After I delivered an incredibly inspiring lecture in one of my classes last semester,* a student approached me and shared this snippet about presentation body movement.
“I stand in one spot during my presentations,” he said. “But another professor told me to move around when I talk.”
“Move around when you talk.”
“Did he tell you how?” I asked.
“Tell me what?”
“Did he tell you how to ‘move around?’ Did he tell you what it would accomplish?”
“No, he just said to ‘move around’ when you talk.”
“Just ‘move around?’”
Never just “move around when you talk”
Ponder that piece of advice a moment. Ponder it and then reject it utterly, completely. Forget you ever read it.
What rotten advice.
Never just “move around” the stage. Everything you do should contribute to your message. Presentation body movement on-stage is an important component to your message. It’s an especially powerful weapon in your arsenal of communication.
Movements can and should contribute force and emphasis to your show.
But some people move too much. Like the professor urged, they just “move around” because they don’t know better.
And why should they know better, when some professor urged them to start prowling the stage for the sake of it.
Just as there are those who are rooted to one spot and cannot move while they speak, some folks can’t stop moving. They stalk about the stage like a jungle cat, constantly moving, as if dodging imaginary bullets, afraid to cease pacing lest their feet put down roots.
Such movement is awful.
Aimless pacing around the stage is worse than no movement at all. Aimless movement usually indicates indecision, the sign of a disorganized mind.
It’s usually accompanied by aimless thoughts and thoughtless words.
“Move around when you talk.”
It’s not the worst piece of advice a professor has ever given a student, but it’s incredibly naive.
At first, the advice seems innocent enough. Even sage. Aren’t we supposed to “move around” when we talk? Don’t we see powerful presenters “move around” when they talk? Doesn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he presents?
Yes, we see them “move around” quite well.
But do you know why they “move” and to what end? Do you understand how they orchestrate their words and gestures to achieve maximum effect? Do you recognize their skilled use of the stage as they appeal to first one segment of the audience, and then another?
Do you think that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama Just “move around” when they talk?
If I tell you to “move around when you talk,” just what will you actually do? Think about it for a moment, how you might actually follow-through with that sort of vague advice.
Will you flap your arms? Do Michael Jackson isolations with your shoulders? Shake your fist at the crowd?
What Kind of Presentation Body Movement?
How? Where? When? Why? How much?
We will never know how much damage such well-meaning naiveté has done to our presentation discourse. Like much of what is said, it carries a kernel of truth, but it is really worse than no advice at all. Centuries of practice and delivery advise us on this question. Edwin Shurter said in 1903 . . .
Every movement that a speaker makes means – or should mean – something. Hence avoid indulging in movements which are purely habit and which mean nothing. Do not constantly be moving; it makes the audience also restless. Do not walk back and forth along the edge of the platform like a caged lion. Do not shrug your shoulders, or twist your mouth, or make faces.
You are well on your to mastering your voice and to speaking like a powerful motivator. Now it’s time to incorporate essential movement.
What must you actually do during your talk? Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
In coming posts, I’ll answer those questions and show you how to incorporate meaningful presentation body movement into your show – exactly the types of movement that add power, not confusion.
Interested in more on presentation body movement? Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.
* That’s tongue in cheek