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When I give a talk (e.g. in a department seminar) it is more convenient for me to sit down, since my body is more relaxed and it is easier for me to concentrate in the talk.

But, I have been told that sitting down makes me seem less serious, and it is more professional to stand up while talking.

So, is it better to sit or stand?

  • 7
    With a large audience, standing makes it much easier to project your voice and be heard (singers usually stand up for the same reason). Though I guess in most such cases you would have a microphone anyway. – user2390246 Jun 20 '16 at 10:19
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    My discipline always stands. But I have seen academics in other disciplines sit. So it does depend on your discipline. – user2768 Jun 20 '16 at 14:13
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    I suspect the old Greek philosophers have already discussed how to present a talk. If you have some time, you could investigate if there are some recommendations by Aristotle et al. regarding this. – Roland Jun 20 '16 at 15:20
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    If there is a reason for you to sit, for example if you can't stand for long periods, and it's not a very formal talk, could you sit on a tall stool, with nothing in front of you? This preserves the difference between you and the audience a bit more than sitting at a table, and also avoids some issues with sitting behind a table (e.g. appearing crouched, audience unable to see your body, seeming less open) – krman Jun 21 '16 at 6:24
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    @Roland I'm told that conventions at the time were different: the speaker sat, the audience stood. – Jessica B Jun 21 '16 at 12:17

12 Answers 12

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I personally find that sit vs. stand strongly depends on the degree of formality and interactivity of a presentation.

  • When the presenter stands, it signals a strong differential between the roles of presenter and audience (who sit). This generally creates a much more formal atmosphere and means that the audience will not contribute to the discussion except to ask occasional questions.
  • When the presenter sits, it signals a more equal discussion environment, where it just happens that the presenter is the one who is structuring the discussion and/or controlling the slides. I almost never see this except in the most informal sorts of meetings within a project or group, but in such meetings (e.g., coordination of a project team) it is very common.

For the specific case that you give, of a department seminar, I would strongly advise standing. The reason for this is that, even if it is a fairly intimate and informal group, a strong motivation for the organization of such seminars is to give you practice for more formal talks. You may find it more comfortable to be sitting but this is a good opportunity to practice and find ways to be comfortable when standing as well.

Two caveats to all of this:

  • If a person has a medical condition, they should take whatever position the medical condition encourages. I've stood and walked around at the back of a talk when my back was having issues; nobody expects Steven Hawking to stand and speak. If the condition is not obvious, you may wish to inform the audience so they know not to misinterpret your position.

  • If you are giving a presentation remotely, the position that you are in generally does not matter, as a well-adjusted camera will typically only pick up your head and shoulders.

  • 1
    Maybe sit and make the audience stand? I always get confused with my boss (who is much shorter than I am). If I stand I will tower over her, so I remain sitting and let her be authoritative by standing. At some times and places I would have been executed for that. – user28174 Jun 20 '16 at 18:28
  • I agree with this difference - I've had great success with workshop-type environments, where discussion is encouraged, where everybody sits around a table and we simply pass the projector's VGA cable from one to the next. This is very different to (for instance) a conference presentation when one wants to control the room. – Flyto Jun 21 '16 at 9:21
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    I've found that one can encourage some greater informality, interaction and accessibility when standing, by not having a lectern (or other barrier) between me and the audience. Even walking around between the members of the audience (people don't like to have to turn around to see you though). Interaction can be further encouraged by having one or two questions that can be put to some member(s) of the audience (as opposed to general rhetorical questions) without putting that participant under pressure to give the "right" answer. – fr13d Jun 22 '16 at 12:25
33

I have never seen anyone sit down to give a seminar talk (or even a lecture that I can think of), it would come across as extremely unprofessional (unless there were some sort of issue that restricted the ability to stand).

Your ability to feel relaxed and to concentrate on the talk should not be an issue: your talk is prepared ahead of time. What is important is your ability to interact with the audience, to command their attention and to draw them in to your presentation.

I don't think there is any question, and indeed, people have told you that you should stand; so stand.

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    Not only for giving a seminar talk, but for giving a talk in general it is customary to stand. Regardless whether it is in science, the industry, the parliament, or your local sports club, if you give a talk you do it standing. – Roland Jun 20 '16 at 8:48
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    I had one lecturer who sat for lectures - it was a small class, so it wasn't a problem. – Jessica B Jun 20 '16 at 9:32
  • I have seen people give seminars while sitting, but they were not good. Standing helps the speaker engage with the audience. – Thomas supports Monica Jun 30 '17 at 18:09
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I remember attending a mathematics conference. One lecture was presented by John C. Oxtoby. At that time (because of muscular dystrophy, I guess) he was confined to a wheelchair. But for his lecture he managed to lever himself out of the chair using crutches; lock the knees of his leg braces; and deliver the lecture while leaning against a pillar. (He had an assistant writing the appropriate things on the chalkboard as he spoke.)

