Your speech is ready. You’ve clarified and organized the content, developed your visuals, and it is time to practice your delivery. Physical expressiveness (what you do with your body) is critical to delivering an effective presentation — that includes your posture.
Here are five postures you should avoid whenever you step up to speak:
- The fig leaf. Avoid clasping your hands in front of you or behind you. Standing with your hands clasped can make you appear stiff, insecure, and uncomfortable (unless of course you are standing at “parade rest”).
- The death grip. People who are nervous or fearful often wind up hiding behind the podium and gripping it with both hands. Even if you aren’t nervous, this pose will make you look like you are “one” with the podium and if you moved you would take it with you! It is acceptable to rest your hands on the podium every now and then but avoid the white-knuckle grip.
- The pocket dive. Standing with your hands in your pockets can look sloppy and unprofessional. You may also wind up mindlessly fidgeting with the change or keys in your pockets and distracting your audience from your presentation. If you are tempted to do this, just be aware and make it a momentary stance. Pause briefly and resume your movement to once again stand erect and use your hands to help convey your message.
- The iceberg. Even if the room is cold, standing with your arms crossed can distance you from your audience. Again, there may be times when this is acceptable, for example, if you are pondering a question. But don’t make it your default stance. Strive for open, inclusive posture and gestures.
- The silent movie. Gestures should be natural and not overly rehearsed. Don’t give in to the temptation to choreograph your movements. It will only make you look scripted and overly dramatic.
What to do?
The best posture to aim for is simply standing with your feet shoulder width apart with your hands relaxed at your sides or better yet bent at the elbow ready to gesture. While it may feel awkward you will project a confident and professional presence. Think of yourself as having a conversation with a friend and gesture naturally to help emphasize what you are saying.