There’s nothing more distracting than a fidgety presenter. Mindless shifting, swaying and shuffling—it’s a common tick that can undermine hours of preparation. The traditional advice for speakers is to move or gesture to emphasize a point or stand in one spot. But staying put is harder than you think—especially for nervous speakers without a podium to hide behind.
At a July 17 Spotlight Presentation Academy “speaker bootcamp” at TED’s New York City headquarters, TED speaker coach Bryn Freedman gave participants a surprising hack to get them to stand still onstage.
With feet about six inches apart, Freedman asked speakers to imagine curling their toes around a small branch. The task is imagine gripping the branch and keeping it from slipping for the duration of their presentation. This simple visualization centers the speaker and prevents them from moving their feet.
“Before I learned about it, I used to pace back and forth during my talks, which came across as a nervous tick,” says Kesha Williams, a software engineer who participated in the TED speaker training. “I actually used it when I spoke recently and only moving for emphasis was a great way to engage my audience.” Of the many presentation pro-tips they learned that day, many cited Freedman’s toe tip as the most useful.
Social psychology research has proven that our body language shapes the audience’s perception. Watching awkward sashaying can distract the audience from the content of a talk. Squirming translates to uncertainty and weakness. But good posture conveys confidence, authority and, perhaps most importantly, persuasiveness.