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Women are often trained to think that small is beautiful. Whether it’s buying jeans a couple sizes too small (remember the muffin-top?), teetering on too-tiny shoes or downplaying our own accomplishments, we’re often more comfortable when we hide or make ourselves small. We need to think differently. Big is beautiful, especially when you’re presenting in front of an audience.

How do you make yourself big? When we ask this question, we’re not talking about physical size. Being big is a matter of presence, not poundage. How do you improve your executive presence? Here are some ways to get started:

 Standing while presenting is preferable, so be mindful and stand up straight. Hunching and slouching makes you look weak, sloppy and indifferent. Widen your base by keeping your feet about hip-width apart and save your extra-high heels for another occasion. By widening your base, it helps to ground and balance you, creating more presence and credibility. Placing your feet close together may feel safe, but it makes you look small and not confident. 

If circumstances dictate that you present while sitting, then sit up straight — it will help you breathe better, too. Sit in your chair with about a third of the seat space between you and the back of the chair, feet flat on the ground. If you’re sitting, twisting your ankles and legs into a pretzel makes you look tight, and your body will hold onto the tension. Once again, you are sending a message to your audience that you are hiding.

Get loud. Project your voice so that the audience members at the back of the room can hear you without straining. If they must strain to hear you, they will quickly turn their attention to other things, like scrolling through their iPhone or chatting with their neighbor. In other words, they will turn you off. I once taught a class with a female whose voice was so soft that I could barely hear her a few feet away. She came across as timid and boring, and the audience quickly lost interest. To project louder, breathe deeply from your diaphragm, not your chest. Wearing clothes that are tight around your waist constricts your ability to use your diaphragm muscle in breathing and projecting. Always dress for professionalism and comfort.

Take advantage of the space around you. Use your hands, arms and elbows to help illustrate your points. You don’t have to gesture dramatically as if you are guiding airplanes on the runway, but experiment using your full range of motion, and then adapt them for the size of your audience and venue. If you dance, practice yoga or do anything active, try some of these moves when practicing, and experiment with how extending your arms can change the way you look and feel. Record yourself and watch it back — you will see a world of difference in how you come across to your audience.

The point to remember here is that creating a powerful presence has little to do with the size or shape of your body and has a lot to do with how you use your body and your voice. When you’re in front of a group, big is beautiful. And memorable.

As owner and president of PresentingPlus! LLC, Kate Tunison helps clients develop confidence and skills as public speakers and business communicators. Based in Alpharetta, PresentingPlus! Works with clients in the Atlanta area and nationwide. Contact Tunison at www.presentingplus.com.

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