The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Speaking (and how to avoid them) #6

Sin #6 Rigour Mortis

There is a school of thought that says that speakers should let their words do the talking and keep their body movements to a minimum. If this is true, not only is the podium a handy resting place for your notes but it is also a kind of gravitational well, from which speakers dare not stray.

For the current generation of audiences, this school of thought can only lead to disconnection. While running around like a Duracell bunny connected to the mains is still as off-putting as ever, so is the kind of staid, expressionless posture that seems so tempting for many speakers.

Now, it should be said that the amount and kinds of movements that will be helpful vary widely from audience to audience. If you are preaching in a closed-off pulpit where a step in the wrong direction would lead to you tumbling down onto the heads of the choir, then wandering around is not going to work. Similarly, if you are standing at the front of a huge, traditional academic auditorium, anything that isn’t big and bold simply isn’t visible.

Your movements therefore have to fit the situation. They also have to be there. Standing so still that only your mouth ever moves is a recipe for lost attention.

But how do you get movement right? My coach once gave me a good suggestion. It’s easier to pitch a talk correctly, he said, if you can get a feel for the space you will be speaking in. This doesn’t just mean taking a sneak peak of the room and the equipment but actually walking around a bit, looking at sight lines, noticing the scale, marking out the limitations.

Once, I failed to do this and paid the price. I was speaking in a small room and I had previously been in there for an earlier session. I know that space was limited and had noticed that most other presenters had sat down to speak. However, instead of adjusting my movements to suit, I tried to do use some of the same techniques I used in a much bigger space. Needless to say, I looked very silly.

On the other hand, I have watched speakers who are excellent at taking small-scale seminars really struggle in big auditoriums. On top of the typical (and predictable) lack of volume, they also stand glued to the computer and rarely move more than their slide-changing finger.
So the main way to solve rigour mortis is to realise that space has as much to say about your presentation as your content and audience. Match the scale and nature of your movements to the space you have to present in. Think about what would pull you in and what would put you off. Watch the other speakers and see how they overcome the limitations of the space.


About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
This entry was posted in Delivery, Preaching, Public Speaking. Bookmark the permalink.

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