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Stand Up Straight & Don’t Pace

Platform movement and posture are essential elements of nonverbal communication. Like gestures, they should look and feel natural to reinforce the message and not distract. The stance and movement of the body involve the total person, mentally and physically. Thoughts and feelings can be expressed in movements and gestures. These two rules should be remembered when on the platform: move when there is reason to move and stand still when there is no reason to move.

One of my (Rhonda) doctoral professors roamed back and forth in front of the classroom without making any eye contact with the students during his lectures. He paced aimlessly in front of the class as he taught. As a project in a behavioral modification course, several students attempted to alter his distracting behavior. Students on the right side of the class paid careful attention to the professor as he paced—looking interested, nodding heads, taking notes, and asking questions. Students on the left side of the classroom ignored the professor as he taught—disinterested yawns, hands on desks, no notes, and no questions. Within a few minutes, the professor only paced back and forth on the right side of the room. While his pacing behavior was modified, his poor eye contact remained unchanged. I learned the impact of the speaker’s body movement and positions by observing a negative model as a student.

Posture is noticed immediately, and opinions are made about a speaker based on stance and carriage. Posture is the position of a person’s body when standing or sitting. Many different organs, muscles, and nerves in the body are used to stand. While physical conditions may inhibit good posture, most people can control posture with conscious actions. A public speaker needs good posture to support vocal projection, to display confidence, and to enhance movement.

In No Sweat Public Speaking, Fred Miller suggests four ways that posture helps communicate a message. (1) Good, straight posture indicates leadership and confidence. (2) Leaning forward toward the audience shows concern and care. (3) Slouching the body conveys disinterest and boredom. (4) Hunched shoulders suggest low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Posture is more important than many speakers realize. Evaluate posture in a mirror or on a videotape. Remember to stand up, then speak up!

There are some cardinal rules about posture and movement that a good speaker should follow. Try not to break the following posture principles:

  1. Do not fidget with your hands or fingers.
  2. Do not jingle change or keys in your pockets.
  3. Do not cross your hands in front of your body (“fig–leaf stance”) or behind your body.
  4. Do not rock on your heels or toes.
  5. Do not sway back and forth.
  6. Do not lean on the podium.
  7. Do not cross your arms across chest.
  8. Do not look down for too long.
  9. Do not bob or shake your head too much.
  10. Do not be stiff or tense.

Zig Ziglar was a dynamic public speaker and powerful Christian communicator. Though small in physical stature, he had a “bigger than life” presence on the stage. He projected energy and enthusiasm as he moved confidently around the stage. His speech content was filled with knowledge and wisdom, and his delivery style was passionate, purposeful, and powerful. His sales experience and personal faith provided the foundational principles for his speaking and writing. A master of verbal and nonverbal communication, Ziglar said it this way: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Stand up and speak out like Zig Ziglar did for many years.

Correct posture is an important part of nonverbal communication in public speaking. Practice these principles and avoid these pitfalls.

  1. Walk deliberately to the stage; avoid rushing onto the platform.
  2. Stand upright keeping the body core tight; avoid tension or tightness.
  3. Place feet firmly on the ground and slightly apart (about shoulder width); avoid stiff legs and locked knees.
  4. Face the audience directly; avoid turning the body away.
  5. Position body behind podium with hands to the side or resting on lectern; avoid gripping the podium.
  6. Hold head and chin up; avoid looking down.
  7. Square shoulders with the audience; avoiding drooping shoulders.
  8. Keep chest up and stomach in; avoid tightening abdominal muscles.
  9. Relax the body; avoid tension and stiffness.
  10. Breathe deeply to relax; avoid short, shallow breaths.
  11. Pause to look at the audience; avoid rushing into the speech.
  12. Watch the posture of others speakers; avoid awkward imitation of others.
    Improved posture adds strength and authority to a spoken message.

Dale Carnegie, known as the father of modern public speaking, said: “A person under the influence of his feelings projects the real self, acting naturally and spontaneously. A speaker who is interested will usually be interesting.”

When your name is called and you walk to the stage…
rise up slowly,
stand up erectly,
walk out boldly,
pause—breathe—look—then
speak out confidently.

Good posture makes a good impression on the audience and gives good support to the speaker. Outstanding public speakers develop a platform posture to reflect their attitudes and gain the audience’s attention. Body posture can reduce nervous energy and relieve physical tension. As you speak, make your body talk.


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