Let’s get serious on how to speak in public (and you know fully well why we’re on this mission). There are several key components, posture is one of them.
Physical implications of posture in public speaking
The first implication of bad posture that affects our public speaking ability is purely mechanical. When you are slouching, rounding your shoulders forward, keeping your head down, you leave less room for your lungs to fill up when you breathe. Additionally, you are putting some of the muscles around the collarbone and neck in a strenuous position, and they will find it difficult to activate properly and assist your breathing. Clearly, when you are talking for 20, 30, 60 minutes on stage, having adequate breathing is important. We have all given presentations or pitches which were rushed because we limited by time, or our nerves. By the end of it, we are panting like we just ran a 100 metres. Therefore, you can see how important optimising your breathing, and in order to do that, optimising your posture is to public speaking.
There is a notion of ‘air flow’ in singing, talking and acting. This is an idea that the way you breathe will create a budget that you can spend on talking and sharing ideas. Business principles apply here: if you have a low budget, every expense is a bad expense. When you have a big budget, every expense is an investment. The way we build this budget is with the way we breathe, the rhythm of our breathing and speaking, and our posture, because the straighter we stand, the more room we have for to fill up with air. Try ‘breathing into your belly’. The proper name for this that you can research more specialist exercises for is ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This will also help you get more air in your budget.
The physical implication of not having sufficient air to speak at length can also impact on our mindset. It is obvious that the way we physically feel can very realistically impact our psychological wellbeing. If while we are talking in public, we start feeling out of breath, tired, or as some of us do, sweaty, we will begin to feel uncomfortable. We might feel like we want to rush right through to the end, or we might feel like we want to stop right now. Neither feeling is good for the quality of our public speaking. Let’s examine further the psychological effects of bad posture in public speaking.
Outward psychological effects of bad posture in public speaking
The memory of humans is fragile. The long, interesting talk we have just been at will soon become just a single frame and some key points in our mind. If the talk wasn’t so good, maybe we won’t remember much more than the general topic. Perhaps, all that will be left is our subconscious interpretations of the speaker. Think of someone you have not seen for many years. You will not remember everything they said, all the conversations you have had. What you will remember, is your impression or judgement of them. A lot of is is conscious – we interpret the things people say. However, our mind picks up subconscious signals at all times. Many of our judgements about people are based on a gut feeling more than actual rational thought.
For these reasons, we may not allow ourselves to project the bad signals that bad posture sends out while we are public speaking. A large part of our communication is expressed by the non-verbal. If you are slouching and look bored by what you are saying, then why should your audience listen to you? Standing straight offers an appearance of leadership. You are standing up on the stage or a podium, and you are not scared or intimidated by it. You cannot always be dominating, and you should not be dominating or imposing while speaking. You’re not here to piss on other people’s ideas, at least not all the time. Create body language that says ‘I’m feeling great, I’m here now, I’m comfortable with what I am saying, and everything is great.’ You don’t have to parade on stage while presenting, but you do have to appear that you are okay with what you are saying. If you come in front of an audience of experienced leaders and challengers and try to dominate, you will most likely get discarded as a buffoon, or worse, you will challenged by people with more experience than you and you will get spanked in front of an audience.
Display control over your message and confidence, and the challengers and leaders will accept you as the right kind of person to talk to us on this topic. Posture is a way to assert oneself and it is quite important to remember that the way you are asserting yourself is also judged by some people, not everybody, but some will draw certain conclusions about you based on how you present yourself. This is background information that they will keep on you and at some point it will come back.
Inward psychological effects of bad posture in public speaking
The signals your body language sends out are not only outward. These signals are at the same time also reflected in your internal dialogue and how you feel about yourself. There is a very interesting TEDx talk by Amy Cuddy on this, which examined the relationship between the body language and internal feelings of ourselves. I invite you to watch this great talk for the exact details, but if I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say: You can fake ‘til you make it. If you stand up like a winner, you will feel like a winner. If you stand up like a loser, you will feel like a loser. This is why while coaching, we sometimes ask our clients to reframe. To change the way they sit, and give them a chance to improve their mindset through changing their posture. All the signals are reflected inwards.
This is how you can benefit from good posture while speaking in public. If you manage to have your internal dialogue picking up positive signals, your mindset will be more positive, and your talk will be way more captivating to the audience.
Optimising posture for public speaking
As you can see, bad posture can result in more than just some back pain. In the context of public speaking it can affect our physiological, purely mechanical capacity to get the right amount of air and modulate our voice the way want or need to. It can have inward psychological effects that can distract us, make us uncomfortable or unconfident and detract from our impact. It can also have outward psychological effects on the way our audience perceives us – as unconvinced of what we are saying, as uncomfortable, unconfident, weak.
So with this in mind, you are probably wondering what to do about it. To become conscious of your posture, first of all think about your back position – how straight you are standing, or sitting. Stand straight and tall to appear as big and confident as you can be. Keeping your shoulders back and keeping your weight on the balls of your feet will help combat slouching which can cause the air issues. Good, comfortable shoes that allow for you to stand comfortably for a long time can help with this. Good posture starts at the bottom. Keep your head up, and look at your audience. This will help build your rapport with them, rather than staring at your slides or notes, or worse, at your feet.
Finally, make sure that you adapt everything to your style. Everything is about balance. Standing up straight is not just having a stick up you. You have to strike the right balance between the military upright position and the gangsta slouch. Strike the right balance so you do not look disengaged, disdainful, too serious or too relaxed. Adapt to your audience and make them feel unique.
Uniqueness and how to find it is one of the key components of our online course…
The Pitch Cards team