Monday, February 13, 2012

Stillness: A Speaker's Place of Power

Who's Your Favorite Karate Kid?

Last week I watched an excellent speech on the benefits of Karate. During the presentation, he gave a few demonstrations of martial arts movements, which added a wonderful physical element to the mostly historical and philosophical content of his speech.

Where I saw some irony was in his movements on stage when he wasn't gesturing. He did the shuffle pace - staying forward to the audience, but still going from one side to the other. This isn't as distracting as an all out pace, where a speaker breaks eye contact and briskly moves from side to side while simultaneously talking to the air or the floor, but it still creates a problematic dynamic with the audience.

First, it keeps us on guard. Since he was always moving, we weren't sure when he was going to punch or kick next - the reptilian brain in us stayed alert. Not to his words as much as to his movements, especially since the stage and audience were only separated by a few feet.

Second, since he was always moving, it took some power away from his gestures, whereas if he had stayed more centered on stage, the kick's would have kept their, well, kick!

And that is where the irony was for me, and the lesson for all of us. One of the benefits of Karate is learning focus - to center oneself both physically and psychologically. That means controlling emotions, breathing, and placement on the stage, when it comes to speaking. It doesn't mean staying in one spot for the entirety of a speech. It just means being where you are long enough to make a point, then purposefully moving to your next 'centered spot' for your next point.

There are some basic rules for stage movement:

1. Moving forward is a strong, potentially intimidating move, which indicates importance or weight in your statements. Moving too close to the audience can make them uncomfortable, and depending on the stage, put you at risk. Stay aware of the line between strength and scariness!

2. Moving backward shows weakness, and hurts the power of whatever you are saying as you go backwards, unless it is specifically tied in - "I found myself blown backwards by the winds the terror". Never retreat when making a comment you want the audience to buy into.

3. Right to Left is their Left to Right. It seems unnatural for you, but if you are creating a timeline of any sort with your movements, make sure you are creating it from their point of view, not yours.

4. Anchoring characters. Finding a place on stage to talk about a character in your speech can make those characters, and their scenes, more vivid for an audience. If you talk to your hated basketball coach and your loving wife while putting them in the same spot on stage, it creates a subconscious contradiction for the audience, and weakens both characters.

Even if you have many characters in your speech, you can create different sides of the stage for positive & negative people, or past and present individuals. In a longer speech, once you transition to a new section, you can put a new character where the old one was, as long as your last section wrapped up your interaction.

5. Angles work well in any direction. It softens the abruptness of your motions while adding variety to your stage locations. It also take a little longer which will add impact to your pause, and give you a chance to think, if you can manage to be disciplined enough not to talk through them movement. If the angled movement is planned for a specific line, it can also be a strong way to use your voice to climb up our down to an appropriately loud or stage whisper crescendo.

Keeping your body at an angle helps you use your physical presence more judiciously, as you lean forward on one foot, but keep the back foot back. It also allows you to pivot from one side of the audience to the other more gracefully than standing flush on the stage. Those angles can be very effective when switched mid point - with the setup statement directed towards one half of the audience and the payoff delivered to the other half. Even angling you backward movements, if you must make them, strengthens them somewhat, disguising them as side to side actions.

Your best movement? Stillness. It's difficult. It feels unnatural. Yet Stillness contrasts every planned movement on stage, helping them pop out as they come along. It adds power to your speech when you match your words with your confidence to stay anchored to your position.

And - it keeps YOU calmer, preventing your from using the stage as your own private workout mat, perhaps causing you to run out of breath, perspire, and even raise your blood pressure unnecessarily. Get out there on stage. Breathe. Keep your body still, while knowing where you'll be going next, and when. Then Speak....& Deliver, even if you're wearing a karategi!


  1. what great advices! I posted some of it in our Toastmasters club blog, Lewisham Speakers, of course with links to this one!

  2. You can also do what World Champion Craig Valentine suggests, step forward when you are talking to your audience (conversation (C) - space) and stay back when you are in your story (story (S) - space). This way you are continually moving in and out of your story, engaging your audience throughout.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...