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The power of stillness 

I recently had a couple of clients tell me they want to walk around the room "Oprah-style" while delivering speeches and presentations. I understand their temptation to move. Conventional wisdom on public speaking says walking and talking is preferable to standing frozen in one spot. As if there are only those two options! In fact, standing still—with presence—is a highly effective way to convey authority and leadership. This question of movement vs. stillness comes up often with clients. I blogged about it last in October, 2013. But since we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, here is the updated and condensed version:

Have you ever wondered how some people can command the room when they speak, whether they are behind the podium, at an interview desk, or in front of a casual gathering? They have presence. They "own the room." There is a perception that such ability automatically descends upon those who attain positions of power. Au contraire;there are many who should have presence but don't (this is my current favorite example, so wonderfully awful I hope you will overlook the fact that it's not from a live event). 

The fact is that presence comes from being physically at ease, centered, still. No fidgets, no wiggles, no shifting. No pushing the message at people, but rather, drawing them in. Those who possess presence are not still as in "stiff;" they are still as in "grounded." It's a simple concept, but a hard one to master. 

As an actor, I rely on breathing and posture exercises—similar to yoga—to attain "centeredness." It takes some time to undo years of self-consciousness and self-criticism. And it takes trust that when you are put to the test, your body will remember how to keep the wiggles out and the stillness in. You are not aiming for statue-like immobility. Far from it! You are seeking to actively manage a potentially terrifying situation. Your body needs to have practiced this inner calm so it can kick in and mitigate your natural fight or flight instinct. 

The hardest part comes at the beginning of your speech. This is normal because speaking is, after all, a physical activity. But the activity of speaking has to do with breathing and vocal production, not shuffling feet, wiggling shoulders, shifting weight from one hip to the other or aimlessly gesticulating. These all signal the opposite of what you might think ("Look at how comfortable I am!"). They signal that you want to run, or hide, and are not at ease enough to stand still, to be open and vulnerable.

Master the presence of the leader's stance. Be still in a room full of noise and movement and you will command attention, even before you say a word.

photo: still waters at QianHai, Beijing