Do you have stage presence when it comes to public speaking? Here's how to be a strong speaker in the mind of your audience.
When it comes to soaring to the heights of great speaking, do you have your feet on the ground?
It's important that you do—literally. How you hold yourself, move, and use your performance space are all major factors in what listeners perceive and think about you. In fact, it's part of how they judge you as knowing how to speak for leadership. And it starts with a simple but important factor: the relationship of your feet and the stage (or floor) itself.
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Are You Accessing Your Power as a Speaker?
The relationship you have with the floor or stage you stand on is a concept known in the acting word as "grounding." It means standing strongly (so the visual picture is what you want it to be). Actually, it's much more than that, because it involves getting your power from the earth.
Think of how too many speakers stand: with feet close together or even touching. They may cross and uncross their legs, or lean on one hip for long periods of time. You've seen speakers without any podium presence, either slouching behind the lectern or holding onto it with white knuckles. A different drawback is the speaker who moves constantly, so there's no visual sense of this person knowing how to use body language for effective speaking.
And it isn't just a visual thing. When you look centered and strong, whatever you're saying has more authority behind it. Seem like too much of a stretch for you? Never underestimate how the things you're showing an audience about your person are affecting their opinion of you.
But to get back to my question about accessing your power. For millennia, actors and other on-stage performers have known that part of their strength comes from the earth. In ancient Greece, the theaters were carved into the hillside, so the players were actually standing on the earth itself. What is more potent than demonstrating power by connecting yourself to the earth itself? Nothing.
Why Body Language Matters in Public Speaking
Do you see why body language—and everything you show an audience through your physical presence—is so important in public speaking? You as speaker can too easily get wrapped up in your content, thinking that the information you are imparting is all that matters. But audiences are taking it all in—and often, the visual components of your performance can equal or even supersede the intellectual elements of your talk.
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Another way to say this is: when you speak in public, you have to get out of your head and into your body! So "ground yourself," and gain power and energy from the Earth (and since they are connected to the earth, the building and the floor you're actually standing on).
How to Ground Yourself: Simply stand straight and set your feet at armpit- or shoulder-width (no wider). Keep your feet parallel and flat on the floor. Flex your knees slightly to give you a bit more flexibility. In other words, stand your ground as you discuss one idea. When you're ready to transition to the next idea, move to a different spot on stage and set yourself once again. If you demonstrate this kind of steadfastness, every one of your points will seem steadfast, i.e., believable and true, as well.
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Grounding Can Help You Be Victorious Every Time!
Even Greek mythology is on your side when it comes to grounding. It tells the story of strongman Antaeus—the child of the sea god Poseidon and goddess of the Earth, Demeter—who found himself tangling with an even more renowned he-man, Hercules.
Antaeus lived on the edge of a desert, where he challenged every male passerby to a wrestling match. He would easily overcome his opponents, killing every one. Finally, he faced Hercules, who himself was half-god through his father, Zeus. Hercules was frustrated because every time he threw Antaeus to the ground, the lethal wrestler would get up stronger than before. Hercules realized that each time Antaeus came in contact with the Earth (his mother), he would regain his strength. So he lifted Antaeus in a bear-hug, breaking his connection with the ground, and crushed the life out of him.
Body therapist Stanley Rosenberg writes that "The story of Antaeus has been used to symbolize the dangers of not keeping ourselves grounded." From the days of ancient Greece to today, it remains great advice for public speakers as well as superheroes.
 Stanley Rosenberg, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2017), 62.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method uses performance techniques to help business executives, leadership teams, and professionals embody presence and confidence to achieve true influence. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as one of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time."