I saw a study recently that confirmed something important about how people enter a room, shake a hand in greeting, and take the stage: how you move matters.
Back when I was teaching Princeton students how to speak in public, I used to create angst in them in a way I knew would work them up. I would tell them about the criteria that research showed were important for successful speaking.
The one that got their goat, always, was the finding that the more attractive you are, the more highly your speeches will be rated by audiences, who apparently spend most of their time just looking.
“But that’s not fair!” they would whine, as if life should be arranged to be fair to Princeton students.
“Well,” I would respond, “If you think that’s not fair, then make yourself more attractive.”
“You can’t do that,” they would complain back at me.
And then I would hit them with the research finding that the single most important factor determining attractiveness was smiling. Not how cute or handsome, or physically fit you were, or how great your hair was, but smiling.
The whole point of this slightly manipulative exercise was to get the students to realize that they had control over their destinies in the matter of public speaking.
The same is true for how you move. Move correctly and you can add points to your IQ, notches to your sex appeal, levels to your authority, and oodles to your trustworthiness. Move incorrectly, and you’ll create an air of diffidence, or insignificance, or fear – you’ll sabotage yourself before you’ve even begun to speak.
The study found that women who move their hips and men who add a bit of swagger to their shoulders can increase their attractiveness.
Now, of course, as a speaker you’re not as interested in attractiveness as you are in authority, trustworthiness, and credibility, right? Of course you wouldn’t be one of those speakers who will say or do anything in an effort to increase the love they’re getting from the crowd. Because – of course – your job isn’t to get an audience to love you, but rather to move an audience to action.
So if you’re going to add a bit of sway, or swagger, you’re going to do so in the full knowledge that you’re brazenly catering to the affections of the crowd.
Instead, I would recommend thinking about how to win the audience’s respect. You’re the temporary authority. You walk in with the presumption from the audience that you’re an expert in the field you’re going to be talking about, so think about how your posture and your motion will retain that respect, or indeed increase it.
Before you walk on, then, throw your shoulders back, suck in your stomach, and hold your head high – but level. If there’s a wall handy, line up against it, with your heels, your butt, your shoulders, and the back of your head touching the wall. Try it – you’ll be surprised at how weirdly upright it feels. Then take a few steps away from the wall and try to maintain that upright posture as long as you can.
Gravity will soon take over, but until it does, you’ll have perfect posture. You’ll be perceived as trustworthy, credible, and confident, the master and authority in the room.