To walk or stand still: How should you present when on stage?

Should I stand at a fixed spot or walk when presenting on stage?

If a speaker is glued to the spot or keeps pacing the stage throughout the speech, the audience gets distracted and infer that the presenter is probably nervous. Hence, keeping a balance between moving and momentarily standing is the key.

But you may ask where to stand and when to move? What to do with our hands when standing and moving? What about other body parts? What to do if we are not speaking on stage or assisting someone?

Worry not! We got you covered!

Read till the end of this article to find out the possible answers to your questions.

Standing on stage

Be your authentic self when on stage!

Should you stand still while presenting on stage?

Standing still depends on what your topic is or what kind of presentation are you planning to give.

  • If you are just about to begin with your speech and are introducing your main topic or thesis, standing still will benefit more, as it will grab the attention of your audience

Moving while you are just about to begin might become distractive and the focus will shift from what you are saying to what you are doing

  • Standing is also beneficial if you are about to tell something serious, or your chosen topic is of a solemn nature
  • If you have a presentation screen or a fixed microphone, then standing is a better alternative
  • Standing still while speaking can also give you credibility points!
  • If you are giving an important presentation to a client, standing still will give your speech a level of authority and competence

How to stand in front of an audience?

Standing still throughout the speech can become a bit awkward and your audience will start zoning out as not much is happening except you speaking at a glued spot.

Then, how to stand in such a way that will keep your audience engaged?

A confident and positive way to stand is to stand straight and place your feet hip-width apart. This is your base posture.

You can add in hand gestures from this base posture and you are good to go!

For more better understanding, watch this clip.

Where to stand on the stage?

Where you stand is as important as how you stand.

Always face the audience and stand in the center of the stage. You can see everyone in the audience, and your audience can see you too!

If you are presenting online, face the camera and frame yourself in the center of your screen, so that you are the sole focus of your viewers. If you want to know more about presenting remotely, check out our article on All you need to know about presenting remotely.

If you do not have a microphone, stand a little closer to your audience, while still stationing yourself in the center, so that you are audible enough to everyone.

In case you have a podium or a mic stand, stand at a comfortable distance apart, and it will be easy to do gestures while speaking.

How to stand if you are not speaking on stage?

There may be times when you are not speaking, and are just standing, as in a group presentation or while hosting an event with your fellow anchor.

How to stand in such situations?

One popular posture is the model position.

when in doubt, just go for model position!

Keep your right foot a little forward than your left, and shift your body weight to your left such that your right knee bends a bit.

If you have a pocket, place your left thumb in it and let your right hand fall naturally on your right thigh or you can place both your thumbs in your pocket like in the below image.

Put your thumbs in with your hands out

You can even simply put your hands in front of you and stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart.

in formal contexts, fig leaf position is appropriate

You can observe what your other speaker is speaking and actively show your engagement, perhaps with a smile or a slight nod from time to time.

Things to avoid while standing on stage

  • Avoid showing your back to the audience, or stand facing the projector screen or your PPT. It will be less engaging as an audience
  • Hands in the pocket is a big no-no, as it is a casual and generally rude gesture to practice on stage
  • Constantly shifting body weight on either side or swaying back and forth or side to side is also not a good posture when on stage, as it conveys that you are nervous
  • If you have a podium in front of you, avoid touching it, as chances are high that you will lean on it, or in worst cases, the things kept on the podium will fall, creating an unnecessary disturbance
  • Avoid slouching. It is not an appropriate posture
  • Avoid standing near possible distractions, like the front of a door or beside a window, as the audience will tend to look at any slight movements and not concentrating fully on your speech.

How to stop swaying during a speech

Swaying while presenting is usually the first thing which your audience notices, and if you have a habit of swaying, i.e., moving back and forth or side-to-side, the audience will get highly distracted and not focus on your speech.

So, one way to stop swaying is to consciously avoid doing so. When you practice for your speech, do it in front of a mirror or record yourself to see whether you are overdoing the movements.

Check out our article on The Incredible Impact of Video Recording Yourself While Practicing a Speech to gain an in-depth understanding of practicing through recording.

