Thinking about how we hold ourselves can be tricky. Our posture – how we stand, how we sit, how we move – can be so natural to us that beginning to consider how it might be altered when we speak in public feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Doing more than one thing at once can feel counter-intuitive.
How we stand, however, has a huge impact on how we speak – and the effects we can have. Most obviously, there’s the issue of first impressions. Slouch on stage and your audience will switch off. Stand with your hands thrust into your pockets and they’ll think you too casual.
Audiences respond to enthusiasm, so standing up straight and walking confidently immediately puts them at ease. This isn’t to say you should stand ram-rod straight – far from it, since appearing natural is also an important part of exuding confidence. The rule of thumb, though, is never to slouch.
On top of these psychological effects, good posture has physiological ones, too. Putting your shoulders back and standing tall will make you feel better inside, just as it will impress an audience; and a big bonus is that it will also help you breathe better.
I’ve written before [links] about breathing: leading from the diaphragm and controlling that continuous flow of air. Good posture allows that to happen more easily. Imagine your body like a pipe. Any kinks or bends or blockages in that pipe will halt the flow of air. Likewise, if you’re slumped over your lectern, you’ll struggle to catch your breath.
Holding your head up high and your chin out doesn’t just inspire confidence in the audience, – it actually enables you to speak better. Keeping your movement to a minimum – no rocking back and forth! – allows you to concentrate on your diction. And making gestures, which are broad and gentle, rather than rapid and choppy, will keep your breathing regular, too.
It’s a good idea to practice good posture – and adopt it even before you go onto stage. In the minutes before you make your presentation, straighten your back and shoulders, hold your head high and start to move as you will on stage. Research shows that this helps with nerves … and also “programmes” your body to stay that way as you speak.
In other words, by thinking enough about posture, standing and moving well ultimately becomes second nature when you’re actually speaking. Your audience will be impressed, you’ll be more confident … and your voice stronger. Doing two things at once will never be easier!