Keep best foot forward during presentations

Mar 01, 2013
Keep best foot forward during presentations

A controversial aspect of public speaking has to do with a presenter's feet. Feet are something that a presenter needs to pay attention to in order to be effective. Even if opinions differ about the use - or non-use - of feet, presenters need to be warned. If foot use is ignored, a presenter's ability and credibility may be at risk.

How should your feet be used during a presentation? Should you move them? Should you keep them still and stay in one place? Should you walk around the room constantly? Should you jump up and down and act like a person possessed as Steve Jobs used to do when he was introducing a new Apple product?

Arch Lustberg, a communications professor and consultant from Washington, D.C., gives specific instruction to his students and clients about foot placement. He suggests that one foot needs to be placed in front of another so that the body position is going forward. He says that this technique avoids the tendency to sway.

Other instructors believe that one should walk around a room while they present. This makes presenters appear relaxed and helps a presenter be engaged with people sitting at different parts of a room.

Toastmasters International suggests that movement makes messages more memorable and adds to the impact of a presentation. The people at Toastmasters contend that a presenter who stands in one place throughout a presentation may be boring and dull. However, Toastmasters warns that too much movement can be distracting. Presenters should look for a balance of movement, the organization says.

Another renowned speech training organization adds that movement needs to be natural and spontaneous. In training presenters, the Dale Carnegie organization teaches presenters to be at ease. Presenters should not be stiff in their technique and appear to have been rehearsed. Mechanical movements lessen a speaker's ability to connect with his/her audience and make him/her look "wooden," in Dale Carnegie's words.

Standing in one place makes presenters look stiff. Complicating some presentations are podiums. Podiums are a challenge that presenters are faced with that may inhibit movement. The next time you are given a lectern to stand behind consider how it can be less of a barrier. Even if you're trapped in a place behind a lectern, that doesn't mean you are limited in that space and are forced to stand directly behind it.

You have some choices that may not have occurred to you. You can step to the podium's side. You can take a step back. If you cannot do any of these things, you need to heighten the pitch of your voice, accentuate and highlight your main points and over-emphasize your gestures to overcome the lack of movement.

Having to do all these things to compensate, instead of naturally moving while presenting, serves as proof of the importance of effective presentation movement.

Bob Stowers is a clinical professor of management and leadership communications at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary.

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Bob Stowers
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