Practice till you feel comfortable standing still while giving your speech.

Another way is to focus on your posture while on stage.

If you stand straight, with the weight of your body evenly on both your feet, chances are less of swaying.

Hence, get your posture right to avoid swaying.

Walking on stage

Should you walk around during a presentation on stage?

This is a tricky part, and most speakers get confused, pacing around the stage and confusing the audience.

Even if the content is great, constant movement can distract your audience, and they are likely to pay more attention to your movements than your speech.

Hence, walk with a purpose.

You might wonder: What is purposeful movement in speech?

Purposeful movement is using your body(in this case, walking) intentionally to increase the impact of your message on the audience.

So, if you are narrating a story, or there are actions that prompt movement, such as “I was walking down the street one day when..” or something along those lines, walking will provide a visual cue to your words, enhancing the impact on your audience just by walking!

Thus, when you write your speech, include words that could be performed or carry a hint of action, for example, walking, traveling, going, seeing, etc.

Another situation which calls for walking is absence of projector screen.

If you do not happen to have a projector screen, then walking might come to your rescue.

Move when you are about to proceed to your next point.

It will engage the audience more, and they would not find the speech boring.

How to walk on stage

How to walk making sure you are not pacing around?

First, get to know your space i.e., the stage, and use it wisely.

Divide your space into center, left and right, and give equal time to each part.

So, if your speech contains 3 points, stand in the center for point one, left for point two, and right for point three.

This way, there is a balance between standing and moving, and you won’t appear to be pacing around the stage.

Another method of walking is the half-walk.

Move a bit forward when you want to emphasize a point.

When you are done, pause for a moment, move back and proceed towards your next point.

Watch this short clip for better understanding.

How to walk when assisting someone on stage

There are times when you walk on the stage without really speaking to the audience.

Instances where you go on stage to collect your graduation certificate, or are volunteers to assist someone to the stage, are all such examples.

You cannot just look down on the stage and run back to your seat.

Try and maintain eye contact with the person giving the speech and simply smile, escort the person or take your certificate, and return to your seat at your natural pace.

If the stage has a lot of stairs, climb carefully, because people usually trip on it in a rush to go back to their seats.

Things to avoid while walking on stage

  • Avoid walking mindlessly
  • Be aware of what is on the stage. If you are speaking from a wired microphone, walk with caution, as chances are high of tripping
  • Sometimes the stage has carpets, which also increase the chances of falling
  • Don’t look down. Maintain eye contact with the audience when you walk
  • Don’t forget to put some energy into your walk! Doing so will add personality to your walk

What to do with our hands on stage?

The most confusing and unexplored area of body language in a speech is our hands.

In a lot of social situations, for instance, when on stage, we just don’t know what to do with our hands. We end up being self-conscious and nervous.

So, how to use your hands effectively in speeches or presentations?

Effective hand gestures and poses on stage

The best hand posture is to leave them at your sides naturally.

However, if you feel uncomfortable doing so, notice what journalists do.

gestures come naturally from this posture

They place their hands naturally near the belt area, and doing so makes gestures feel more natural and easy.

Types of hand gestures

1. The Give gesture
gesture with open palms

This involves gesticulating by keeping your palms up and not down.

This is useful in stating facts or giving options, saying this or that with your hands.

2. The Show gesture
show your emotion and connect with your audience

This gesture is used to develop an emotional connection with the content and audience.

For example, if you are sharing a personal anecdote and move your hands towards your chest, it shows that the information really matters to you and hence it is important for them to listen.

3. The Chop gesture

The Chop is using your hands and chopping in the air!

You can use a single hand or both hands to gesticulate a strong viewpoint or personal opinion.

It can also be used to show the division or stages of any topic or even perspectives.

4. The show and tell gesture
show the math!

Other common but useful hand gestures include showing how many with fingers. If you show and tell, the audience will be likely to retain that information, as you also provide visual cues.

You can even show an increase and decrease with your hands going up for increase and moving down for indicating a decrease.

