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Sitting and Speaking

You know those high-top tables you see in hip restaurants and bars? The chairs that go with them are a problem for a person who wants to stay grounded. Especially when we need to speak while perched on one of them.

The high chairs seem to be typical for panel programs. And in a way they make sense—that extra bit of elevation makes it easier for everyone in the room to see the people speaking.

The downside, as I discovered while participating in one panel recently and facilitating another one, is having our feet floating off the floor. I found myself violating my own advice to those who need to speak while seated.

Clients raise the question often. Yes, they’d rather stand up when they talk to a group, and sometimes that just isn’t possible. Now what, they wonder?

Here’s how to position yourself in a chair so you look and sound like the authority you are.

  • Put both feet flat on the floor. No crossed legs or ankles. No feet wrapped around the chair. You want to look and sound fully grounded.
  • Slide forward in the chair, as much as you need to in order to have your feet on the floor and your bottom solidly on the chair.
  • Sit on the front of your sit-bones. You can experiment with this, rocking your pelvis slightly forward and backward. You’ll notice that you’re on the back of your sit-bones when you slouch.
  • Now make sure your back is straight. You might imagine a string pulling you forward from your navel.
  • Your shoulders are back and down—no hunching or rounding forward.
  • Your head and neck are straight up and down. A head tilted to the side signals listening or even submitting. For the moment, you’re not doing either one. Nervous speakers often tilt their head slightly back: they’re subtly pulling away from the audience. And it makes them look haughty (think of the phrase “looking down your nose” at someone).
  • Your hands are apart, not clasped in your lap. You might put one or both on the conference table or the arms of your chair. Or rest them separately on your thighs until you begin to use them to illustrate, clarify, or amplify what you’re saying.

You might practice that seated-speaking-posture when you’re not in front of an audience, so you can get comfortable with it. Some people find it awkward at first because they’re used to slouching or slumping or sitting with their legs crossed and their sit-bones out of alignment (so their weight is more on one cheek than the other).

The seated-speaking posture I’m recommending will feel more natural as you do it; you’re really aligning your parts as they were meant to be.

Use eye contact as you would if you were standing.

Make a connection with each person in the room. Those moments of eyes meeting will establish you as confident and in command.

You’ll want to breathe fully and deeply.

Your upright posture will help you do that. Each inhalation expands your rib cage—if you’re a singer, you’ll recognize diaphragmatic breathing.

Allow that breath to support your voice. So, the energy for your voice comes from your core, not your head. There’s no pushing or forcing—just a comfortable sound, easy to listen to.

Your voice will follow your eyes. If you’re looking down at the floor or a conference table, your voice will automatically drop and have less force.

To make sure you connect with the people farthest away from you, imagine your voice as an arrow. (Make sure it’s a rubber-tipped arrow!) It comes up and out … and shoots all the way across the room to that guy in the last row.

Move as you can.

Even sitting in a chair, you can turn your upper body to face people, lean in to make a point, or shift to one side or another and back again to your centered position. You want purposeful movement, though. Resist the temptation to rock or rotate.

Use gestures freely.

Along with emphasizing your point, gestures will help you take up space, so you own the room, even when your body stays in one place. They’ll also animate you—and your audience.

Commanding a room can be more challenging when we’re seated. It is possible, though, to sit in a chair and engage your audience, deliver your message, and achieve the outcome you were looking for.

Maybe you’ve had some experience with speaking under the influence of sitting? I’m all ears. Er, eyes – you can add a comment below.