Cut Your Tether and Move

Baby elephant trainers teach their elephants to “stay” by clasping their ankles to a thick chain attached to a big stake in the ground. A year later they use a light chain tied to a small stake, and the young elephant stops as soon as it feels the tug – it’s a habit. For an adult elephant, you only need a small rope to hold them. Although they could yank that stake out in a moment, they know their tether — just as too many of us are tethered in our communication space.

Most business speakers do not achieve maximum impact with their listeners because they don’t move enough. It’s as if a magnet were holding them stationary, or their legs were rooted in to the ground. It’s not very expressive, but most speakers think it feels safe to not stray too far from their notes. We need to remember that it’s important to focus on what the listeners need from us, not necessarily what’s comfortable.

If you find yourself glued to one spot when you’re presenting, try to increase your tether length. Imagine it stretching out five feet – and give yourself permission to move within that expanded area. Once you’re more comfortable with moving, try increasing your range to ten or even fifteen feet. The most confident, effective speakers stretch their limits to the max and move freely throughout an entire room.

Some tips:

  • Beware of lecterns/podiums. They have an odd, debilitating effect on speakers – drawing them closer and closer and keeping them in one spot – safely right behind. If you can’t avoid using one, step to the side so you can move about more easily and decrease your dependency on it.
  • Use a wireless lavalier microphone. Your freedom of movement will be greatly increased by clipping one to your collar instead of being stuck behind the mic on top of the lectern.
  • Move into the audience if you can. If you’re on a stage without an easy way to get down, call volunteers up to the podium for demonstrations, brief interviews, etc. This will change the dynamics by getting your listeners more involved with you – and vice versa.

Remember – you have the freedom to move! Nothing is stopping you but your own psychological tether. Have you used the space in your presentation room lately?

8 comments on “Cut Your Tether and Move

  1. I totally agree that movement is key when presenting to large group or any group for that matter. A great stage presence will always bring about more attentive people.

    It’s like going to see a live show where the band will just stand there like they are statues. I personally would never go back to this show whereas going to full production show with crowd engagement as always kept me coming back for more even if at time it did not really like the music.

    Shed the podiums and use your legs!

  2. Video is a great tool here. When you watch yourself back it helps you appreciate all elements of what you do. Video is SO cheap these days,, thsi doesn’t need to be a Peter Jackson productions, just use/borrow a GoPro or even setup your iPhone on a tripod.

    Now her’s a wacky idea that magnifies your movement on stage; Play the video at 10X speed. If you have repetitive movements that you unconsciously perform, they may not be apparent at normal speed because our brains forget from one minute to the next. But at high speed those movements become readily visible and you can correct them with practice.

  3. Professor Paul – love the comparison, and I totally agree! I’ve seen a professional speaker that uses the guitar in his speeches, and he’s found the same thing and has made the proper adjustments.

    It’s amazing how the smallest changes can make the biggest differences. Thanks for your input!

  4. Definitely agree with your point on being wary of lecterns. I’ve always felt it is best to avoid them where possible. Sure they make you feel safe, but they really restrict your energy. I’d never thought about things in terms of being tethered in my communication space, so thanks for the interesting read!

  5. This is some incredible advice.

    I first noticed the habit of people getting trapped behind the microphone when I started playing rock concerts at 11 or 12 years old. I noticed how so many other bands were hiding behind their guitars and microphone stands.

    Some guys were even hiding behind their hair :D

    I would always try to get down into the audience as much as possible and it was always appreciated.

    A couple years later when I started singing lead and doing banter in between songs, I took it even further, especially when I didn’t have to hold the guitar.

    Even today, I see quite popular singers standing in one place and not making any kind of eye contact with the crowd for an entire hour or more throughout the show. It always saddens me, because I know how much more intimacy they would share with their audience if they would just let themselves connect and not be jailed by the stage.

    Anyway, I’m rambling, but the point is , public speaking is like a rock concert without the music. Whenever I have to give a speech, lecture or presentation, I never plant myself behind a podium…and so far I have never seen anyone in the audience sleeping when I’m talking :D

    Great Article, keep up the good work!!!

  6. Thanks Michael & Jon for your input. Great observations, and a term we always use is: Move with a purpose, Stay with a purpose.

    This will help address that constant movement that can be a distraction and appear like nervous energy. Eye communication is the best fix for this – let them lead your movement. When you hold your eyes for 5 seconds on an individual, I like to get a couple audience members in when I stay in one spot then use them to lead my next movement. Key is to always get feedback and attempt to see yourself on video to figure if it’s too much or too little.

    Continued luck and thanks for your feedback!

  7. I think I do a pretty good job, I feel my issue is on the other side; I move around too much. When I really get into my speech I catch myself moving from one side of the audience to the other. – Andy ideas on how to detect this sooner? Any tips to keep a good balance with staying planted and moving about?

  8. Great suggestions, but I would also say that it is important to move with intention. Too often I find speakers moving all around the stage with no specific reason – movement, when deliberate, can greatly enhance the impact of a speech.