One question I get asked regularly is about sitting down during a presentation.
I’ve found that most of the people who ask me whether they should sit or stand are hoping to hear me endorse sitting. Perhaps it's because sitting down to present feels more conversational and less nerve wracking. Of course, there are some people looking for any excuse to avoid the font-of-the-room, on your feet position.
When given a choice, do you opt for sitting down during a presentation? If so, you may want to reconsider.
Standing in front of a room full of seated people signals authority. To create the same non-verbal cue when seated, your head has to be taller than everyone else’s. For example, you could sit on a high stool in front of a room full of regular sized chairs. When you are seated around a table where everyone is the same height, you are sharing authority. This can be a good strategy for a CEO who wants to create more engagement at meetings. A mid-level manager delivering the game plan is better off standing.
Have you ever seen someone presenting in a meeting sitting down, only to stand right up when it becomes critical to take back the conversation and assert their authority? It can seem as if the speaker does this intuitively.
Standing also makes it easier to use movement and gestures to keep the audience engaged. As we’re learning with the recent standing-desk craze, being on your feet creates a sense of vitality for everyone involved.
What about Webinars? When you are beamed to participants through the wonders of a webcam, headset, and Web Ex, you should beware of sitting as well. Beyond the body language dynamics, you have to work harder to look and sound energetic when you are sitting, even when you are communicating virtually.
So, if it makes sense and you have choice, stand tall.
P.S. – If you decide to present sitting down, think about your leadership presence. Sit tall with shoulders back. Stay grounded with both feet on the floor, and keep your hands above the table and your arms in an open position and not crossed in front of you. I'll talk more about this next week.