Don’t Stand Up Straight!

Do you hate speaking to groups, large or small? Your “hate” may come from one helpful suggestion:

Stand Up Straight!

My father told me to do it, “Stand up straight!” adding, “Imagine a string attached to the top of your head lifting you and elongating your spine.” You were likely told to do something very similar in a public speaking class.

“Stand up straight” sounds like great advice. In fact, it would look bad if you were talking to a group with hunched shoulders, or were putting all your weight on one leg or the other like a flamingo. Poor posture looks weak, lacks confidence, and can even appear incompetent.

However, “Stand up straight” may be unproductive advice. Working with thousands of people every year, I am very aware that people who try to “stand up straight,” when they stand in front of a group, usually look and feel uncomfortable. These are often people who say that they hate public speaking even if it’s a meeting with just a few people.

Why do they feel uncomfortable? Because standing up straight feels unnatural. Few people do it. If you never do something except when you have an audience, are you comfortable?

Standing up straight is also a position that can feel like you are drawing attention to yourself, like a peacock, “Hello, I’m a person with stature! How do I look?”

Being awkwardly lifted by an imaginary string tied to your head, with a room full of people … staring … judging … How could you, or anyone in these circumstances, possibly feel comfortable?

Don’t straighten. Energize and connect!

When we speak, when people are looking to us for answers, information, motivation or inspiration, do they want our spines straight? Not really.

They want to know we care. They want to believe us. They want to trust us. Our words should match our voices, and our voices should match our bodies. Everything should send the same signal; we are caring, believable, and trustworthy. Everything should deliver the same message: I can help.

How do I do that? 

Step 1: Put your weight on the balls of your feet and bend your knees slightly.
I know this suggestion can be a tough in heels, but the simple shift in weight will engage your body, and you will appear energized. Your thoughts and feelings, are more believable because your head and heart are connected. 

Step 2: Think about communication as a full body sport, legs apart.
Whether you are on offense or defense, you would never play a sport with your ankles touching. If your legs are apart you are not posing; you are participating. Focus on moving your energy outward.

Bonus: If you never know what to do with your hands, Step 1 and 2 will help. By moving to the balls of your feet, legs apart, knees slightly bent, your arms now seem to gesture much easier. Your body is connected, so your gestures will likely match your thoughts and feelings.

Step 3: Practice
Whenever you can, practice. Like anything else, without practice you will have an amateur representing you, your organization or your message. Think about your weight on the balls of your feet, knees slightly bent, feet apart throughout your day. Before you know it, you will find this is part of your natural stance. We will see and hear your passion for what you are saying.

Energized Engaged Communicator:
Standing up straight leaves us flat-footed. Our heads disconnected from our bodies: passionless. We look like stiff stick-figures.

People want to hear what you have to say. They genuinely hope you can help them. An engaged body will help you have an energized voice. Together, they will impact the words you choose, and you have just increased your potential to genuinely connect with and help your audience