(This is Part One. Part Two is here.)
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I never stand up to present.”
“Why not?” I ask.
- “There’s no need to.”
- “Everybody else is sitting down.”
- “The room is too small.” (Only a valid excuse if it is.)
- “I’m uncomfortable standing.” (Only a valid excuse if you have a medical condition.)
- “It’s un-Australian.” (Or “American,” or “British” or whatever.)
While these are understandable, they’re not always accurate. In fact, presenting sitting down creates other issues for the presenter. Because the body is literally folded at the waist. you are less dynamic – some experts say by 25%, others by as much as 75%. With the body bent, it’s more difficult to breath fully which means it’s harder to project your voice. People use gestures less while sitting down which means the purpose of gestures – to emphasis key words, to visually demonstrate your personality – disappears. Eye contact disappears because the person tends to read what it’s front of them. All of this adds up to what I call “a same sameness.”
In the end, there are as many legitimate reasons to sit down while presenting as there are reasons to stand up. Instead of defaulting to a seated position, you should make the decision to do one or the other (or a combination of both) based on a single. simple objective: What are you trying to do?
Stand up when you want FOCUS.
There are times when you need the audience to focus its attention on one spot, usually a screen (for a PowerPoint slide), a flipchart, a storyboard, or a hand-out. You’re doing this because you want to educate, demonstrate or explain something to the audience. More so, you’re doing this because you need to …
- Watch or monitor your audience’s facial expressions, reactions or emotions
- Command or establish authority
- Inspire, rally or challenge
- Facilitate by controlling the audience and flow of communications
- Brainstorm, formally
- Be seen in front of a large audience
Sit down when you want DISCUSSION.
There are times when you want quality, usually to discuss a topic or debate an issue. In other words, you want to diffuse the audience’s attention from you as the speaker, usually toward something in front of them, such as a hand-out or a pass-around. More so, you’re doing this because you want to …
- Encourage input from everyone
- Demonstrate that all opinions are important, least of all, yours
- Suggest the formal part of the meeting is over, and now it’s time to talk
- Brainstorm, informally
To these guidelines, I’d add a few times when sitting is appropriate.
- You are told to sit, by an authority – not asked to
- The room is too small
- There’s less than 3-4 people, including you, and it’s conversationally easier to lean across the table to point to a chart or graph than to stand and explain it
If you do sit, consider how you might adapt your body, gestures and voice in the follow-up post here. In the end, you do not want your career – worse, your reputation – to take a beating at a critical time because you can’t stand and talk confidently and credibly.
Questions about Presentation Skills workshops? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.