Presentation body language; Movement

by Peter Watts

The Chinese have a marvelous piece of wisdom for presenters:

“When standing, stand

When sitting, sit

Do not wobble”

This proverb reminds us that when presenting, body movements appear amplified; especially movements that take place in the feet, legs or hips because the resulting posture shift ripples upward to tremble the entire body.

A presentation is basically a conversation, and in a conversation we create emphasis with hand gestures, head movements, and occasionally leaning in towards the person we are speaking to. Similar movement in a presentation is a good thing. Notice though, that these conversational movements all come from the upper half of the body. Movement in the lower half of the body such as shuffling feet and shifting the weight from hip-to-hip tend to indicate restlessness and boredom. The phrase “rooted in conversation” may originate in the way that when we are fully focussed on something, our feet and legs remain still.

For basic standing posture during a presentation, be face-on to the audience, with your legs still, and your feet slightly apart for stability. If your legs tremble a little in this position, soften your stance and allow yourself the smallest of bends at the knee. This releases tension and allows you to comfortably maintain a steady posture for surprisingly long periods.

If you have the space available to you, introduce some deliberate movement across the presentation space so that you use both sides of the stage. Making the audience change their visual focus to a physically different spot can re-engage attention and underline transitions in your subject, as well as giving yourself the chance to change posture.

  • When you are ready to move, make it a deliberate progress from one standing position to another.
  • When you get where you’re going, stop, and re-anchor your feet and legs. Avoid movement becoming peripatetic.
  • Ensure you come to a resting position that is still face-on to the audience.

Making good use of the physical space around you during a presentation shows confidence and control, so long as you don’t overdo it.

With whole-body movement, less is more.

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