
or Liz Truss in her brief and ill-fated premiership, stressing the importance of:
‘Growth, growth, growth’
It is not subtle, but it does get the point across!
Public Speaker as Lecturer or Conversationalist
In contrast to Steve Ballmer’s ‘caged bull’ I would like to point you towards one of the most played TED talks, by Brene Brown. Brene Brown, you will notice, tends to stand on one spot. She is clearly ‘sharing’.
The Austrian psychologist, Adolph Adler, categorised human relationships as ‘vertical’ or ‘horizontal’.
Vertical is characterised by a teacher-pupil, parent-child or boss-employee relationship - or to use a 'Star Wars' analogy, 'master and apprentice'.
(and as you picture those in your mind, you can probably imagine plenty of walking around, waving of arms and pointing of fingers)
A horizontal relationship is characterised by friend-friend, colleague-colleague, or simply one fellow human being to another, speaking as equals in conversation.
(and here you would be more likely to picture both partners sitting or standing together, on an equal level, with no aggressive arm waving and gentler hand gestures with open palms rather than pointy fingers!)
Once again we do not need to hear the sound to appreciate that Brene Brown is sharing with us.
Her manner is the opposite of aggressive or thrusting.
She comes across very humble (but still confident) and approachable.
(Often, one could argue that a humble demeanour actually reveals a deeper degree of personal self-confidence than the person ranging around stage haranguing the audience.)
Some things to notice about Brene Brown’s delivery that support this sharing attitude:
- she smiles. That in itself sends a message of calmness and communication in a non-threatening manner – (and you may have noticed: there is not a lot of smiling from Steve Ballmer!)
- she is open and vulnerable - referring to the ‘insecure’ part of her nature. She is opening herself up to us, rather than talking down from a position of superior knowledge.
- she has a relaxed, confiding style. She introduces her story to us in an open way as one would do, over a coffee, or at a table with a good friend.
So those two extreme examples are a reflection of not just subject matter and context, but probably also the underlying style of the two personalities speaking. Steve Ballmer, one feels, might tend to be more at home in situations where he is leading and instructing, Brene Brown where she is confiding and sharing.
I would now like to introduce you to two short clips of one person employing both approaches.
Tony Robbins is an internationally acclaimed coach, mentor and communicator.
Therefore, especially considering his Neuro-linguistic- programming expertise, I imagine that there is no part of his communication that has not been analysed or considered beforehand.
This is his introduction to a TED talk.
He is in ‘sharing’ mode: the humble communicator
He is standing on the spot.
His voice and manner are gentle (his voice remains modulated and varied, but within a softer dynamic)
He is expressing to us his humility at being asked to speak
(one suspects that his personality leads more to ‘asserting’ than ‘sharing’, because even in the process of humbly acknowledging all the great places he has spoken, he cannot resist pointing out that he has, in fact, spoken at lots of ‘great places’. He then softens what might come across as a boastful ‘assertion’ of his credibility by suggesting that we too have probably also been privileged to be in ‘lots of great places’.
This is another lovely rhetorical technique, a little like Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, who by telling us that Brutus is ‘an honourable man’, makes us think:
‘Maybe he is not really, is he!’
In this case, Tony Robbins is getting me to think about all the great places I have been to – just like him….but now that I think about it… I am forced to consider I have probably not been to as many great places as he has.
And so by paying me the implied compliment that I must be a well-travelled successful person, I am being reminded that I am probably not as much in demand or well-travelled as he is!
shows Tony Robbins in full flow.
Lots of energy
Yes he is ‘sharing’ his knowledge, but now the command of the stage is suggesting ‘I talk, you listen!’
There is nothing wrong with this. Tony Robbins is a teacher – he is choosing a vertical relationship with us and his moving around the stage is a physical manifestation of:
‘I am the expert. Listen to what I have to say.’
He is still charming. He is engaging but he is asserting.
Some things to note in his communication that are magnified by the mobile delivery style:
- there is greater energy in his voice which is supported by the great physical movement – not just the walking, but also the bigger gestures.
- he employs the classic audience engagement of asking questions and then driving them home by modelling the answers he expects from us by raising his hand after a question (Say Aye!)
I suggested that Brene Brown was a natural ‘sharer’
I would suggest that Tony Robbins is a natural ‘asserter’
Firstly, as we have just seen, even when he was in ‘share’ mode, he still feels compelled to let us know how much in demand he is and how well travelled he is then
secondly, in this latter example, as he builds up to his climax, he employs another useful rhetorical technique of 'overwhelming' the audience with a series of numbers or statistics:
‘2000 people, 45 countries, 4 languages'.
He then adds 9/11 to the mix to drive home that this was a big significant event.
Message: What I say is backed up by numbers, statistics and significance.
And this is testimony to my own significance as only a significant expert would be working with these numbers.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is first class ‘asserting' - Tony Robbins style!’
Standing still or moving around
So my message to you is:
One is not right or wrong; the important thing is to make sure you are congruent.
If you want to share, and show that you are vulnerable, just like your audience, it is probably more effective to deliver from a grounded standing position.
If you want to assert, persuade, and drive home your point, you should consider a more active use of your space.
A final word of warning on ‘asserting’.
If your manner seems to suggest that you think you are somehow ‘better’ than me, more qualified or knowledgeable, I might feel more inclined to resist your message.
If I feel you can relate to me, understand me and are speaking across rather than down to me, I am much more likely to be more open to your message.