Last year I discussed – here – the pros and cons of standing or sitting for a business presentation. As almost everyone I coach soon finds for themselves, standing always comes out on top – in terms of the control, body language and eye contact benefits that you gain – but there is way to have the best of both worlds.
If you start by standing, you can then pick the right moment to ‘change gear’ by sitting down with your audience at the table. This probably comes at the moment when you have made your big points with all the presence and impact that standing affords and you now wish to move to a ‘discussion phase’. Sitting together around the table is highly appropriate at this stage and the discussion is all the more likely to go in your favour because you have just made your points so powerfully.
There was a terrific example of a ‘gear change’ in a film broadcast on BBC 2 last weekend. Margin Call is based on a true story from the banking crisis of 2008. In a desperate attempt to save the company, Kevin Spacey’s character is instructing his staff to liquidate their entire holdings, knowing that such a move will be career-ending for most of them. So he builds to a rousing tone from a standing position that adds to his presence, gives power to his voice and enables broadly-spread eye contact. Some sensitivity shows through, nevertheless, via his finger fidgeting and he knows he is going have to speak from the heart as well as his position of authority. So, having spelt out what is required, he sits down. He lowers his voice, increases the pauses, and makes a clear show of empathy, before standing again to bark his final call to action. Interestingly – and I am sure this was carefully planned – Spacey underlines the gear changes by removing and then replacing his spectacles.
I know it’s only acting, but it is particularly fine acting and you are unlikely to find a better example of the ‘gear change’ technique that I encourage people to adopt when the moment feels right. “There is nothing I like more” I tell the people I coach, “than the moment when I realise I have won my audience over, so I shut down the PowerPoint (rather pointedly, if not theatrically) and sit down with my audience for a chat”.
You can see the scene from Margin Call that I refer to just above and the entire film is available on the BBC iPlayer until the middle of June.