Presentations and moving

Presentation dancer!
Trust me, isolating a dancer on a completely black background is pretty tricky! 🙂

Before I was a presentation skills trainer – not quite in my youth –  I spent about seven years touring as the technical director of a dance company. I learned a lot from them to do with discipline and hard work. I learned about focus and I learned what effort looks like. (I might even try it myself some time! 🙂 )

And one of the more odd-sounding things I learned was that there’s a huge difference between standing still and not moving. Stay with me – I know it sounds weird and woo-woo, but when you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.

It doesn’t matter what terminology you use, what I’m trying to describe is a difference in something that’s very hard to describe, but a choreographer I’ve worked with (hi Tess!) calls the state of not-moving-but-clearly-about-to ‘suspended’ where as the state of not-moving-because-they’re-just-standing-there as ‘still’.

‘Suspend’ is what you want in your presentations, not ‘Still’.

are presenters ambush predators?Perhaps it’s easier to get the hang of it if we look at animal pictures: no matter how still this fish (a Tasselled Wobegong) is, you’d be daft to think it’s not full of explosive energy that can propel it almost without inertia. (Yes, I know that’s impossible in terms of physics, but you know what I mean ? ) 😉

Whatever you call it however, I’m sure you know it when you see it. But what has it got to do with presentations?

Presenters who stand still

There’s quite a bit of research about moving during your presentations. The less you move, or at least the less you move without purpose, the less authoritative you’ll be perceived as being. So – if you want to look like you know what you’re presenting about, stand still. Move when – and only when – there’s a good reason for doing so.

On the other hand, moving can make you feel more “approachable” to the audience. Moving during your presentations is something of a trade-off therefore!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that always standing still gives you authority. If you’re artificially still, it clearly signals you’re terrified as you present! I’m saying you should be conscious of how much (and when) you stand still during your presentations. Consider what impression you want to give to your audience. Do you want to seem flat, or energised? Do you want to give an impression of retreating from your audience – or to give the impression of coming at them and engaging with them?

Simon delivering Presentation Skills TrainingFor example, because my material is based on the science of what works in presentations, rather on just my opinion of what works, I tend to prefer being authoritative rather than “approachable” but your presentations will be different! The important thing is to think about it, not just do it.

On a rather silly note, I often have clients (particularly on our public courses) look at various bits of TV theatre to figure out who’s in charge. Even with the sound turned off, it’s not usually hard – the person in charge is the person who stands still at the middle of the fuss… it’s rather like being the still eye at the centre of the storm.

By the way, you might want to have a look at this post about using remote controls in presentations. A good remote control gives you the option of moving, but doesn’t force you!

Introvert presenters and movement

I can speak to this one from personal experience. I’m an introvert and when I’m not presenting I’m rather hard to get into social chit-chat etc. What that means when I’m presenting is that my preferred style and place is ‘defended’ from the audience. I instinctively want to pull back behind a lectern or other physical barrier and no move about.

From an audience’s perspective that can make my presentations rather abstract and not very engaging. Consequently I’ve learned to move forward and make a point of looking at where and when I can move during my presentations. Then, when I’ve got to where I’m going, I stand still.

Extravert presenters and movement

dogs are dumb presentersFor extraverts the problem is almost the exact opposite to introvert presenters. Extraverts get their energy from interacting and doing. That very often leads to a tendency to bounce around on stage like a dog on amphetamines chasing its tail. It might make you look nice and accessible, but it does so at the expense of your credibility and authority as a presenter.

For extraverts therefore, the important thing is to look at ways to pin yourself to the floor and/or not to by too ‘in your face’ for audiences.

Movement tools to try for your next presentation

Different strokes for different folks, as they say – but here are a few ideas to start you thinking…

  1. By co-incidence, one of my daughters had an interview today which included a presentation.  (Before you ask, no, she didn’t ask for my help with it!) What she did do, however, was deliberately put on a higher pair of heels than she normally wears. Why? Because as an extravert she tends to move around a lot… but as a young, female doctor she particularly feels the need to convey her authority and credibility in her presentations.
  2. A few people I know (particularly extraverts )have found it very helpful to mark the floor of where they rehearse their presentations with brightly coloured electricians’  tape. They can see that out of the corner of their eye. They allow themselves to stand on those marks and only on those marks. That stops them wandering around during their presentations.
  3. When they design and develop their presentations, some of my clients find that a move comes to mind while they’re jotting down their ideas. In particular, when ideas are jotted down on a set of Index Cards, there’s a lot of shuffling around to get them in the best order for the presentation… and lots of removing of cards. And once the cards are in the right order, they can be put on a table that represents the stage… Index Cards 1, 2, 3 on the front left of the stage, Index Cards 4 and 5 are over on stage right. The next Index Card’s content is back at stage right… you get the idea.
  4. Ask your friends. Seriously. Get someone to do an audit of your presentation and ask them to watch your presentation specifically and only for how you move.  I’ve written before about getting proper “council” rather than just any old feedback, but asking for specific and limited question is different. That will at least give you a starting point about whether you move too much, too little or if you’re the perfect presenter. And don’t just ask one person once. Get a consensus about different presentations or from different people. One person is feedback, group feedback is opinion…
  5. Think of Tess’s idea of ‘suspend’ rather than ‘still’.  When you’re stationary you can give the impression of energy still if you’re ‘suspended’ rather than ‘still’. Dancers do it properly but my way of doing it is to keep my weight forward onto the balls of my feet, as though I’m about to make a step forward, but don’t actually make that step.
  6. Don’t forget that other things make it look like you’re moving too – big dangly ear-rings and faffy hand gestures give an impression of movement, even when you’re not doing, for example. Consider the idea of Go Big And Go Home.

Some thoughts tucked away at the end…

A quick thought about gestures in your presentations

I’m talking about moving during your presentations here, not gestures – that’s a whole different ball game… but it does have an impact. Why? Because the more you waver your arms around as you present, the less you can get away with moving!

A second thought about online presentations

BethI’m thinking here about the typical, cheap -and-easy talking to camera online presentations… because the camera shows you in close up and because you appear very big in the audience’s perception, you might need to concentrate on not moving your head, too! With my tongue in my cheek, raising your eye-brow might count as a big move! 😉

Look at Beth on the right. Now imagine her filling your screen. And now imagine her being a very animated, in your face presenter! 😉

Simon says...

8 Replies to “Presentations and moving”

  1. Great blog Simon. Most of my presentation is on video rather than in person, but I’m definitely a hand waver – probably because the screen itself is a barrier. Definitely something for me to pay more attention to.

    1. Gets even more important on a screen, ‘cos people are both close to your face and it’s JUST your face… nothing to “dilute” you.

  2. Thanks Simon,
    Can see these things being really helpful for general communication rather than just presentations. Especially on webcalls!

    1. You’re right in many ways… presentations aren’t “special” in many ways. Communication is communication – though the balance between (for example) visual impact and the sound of your voice obviously changes as you change medium etc.

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