“You can’t start a fire sitting down” is an old cliche that I used in graduate school to explain to the supervising professor why I taught my American history class section standing up. (I also thought to myself, “it’s harder for them to shoot a moving target.”) The professor preferred that I sit down and teach, to demonstrate more of a peer relationship with the students. At 5′ 2″ and only a few years older than the students, I thought I looked enough like a “peer” and wanted more authority – teaching while standing up helped.
I still believe that standing up while teaching and presenting is a good idea. Standing conveys confidence and authority, makes it easier to monitor the room and gauge audience reaction, helps you keep up your energy and allows you to use the full range of non-verbal communications, including gestures, posture and movement.
However, sometimes it’s not practical to stand up while presenting due to factors such as room constraints, organizational culture and the short duration of the presentation. So here are 9 tips for giving an effective presentation while seated:
1. Make Eye Contact
It’s important to make eye contact with everyone at the table. Depending on the seating configuration, it may be difficult and you may have to turn your body to make eye contact with those people seated on either side of you.
2. Speak Loudly Enough
You have to speak loudly enough so that people can understand you. And in addition to speaking over ambient noise, you also have to be mindful of making sure people on the opposite end of the table can hear you clearly, especially when you’re facing away from them to the other end.
3. Use Gestures
Yes, it is still important to use gestures when you are seated. Keep your hands empty and use them for above-the-table gestures. Try not to pick up and play with your pen, notes and water bottle.
4. Sit Confidently
Sit up straight, with shoulders back and maintain good posture as you present. Demonstrate your confidence by taking up your space at the table instead of slouching or shrinking.
5. Control Your Nerves
If you are nervous or anxious about presenting, don’t let your nerves show through your hands grasping the table or playing with a pencil. Even if you’re tapping your foot or shaking your leg under the table, the audience can see the nervousness show in the rest of your body.
6. Prepare for Distractions
A seated presentation may be considered less formal so people may think it’s okay to check email or their phones while you’re speaking. Ideally, whoever is conducting the meeting will have set up ground rules with the participants at the start, banning electronic devices of any kind during the presentations. However, if that didn’t occur and the company culture unwisely allows email/phones during meetings, then be prepared for the behavior and don’t let it shake your confidence.
7. Do You Really Need Slides?
Before you use slides, consider whether you really need them. Sometimes I think people use PowerPoint during their seated presentations only so they don’t have to make eye contact with their colleagues! Perhaps handouts would be more effective – or perhaps your presentation doesn’t need any visual aids at all.
8. Manage Questions
If you get a question, repeat it so everyone can hear it and you have a chance to think of an answer. Direct your answer to the questioner and to the whole audience, so you keep everyone’s attention.
Sitting at your desk and looking at your notes is not the same as sitting at a conference table and saying the words of your presentation out loud. So practice your presentation in as close to the real environment as possible.
If you follow these 9 tips, your presentation will be effective, no matter where you’re seated.