I’ll never forget the first time I attended a press conference where U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer was speaking. It was about a decade ago when I staffing my then boss, who also was a U.S. senator. Boxer’s assistant arrived to the event early with a wooden step stool. He placed it behind the lectern so the 4’11’’ senator from California could stand on the stool and be seen and heard by listeners when she delivered her remarks. A step stool is one way, but surely not the only way, for petite speakers to enhance their presence when presenting. Here are other suggestions for petite speakers, or anyone wanting to command the room.
1. Don’t stand behind the lectern
Rather than use the stepstool approach to be seen and heard, petite speakers should consider coming around the lectern. This means putting speaking notes on a table at the front of the room, or ideally, doing more rehearsals and going without notes. Another option is to turn the lectern to a 45-degree angle to your body and stand next to it. This allows the speaker to see and glance at notes without having a bulky wooden box directly in front of his or her body.
2. Move in the room
Speakers who are comfortable with few or no glances at their notes should take advantage of physical space in the room to increase their presence. On a stage, this means coming downstage and using both stage left and stage right. In locations where the speaker is on the same level as the audience, he or she might move among audience members. And in situations like a lecture or workshop, the speaker might even make some points from the back of the room to change things up. Getting close to the audience helps increase your presence as a speaker.
3. Take up more space
Petite speakers are well served to take up more physical space in the room. This includes having the feet hip width apart (rather than close together), as well as using big, broad hand gestures (away from the body rather than tight at the waist). As is the case for all speakers, and particularly important for those who are small in stature, hands should hang loosely at the sides between purposeful gestures (rather than having the hands clasped in front of the body or held tightly at the waist as the neutral position). Finally, speakers can open up their posture by making their chest “proud.” To accomplish this, imagine you are breathing so deeply that you are inhaling into your back. Notice how your ribs expand and your chest gets slightly higher.
4. Stand out from the backdrop
For a petite speaker, it is especially important not to blend into the background. Identify the color of the backdrop ahead of time and wear a color that will “pop.” You don’t need to wear neon to accomplish this – a dark suit against a light wall or a French blue shirt when you’re standing in front of a black curtain will suffice. Also, when you have flexibility as to where you sit or stand to present, avoid standing in front of a window or glass wall. The light coming from behind blurs the edges of your body, making you look smaller. Not to mention, the scenery behind you might be distracting to listeners.
Whether you’re petite like Sen. Boxer or just trying to establish more presence in the room, these suggestions can help you appear larger than life during your next presentation.