Several of my recent Presentation Skills coaching sessions have involved debate as to whether one should sit or stand when delivering a presentation. Once I have briefed delegates on how to position themselves in relation to their screen, how to keep still and avoid prowling or rocking backwards and forwards on their feet, they reply: “We usually sit for our presentations. Do you think we should we should stand?”
To me the answer is obvious: Of course you should stand – it creates a focus around you and your aids and it gives you much greater freedom to gesticulate, so adding a visual element to your delivery. At the same time, I don’t want to impose my techniques on people. My aim is to tailor my advice to each individual so that they can add impact in their own way to the specific situations in which they are presenting.
So if I am working with a team I usually suggest we try a mix, with some people presenting from a seated position and some standing. This experimentation enables us to do some useful comparing and contrasting. It also allows each person to reach their own conclusions (Rule 19 of the Rules of Magic states: People put more reliance on something they have worked out for themselves).
I set it up so that sitting presenters go first – the supposed reason being that this is the normal/traditional way for them to do things. Standing presenters follow and almost immediately everyone starts to realise certain basic benefits: you can create a single point of focus with yourself and your aids in one view; eye contact, which is constrained when you have people at your immediate sides, is much stronger and easier to control and spread. Above all, the slight elevation gives you a commanding position – a position of authority even. For a few minutes you ‘own’ the room.
This is where the principle of getting the delegates to reach their own conclusions really kicks in. Sometimes they start to realise that problems they often encounter can be overcome by standing and may even be exacerbated by seated presentations. One client related how they often have to deal with unwanted interruptions or bosses who go off at unhelpful tangents. “They might be less likely to do that”, they muse, “if we have the floor, so to speak”. “Absolutely”, I reply, “especially if you get into the habit of what I am going to propose next”.
By this time no one wants to sit any more. They want to start working on their gestures, realising that there really is something in those old theories about the words you say only forming part of any communication that results. They even get excited about the potential for deploying props.
So it’s at that point that I propose sitting down again! In the type of situation where people have traditionally given a presentation from a seated position their objective is often to make the case for something and then win agreement through subsequent discussion. So I tell them there is an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. Start by standing to give a short, impactful presentation. Once you have made your key points, concluding with a ‘Call to Action’, announce that the time for discussion has come, as you change the mood by re-joining your audience, seated at the table. By now you are in a powerful position to win the agreement you are seeking.