Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why my favorite conference won't let speakers sit down

The UK Speechwriters' Guild and European Speechwriter Network conference is my favorite for many reasons, but particularly this one: They don't let the speakers sit when delivering their remarks.

Here's how organizer Brian Jenner explains the policy:
We don’t let speakers sit down. If a speaker is telling us something important, we prefer them to stand up. We don’t do sofa interviews and we don’t do panels – because you can appear on those without proper preparation.
Yes, speakers, we're on to those of you who sit on a panel scribbling notes and looking things up on your phone at the last minute, taking advantage of your seat and the table in front of you. And we already know that seated interviews are a signal that the (typically celebrity) speaker didn't want to prepare remarks. Jenner likes a well-prepared speaker, and I do, too. But there are other key reasons why you should stand when you speak:
  1. Standing improves your vocal quality:  You'll breathe, project and sound better if you're standing, in part because your diaphragm will have the space to do its job at top performance levels. But you'll also sound more energetic--try it out. This works on conference calls as well as on stage.
  2. You'll feel more energetic when you stand. Energy is vital for public speaking, which requires so much of you. If you're just sitting and listening, your body starts to relax after about 10 minutes, and you lose attention and focus the longer you are in that state. This reason alone is why I suggest other formats when invited to do a seated interview on stage.
  3. Standing gives the audience a visual focus.  In the old parlance, "you have the floor" really meant that you were out on the floor, standing as the speaker.  We're conditioned to watch the person standing when all else are seated, so take advantage of that. And standing means more of the audience can see you.
  4. Standing gives you options for movement.  It's tough to be dynamic from a chair, but when you are standing, you can move closer to or away from your slides, a questioner, or the group.  You can move to keep and hold their attention or to illustrate a point. 
  5. It establishes your authority.  Standing for your presentation in a small meeting, or standing up when your turn comes by on a panel, helps you stand out as a leader. It's a subtle way to show you're taking charge without having to say so.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Bart Heird)

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