“Where are you going?” said the acting coach to the business presenter who was pacing backwards and forwards as he spoke. “Over there”, came the rather weak response. “Why?” said the coach, as they both realised there was no good answer to the question. That coach, Rich Bloch, was speaking to us at The Magic Circle and he made me think afresh about the benefits of stillness when you are delivering a presentation.
Stillness is, of course, the body language equivalent of Pausing, which I discussed in another recent blog. I said then that many people struggle with pausing and I have to admit that keeping still continues to be one of my personal challenges.
I tend to fidget and shuffle my feet around, which is not a good thing for two main reasons. The first is simply that an audience cannot focus on a moving target! Most people need discipline (possibly guided by some video footage) to achieve stillness and they also need inspiration from other sources. The latter, I believe, has not been helped by the rise of stand up comedy, which has grown in scale from little clubs with no room to move at all to the O2 Arena with its massive stage. This means that we now regularly see comedians prancing around their stage, and even skipping and falling over in some specific cases.
Please don’t even think of taking inspiration from the comedy world. Instead, take a look – as I continue to suggest – at almost any Steve Jobs product launch. He prowls the stage a bit as he opens – to ensure that he has engaged with every member of his audience. By the time he gets down to business, however, he is keeping fairly still, usually from a ‘home’ position on the left of the stage (audience’s view).
The second, more practical reason for keeping still is that gestures can be very effective for adding impact to what you are saying – but only if they come from the starting point of stillness. If your arms and legs are already flailing around it’s going to be difficult for your audience to spot your gestures in amongst all the other action!
As I intimated, you need to work at achieving stillness, but you can start that work like this: 1) As a general principle aim to keep still. Rather than standing with your feet parallel to each other, keep your heels together, with your feet at a 45 degree angle to each other; this should anchor you to the spot. 2) Plan some specific moments of movement and some appropriate gestures at key points. 3) Plan some very specific moments of stillness – probably where you have planned some pauses.
Finally, let’s go to an extreme and listen to some tips from a movie star who brings together both stillness and pausing. I say an extreme because, as Oliver Reed says in this clip, when your face is projected on a big screen your eyes can be six feet wide and if you want to, say, convey a sense of menace, you can’t even afford to blink! This clip evokes special memories for me because I was lucky enough to know Oliver quite well in the 70s and 80s when he lived in the house featured here, just across the fields from where I grew up. One Sunday afternoon he stood on one side of a pond reciting poetry, as a small group of us sat mesmerised on the other side. What made it so special was the combination of his rich voice and the fact that he was utterly still, so that any body language had great impact when it came. Naively I whispered to his niece: “How does he remember all those lines?” “He’s making it all up as he goes”, came the reply. Wow, what a shame we never got to see him on stage, rather than just on screen!