August 19, 2018

Speaking in Public: Posture & First Impressions

Resources , Public Speaking , The Buckley Experience , Public Speaking Books , Speaker's Bookshelf , Instruction , Speaking in Public

Thirty years ago, The Buckley School launched its flagship program and our founder Reid Buckley published his first book on public speaking. To mark the anniversary this year, we’ll be featuring instructional excerpts from that book—"Speaking in Public: Buckley’s Techniques for Winning Arguments and Getting Your Point Across"—sometimes edited or augmented with a few of our notes on his words. Above, three young women with excellent posture despite not putting their books on their heads, from The Library of Congress.

"They should rehearse their speeches with books on their heads. That sounds so silly I hesitate to mention it. But it works."

– Reid holding forth on how to instill better posture in speakers

From Chapter 10:
Into the Tank My Bullies! A Grab Bag of Useful Tips


Getting a Good Start

It clangs. One is summoned as to one’s doom, to rise from wherever one is seated and walk on stage, there to face three or four hundred people in the maw of a darkened theater. What first impression will those people conceive?

Spring up those three steps to the stage; do not drag yourself to the speaker’s stand. Once situated behind the lectern, facing the audience, remember: 

Posture and presentation

The American slouch has no place on the platform.

If one’s body slumps, so will the audience. An attitude of fatigue will cause the folk out there to feel tired before one has opened one’s mouth.

Photos from a 1913 book on developing posture in children. Library of Congress.

Anatomy of a speaker 

Everybody sooner or later evolves his characteristic carriage, which conforms with his personality; but in the beginning one should try to stand classically at ease behind the lectern.

That is:

  • spine erect, but not military-stiff

  • feet comfortably apart, one foot a little in advance of the other, toes pointing slightly out; the weight of the body favoring the balls of the feet

  • knees limber, not locked

  • shoulders and arms loose and easy, the arms hanging naturally by the sides, elbows brushing the ribcage

  • neck and head a mite forward from the chest, with just a touch of belligerence

  • chest out

  • buttocks flat

  • belly tucked in though not so severely as to constrict the diaphragm


A stack of books, standing tall, waiting to go home with our Executive Seminar participants.

Finding the public speaking posture that suits you

Nevertheless bear in mind: nothing that I say relating to posture should be taken as a recommendation to alter in anyone that manner of holding his body attractively peculiar to his or her type.

There is a way of standing peculiarly suited to stoutness, which is further back on the heels.

The long and lanky person should retain the long and lanky air, though guarding against what can degenerate into a lazy attitude.

The short person, if she a la Better Midler and Goldie Hawn or he, a la James Cagney, possess a corresponding pugnacity, should by all means come on like a bantam cock, standing squarely on the balls of both feet, chest out and mitts ready.

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