5. The bring together gesture
bring together is best to wind up your speech

If you want to convey an optimistic message, bring your hands together. It will make a lot of difference and will make you appear trustworthy and a reliable person.

This gesture is also useful when you are trying to conclude a speech on a positive note.

6. Emblems

Lastly, there are many culture-specific hand gestures, which you cannot use in all contexts, as they can completely change the meaning of your words.

For instance, the thumbs-up sign in most parts of the globe means positive acknowledgment. However, in the Middle East, it is an obscene gesture!

Watch the below clip to get familiar with more such hand gestures.

Hand gestures to avoid on stage

There are some bad habits which we unknowingly carry on to the stage.

Some of them are putting hands behind our back, hands in the pockets, or folding our hands to the chest.

All these do not match with what we are trying to achieve while presenting.

Putting hands behind the back is very formal, as it is a common practice in the military.

this gesture can also convey nervousness!

Hands in the pocket are on the other extreme. It is super casual, and hence rude on the stage.

this comes out as overconfident!

It also makes it difficult to convey a strong message.

All of them will make you seem arrogant and overconfident.

Other not-so-common hand postures are hands on the hips and the fig-leaf pose.

Both of these make you look comical, timid, and funny.

Hands on hips make you look overbearing and powerful, and the audience will perceive you to be overconfident.

Fig- leaf pose, where you place both your hands in front of you like in a religious place, is also not a good choice.

Any gesture from this pose will seem nervous or humorous from an audience’s perspective. You can, of course, use this pose for creating humor!

Does our face matter?

Your face is also a part of your body, and hence, part of your body language.

Facial expressions make a lot of difference. It brings life to your presentation or speech.

It can also make or break your speech: read our article here to know why.

Eyes

eye contact has a lot more power than you assume!

Maintain eye contact with your audience.

If you find it difficult to do so, make eye contact with one person per thought or sentence.

This will make your speech and your thoughts flow easily, at the same time engaging your audience.

However, avoid looking at notes, or your PPT for a longer time, as the audience will feel disengaged and disinterested in your presentation.

Another pointer to keep in mind is to open your eyes slightly wider than usual. Doing this will make you appear more lively and give life to your face.

Facial expressions

The top half of your face is seen as more authentic than the lower half.

For example, when you raise your eyebrows and communicate various emotions and show interest, people will feel more connected and more closer, making your speech more engaging.

Same works with a simple smile!

smile through your nervousness!

When you smile, your brain releases endorphins, the happy hormone, which makes you feel confident and powerful.

Hence, next time don’t forget to smile!

Another contagious and easy gesture is to nod. When you pause after saying a key point and nod, it turns impactful, and your audience will nod too!

Examples of body language in speech

1. Lara Boyd: How our brain changes

This Ted talk by Lara Boyd is a very good example of body language usage in a speech.

There is a balance between standing and walking, moving when about to proceed to the next point. Also, the speaker only moves a few steps and is doing it slowly, not distracting the audience.

The hand gestures like The show and tell and The give is also effectively used, which act as highlighters to her spoken words.

2. Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

This is my personal favorite of a speaker standing still yet making it seem natural and even engaging in a hearty laugh as an audience.

But the speaker has done so that the screen also gets the same attention like him.

The posture is very stable and relaxed, which makes even the audience relaxed.

He relies on the hand gestures like Show and tell, The bring together, The chop, and complements his words with the gestures, making it more retentive.

3. Laura Vanderkam: How to gain control of your free time

This speech by Laura Vanderkam gives us an accurate balance of standing and walking.

She walks with a purpose; walking when moving on to the next point or walking at words that convey action.

Hand gestures are also effectively used, as the show and tell for counting, showing compartments with both her hands, and even for satire and humor.

Her posture is also properly maintained throughout the speech and she engages her audience with eye contact and a simple smile at the end of her points!

Conclusion

In this article, we covered all the areas of body language, right from head to toe.

We also looked at some key points of how to use our body effectively in a speech or presentation.

Lastly, we saw three examples that gave us an insight into body language in action.

So, rest assured and work on your body for your next speech!

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Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.