Where Are Your Feet?
by Claudia Brogan
Your base, your foundation, your roots.
In a recent coaching session for a professional who wants to keep improving his presentation skills, he asked for clear, useful feedback. “How can I get better at delivering my message?” he asked. “How can I polish my delivery and effectiveness?”
Smart of him to ask those questions. I happen to think that none of us is ever done learning. We’ll benefit immensely if we stay curious—seeking new feedback and helpful suggestions.
In order to give him specific ideas, I watched as he demonstrated a few ‘practice’ deliveries. He’s a great speaker with strong verbal skills. One area that I noticed, though, was that he tended to wander—by that I mean that he wandered physically around the speaking area. That then led him to wandering verbally.
Each one of us has a nervous tick or two that we do: a habit that we ‘resort’ to when we are anxious. Sometimes, it’s the frequent use of “Um’s”; sometimes it’s self-consciously looking at the floor or wall because we’re apprehensive about making solid eye contact.
In this speaker’s case, though, he found himself walking back and forth in a way that was nervous, distracted pacing. As a listener, that completely sidetracked me. I found that I watched his route, his path and where he would be heading next rather than listening clearly on his ideas and content.
My advice for him was to curb the pacing and wandering. For now, I said to him, “Stay planted.”
We aligned his feet as a solid base for him: feet parallel, a 5-6 inch distance apart, a sturdy foundation for him. Toes pointed toward the back wall. Comfortable, solid, ready, calm.
I wish you could have been there to see the delight on his face. He began his remarks again, this time not distracted by his own nervous pacing. He focused on using animated, enthusiastic facial gestures and hand gestures that supplemented his verbal explanations. He smiled with poise and handled himself gracefully.
Afterwards, when doing a self-evaluation, he said, “That’s it. Two words: stay planted. It even changed how cloudy my mind was: I was clear, I knew my key points, I made more sense.”
After he regains his self-confidence and polishes his speeches, we’ll later proceed to having him add stage-movements. We’ll have him practice and insert natural, purposeful steps at the front of the speaking area—but only if they supplement and enhance his points. But for now, a world of self-confidence opened up when he reminded himself to “stay planted.”
For each one of us, it’s a simple but powerful tool for us to pay careful attention to where our feet are as we speak. Not leaning to the side on one foot then the next, not pacing or standing with our feet side by side in a ‘close, closed’ position. And not—as I recently saw a TV host do on camera—standing with one leg fully crossed over the other.
Remember that how your feet are placed actually sends a very strong signal: not only to your own mind and concentration, but to the audience as well. Slumping, leaning, crossing and pacing: each of those distract from the message (and maybe even worry our audience about what might be going on?).
Notice how your feet serve as your base and your own foundation. If you too have caught The Wandering Bug, just pause, focus…and Stay Planted.
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.