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To Move or Not to Move

One of the key differentiators between speakers is the way they utilise space. That’s one of the reasons I like to see the venue in advance if possible, because the available space determines the extent of my movement when in action. In a narrow room using slides with a table mounted data projector, foot movement is already limited to some extent. Conversely a wide auditorium with a wide stage and a roof mounted data projector allows freedom of movement across the stage.

In answer to the question “is it acceptable to walk around the stage?” the answer is generally yes. Slow and deliberate movements look best creating the impression of being in control. Shuffling nervously should be avoided.

The inclusion of projected visuals (slides) means you should avoid as far as possible blocking the view of your slides from some audience members. That will impact where you can stand or move to. When you have a key slide up it’s better to stand still, since you are directing the attention of the audience to that visual. Once you remove the visual, movement can bring the audience back to focusing on you.

The size of the stage is another limitation or movement enabler. The positioning of the seating and elevation, the audience size, your elevation level and your reliance on a lectern are all factors affecting your choices of movement. If you know you’re being videoed, or that your image is being projected on a screen you may want to avoid moving too quickly or you could exit the camcorder view temporarily.

Spontaneous movement adds energy to your speech
Spontaneous movement adds energy to your speech

When asking a question of the audience, stand still. When discussing the question, move steadily as if pondering the alternatives. When delivering your verdict you can increase credibility by standing still and straight with shoulders held back and eyes toward the centre of the audience whilst appearing natural and relaxed.

The word natural describes how movement should be. In particular, hand gestures work best when they are large, exuberant and deliberate. Short jerky gestures can be interpreted as nervousness and lacking in credibility. The use of hand and arm gestures is an important “cousin” of foot movement since by gesticulating one can appear animated whilst standing still.

The late Warren Evans suggested that if you tell a sad story from a particular position on the stage, you should return to that same position if there is another sombre story to add later. If you want to add a happy or humorous story, you should pick another spot, preferably on the opposite side of the stage – that becomes the happy story spot. This technique works well if you have freedom of movement, but less well when you are restricted to a small space.

The planning of deliberate movement is easier for a speech without visuals than it would be for a business presentation with visuals, because there’s a little less to think about in the case of the former. However spontaneous movement seems to work better than heavily choreographed movement, which is more the domain of the theatre. The exception is when you wish to choreograph movements for specific key parts of the delivery. Keep it to no more than 2 or 3, or you’ll be moving back to the theatre. 

Spend a few minutes at a busy family restaurant one Friday evening, cast your eye around the tables and see what’s happening. Invariably people are conversing and sharing stories with one another – they almost always gesture spontaneously, vigorously and with gay abandon. Because they are seated, their energy is portrayed by gestures and tone of voice – usually very adequately. It’s that naturalness that you want to capture in your movements.

Thanks to the following people for their ideas which contributed to this article (from a question posted in Speakers Corner): Warren Evans, Susan Luke Evans, Steve Bustin, Graeme Codrington, Catherine Sandland, George Swift and Ralph Watson.

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