In 2007, the “wide stance” became notoriously entangled in politics. This is unfortunate because wide foot placement is helpful to public speakers in three ways:
1. Takes up physical space
Public speakers convey confidence by opening their posture (Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language makes a compelling case on this point). And taking up physical space in a room starts with widening the stance and planting the feet at hip distance. Hip distance is wider than most speakers think. To find hip distance, jump in the air and pretend you’re catching a dodge ball – that wide athletic stance is where your feet should also be positioned when presenting.
2. Provides a solid foundation for posture and voice
Having the feet close together or crossed at the ankles is often paired with a collapsed upper body – clasped hands, crossed arms and / or rounded shoulders. On the other hand, having the feet planted in a wide stance supports upright and open posture with the upper body. After speakers establish a wide stance, they should aim to roll the shoulders back, stand tall, and keep the hands at the sides in a neutral position between purposeful, slow, and broad gestures.
Excellent posture is key to supporting the voice. Any hunching over or drawing in compromises breath and negatively impacts vocal quality. After all, have you ever seen a famous opera singer with bad posture? If you want a loud, rich voice, start by standing wide and then standing tall.
3. Prevents distracting body movements
Another benefit of the wide stance is nipping in the bud several distracting types of lower body movement, such as swaying from side to side, pacing back and forth, crossing and uncrossing the legs, popping the hips, etc. These types of lower-body fidgeting are manifestations of nervous energy that make speakers look nervous and can detract from their message. Speakers who engage in these behaviors often can stop them entirely by simply widening the stance – it makes it hard to sway, pace, cross, pop, etc. when the feet are wide and firmly planted.
Though it should be avoided in public restrooms, a wide stance is a best practice for public speakers. To assess your stance, record your next speech rehearsal. Review the recording, paying close attention to foot placement. Rehearse and record again; this time with a wider stance. You can expect to see a speaker who looks more authoritative, has more open upper-body posture, and engages in fewer distracting behaviors.