You’re probably doing this annoying public speaking habit and do not even realize it — pacing. I’ve spoken about how many speakers pace to “work the stage” and it forces your audience to follow you back and forth like watching a tennis ball at a tennis match. As always, I try to build on my experience of doing over 1,000 presentations and coaching hundreds more and research why pacing is so annoying for audiences.
Why do Speakers Pace Anyway?
- Think That is What the Pros Do – Many presenters see professional speakers that get paid a lot of money to deliver keynote addresses pace, but there is a big difference between working the stage and pacing, I’ll explain below.
- Engage the Audience – Other speakers think pacing back and forth allows them to engage their audience, instead, it does the opposite.
- Anxiety – Some speakers bounce back and forth because they are nervous and they feel calmer when pacing.
Why Pacing is an Annoying Public Speaking Habit
- Distracting to Your Audience – Instead of listening to you speak and focusing on your message, your audience tries to be polite, watching you bounce back and force.
- Bad Sightlines – Audience members want to look at you. (That’s why I always recommend less than 7 words per slide on a visual aid, it keeps the focus on you and not the screen.) As you move around, you create bad sight lines and if you walk around the room, the people that purposely sat up front are now far away from you.
- Back to the Audience – In the theater, actors never want to have their backs to the audience. I recommend this lesson to public speakers too because turning your back to your audience is rude and prevents audience engagement.
- Lack Eye Contact – Even if you don’t turn your back on your audience, it is still hard to make eye contact with your audience if you’re always in motion. Remember, eye contact creates engagement and reduces your nerves too.
- Lack Engagement – As you move around, turn your back and never make eye contact, your audience starts to tune out and even makes remarks to the person sitting next to them that you’re hard to keep their eyes on. Every speaker craves audience engagement, and pacing is an easy way to never engage them.
- Lack Pauses – A big reason why pacing is so annoying is that it doesn’t give your audience the pause they need. Much like using crutch words that fill the natural pauses of your speech, pacing builds unnecessary energy when your audience needs breaks from time to time.
How to Work the Stage Like a Pro
Most experienced speakers do “work the stage”, what most people don’t realize is that they’re walking from the center of the stage to the side, then pausing, and moving to the other side of the stage and pausing. The key is that these speakers walk to a spot and pause until they finish that portion of their message.
Moving from one station to another spot creates visual breaks for the audience. You can use this visual effect to your advantage when talking about different steps, pros and cons, before and after, and other aspects that have separation.
Having three to four spots on the stage allow you to engage different areas of your audience and why standing still, you can turn slightly left and right to keep everyone else engaged. Furthermore, why standing at a station, you can make solid eye contact with your audience.
Use your movement to add emphasis to your message, much like separate paragraphs and punctuation do for written text. Just like you use your hands to emphasize your speech, use your walking to illustrate movement, change, and transitions.
If you deliver a message of “standing strong” while moving around, your point will be lost, yet it would be effective to tell a story of where you’ve been and move talking about the transition and stopping again on the other side of the stage to share your vision of where you’re going.
Finally, anxiety should never be the reason you pace because that is easy to prevent through proper presentation preparations. I’ve found that you can reduce presentation anxiety up to 80% by being prepared and the remaining anxiety gives your presentation extra excitement and energy.
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How Speak Simple Can Help You
Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.