Public Speaking Body Language Part Eight: Where to Stand

This is the final article in an eight-part series covering the most important elements of body language for public speaking. Click here to read the entire series.

During my very early days as a presentation coach, I worked with a school superintendent who was responsible for tens of thousands of students and teachers.

In person, he was a thoughtful, kind, and engaging man. But when he delivered his annual “State of the Schools” speech to teachers, he failed to compel his audience. We worked together just before one of his annual addresses to help him motivate and inspire his staff more effectively.

Days after working together, he delivered his speech to the teachers. Shortly afterwards, his senior aide called me. “He was amazing,” she said, “The best he’s ever been.” When I asked what made the difference, she said, “He took your advice and didn’t stand behind the lectern. He moved to the center of the stage, was much more himself, and looked like he was having a real conversation with the staff.”

That moment has stayed with me for years, because it taught me an important lesson. Out of the dozens of tips and techniques we had discussed during our session together, my advice about where to stand had the single greatest impact on his performance. That advice is now among the first things I share with our trainees.

It goes (almost) without saying that I have great antipathy toward lecterns. Speakers who hide behind lecterns separate themselves from their audiences and obscure parts of their body language that would otherwise help their audiences connect with them more easily.

If you’re speaking at a conference that typically sets up lecterns for their speakers, ask the conference planner in advance to have a lavaliere microphone available for you.

And don’t worry: Speaking without a lectern doesn’t mean that you have to speak without notes. Just place your notes on a small table or stool positioned slightly off-center to one side of the stage. If that option isn’t available to you, you may still be able to turn the microphone to the outside of the lectern and stand next to it instead of behind it. And for smaller groups (25 or fewer), you may be able to do away with amplification altogether.

Click here to read the entire series, which covers energy, tone, eye contact, gestures, posture, where to stand, how to interact with PowerPoint, and voice.

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