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David Pibworth | The Blog


The Art Of Public Speaking: Standing Still

And learn to take a compliment ...



I've previously touched on this subject just to say that everything you do when standing up in public is noticed by the audience. I do feel I need to expand on it as it's an important factor in public speaking ...

When you're at a public speaking gig, stay still and don't fidget.

When you're at a public speaking gig, stay still and don't fidget.

copyright: nexusplexus / 123rf stock photo

For those of you old enough to remember him, Dave Allen would brush fag ash from his trousers and scratch the side of his nose. He would pick up his glass of whisky, swill it around and take a sip.

"He also made use of his missing half finger by pushing the surviving half up his nose."

Eric Morecambe made great show of his spectacles by lifting them up and down for no apparent reason. He also made eccentric hand movements every now and again.

Nothing that either man did was improvised. It was there to be noticed and actually gave impersonators such as Mike Yarwood something to work with.

Other well-known people were, and still are, impersonated due to imperfections in their performances; little habits that shouldn't be there. The point is that everyone notices what people do when they are on show, so make sure that you want them to notice what you do.

One of my habits was to scratch my head, which works ok during an after dinner speech to a degree, but I was once playing Edmund in 'King Lear' - a totally different role for the likes of me - and a friend came to see the production and afterwards said "I really didn't recognise you in the first few scenes, but then you scratched your head when you were speaking to Edgar and I knew it was you".

So since then I've been aware of small pointless movements. Ok that was on stage, but it applies to acting as much as presentation. In a production, you are directed to do movement and there is never anything in a stage show that is pointless or distracting and neither should there be when you make a presentation or speech.

"There is an art that is overlooked sometimes, and that is standing still."

If you are standing still, then everyone tends to focus on you, and you hold the audience. Don't overuse hand movements. Tony Benn, a great speaker, did flap his hands about sometimes, but once he'd made a point, tended to stay still to let it sink in. Enoch Powell, another great speaker of the same era of Benn, was very still most of the time. He'd lean forward sometimes to make a point.

They were probably the best political speakers of our time, and part of this was their ability to command the stage, although as a political friend of mine recently pointed out, they also believed in what they were saying which helped and there is truth in that.

Agree or disagree with the two of them they were nothing if not honest to their beliefs (and got on extremely well outside of the chamber. The hatred bandied about now in politics is generally done by those who are less capable of winning an argument by debate). I bring them forward only for their command of the stage, not for their political views.

Interestingly, when you take applause, you will get longer applause (assuming you've given a good performance) if you stand still for a little time before taking a bow. If you walk out on stage and just take a bow, that's it, the bow is the end, so milk it if you can.

It is something I try to instil into actors at the end of a production. Many just want to bow and get off to the pub, but it is a part of the audience enjoyment. They are not only applauding the actor, but the whole production and so it is only right that you should accept it.

So that's it. I'm not saying stand stock still all the time, but do bear in mind the power of stillness and think about all your movements.

And one last tip. When someone compliments you on a talk, presentation or performance, just say "Thank you very much. Lovely audience" ... or something similar. There is an odd tendency for some people to say "Oh, I wasn't that good tonight" or to generally do yourself down. Please don't do that. If they have bothered to come up and thank you, then accept it with grace, as they mean it.

You know if you've done well or not, but often, even if you don't think you were quite up to scratch, the audience will still have enjoyed it, so don't give them reason to doubt it. It might be your next booking. If you've really done badly and have been booed off, then just leave by the back door.

"And always remember that you can be brought down to earth, so don't bring it on for no reason."

Jimmy Tarbuck walked out of a theatre one night when a couple came up, and the man said, "We thought you were brilliant on stage tonight, really great". Jimmy said, "Oh, thank you very much, that's very kind of you to say so". "Oh, yes" the man went on, with Jimmy thinking a bit more praise was forthcoming, "Oh yes, we really enjoyed it ... surprising really as both me and the missus think you're shite on the telly".

I think that's what's called a backhanded compliment ...

Until next time ...


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More about David Pibworth ...

David is the owner of David Pibworth Productions (DPP) which provide corporate entertainment and also actors for corporate training and development.

Having worked in the Light Entertainment field for many years and produced shows for Al Murray & Joe Pasquale amongst others, David is in a position to advise on well-known comedy and musical acts. DPP also represent Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's scripts which include Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

He is the director of MK Theatre of Comedy who are very well known locally for their stage adaptations of classic comedy scripts such as Fawlty Towers, The Vicar of Dibley, Allo Allo and many others.

He is a long-standing member of Equity and the Directors Guild of Great Britain and has acted in, and directed, many productions over the years, mainly in Light Entertainment, but with occasional forays into Shakespeare etc. Every Christmas he is contracted as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella, currently with 'That's Entertainment' who also use him as a director.

He teaches eccentric magic for The Pauline Quirke Academy and MKTOC also run a youth drama school in Olney from the DPP offices.

David maintains his busy lifestyle is a surefire way to avoid being on any committees. He is married to Julie, and they have one daughter, Esther and live in Clifton Reynes, surrounded by dogs, cats and horses. They live so close to the church that David has instructed his daughter - when he dies and not before - to fire him over the wall from a circus cannon.