He clearly thought standing was the proper way to do it. And I doubt your difficulties in standing are greater than his were.

6

When a speaker sits, it sucks the air out of the room. I've only seen people sit when teaching a class, not when giving a seminar, and when they've done it, it's because they're hunched over a laptop or scribbling on a piece of paper under a document camera. It's horrible regardless of the level of formality. I can't see their face, and often can't see their body at all. They're interacting with a machine, not with me. It feels like being at the dinner table when someone's phone rings and they start having a conversation.

The only exception I would make would be if it's a situation where you arrange chairs or desks in a circle and everyone can see each other. This sends a message of informality and equality, and if your intention is to encourage everybody to participate, it's great.

3

I think it's about preference. It's impossible to say one way or the other is right or wrong. It's better to be prepared and to know exactly what you are trying to do and communicate. What is the benefit of looking more serious and professional by standing if your talk is unclear and lacks direction? In addition, what is wrong with looking less professional and serious by sitting if you deliver an exciting and clear message that the audience finds riveting?

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    +1 The quality of the talk is more important than the look of the presenter. – scaaahu Jun 20 '16 at 9:44
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    Only in theory. You can have Albert Einstein up there, if he's dressed like a bum sitting in a bath-tub people won't take him seriously. Presentation is as important as content. – Rid Iculous Jun 22 '16 at 3:46
  • I thought the question was about standing or sitting? I don't recall anything about physical appearance or hot tubs – Darrin Thomas Jun 22 '16 at 4:11
  • @RidIculous I feel you are using an extreme example and proving the opposite of your claim: That extremely improper presentation can be a detriment to your content. That, however, says little to nothing about the difference in effect between a 'neutral' or 'proper' presentation on the content. – Weckar E. Jun 22 '16 at 19:53
  • The example I gave was to be taken with a sense of humor or an understanding of sarcasm. Lacking this the premise of my statement is exemplified in the last sentence: "Presentation is as important as content." It's anybody prerogative to believe differently of course. But Considering the proven effects of eg advertising or marketing I believe this to be a rather naive viewpoint. – Rid Iculous Jun 23 '16 at 1:07
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As the others said, it is circumstantial. In my experience so far a proper talk/presentation should be held standing up. The fact that you are standing itself should get you in the situation where you should automatically remember all the things that you should do in a talk (look at audience, speak loud and clearly, don't talk to fast etc.).

If you just want to present some results on a few non-formal slides, sitting down is okay and standing up might even look a little too stiff. But in the end you should observe or ask what the others do and adjust to that.

2

Personally, I believe that it depends. I recently was in a conference where speakers were sitting at a table having their laptops in front of them. It was how the conference leaders have design the presentation.

If they want you stand up then that's how you should do the presentation. Think about it as an experience. You say that it's more relaxing for you to sit down, but this is exactly what maybe they want to avoid. Standing up helps you communicate better with the audience, speaking not only with words but with body language as well, and gives you more confidence. (This is the why they told you standing will make you seem more serious).

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    Do you really mean that they sat on a table, or did you mean at a table? – Tobias Kildetoft Jun 20 '16 at 9:48
  • @TobiasKildetoft ha ha yeah now I saw it. – user56912 Jun 20 '16 at 9:48
1

You should do what is expected, which in my experience is always to stand, but perhaps is different in other contexts.

1

As a mathematician who has attended several philosophy lectures and seminars, I think this depends to a great extent on the discipline. I have never seen a mathematics talk delivered seated, while most philosophy talks I have seen were given by a seated speaker; occasionally, and particularly for bigger lecture rooms, the latter have been given by speaker standing at a lecturn. This most likely stems from the fact that in maths there is typically a lot of detail (notation, definitions, assumptions, results) to be stated more or less precisely and referred to later by the speaker or audience. Much writing or referring to slides follows from this requirement, which is not easily done while seated and facing the audience.

On the other hand in my experience of philosophy talks, the speaker typically reads or talks around a set text such as a written essay, so there is little if any need to write on or refer to a blackboard or projected slides. This leaves the speaker with the option of being seated while giving the talk.

I have never detected any suggestion that a talk was considered less serious or professional for being delivered seated.

0

When you stand and present you focus the audience on you - your speech and your gestures having the slides and other material as a support for your speech.

When sitting, you focus the audience on the slides, video, etc. putting yourself in the background. It can be understood that your slides are self-explanatory and you are here just to comment it if it is needed.

If you want to actively present yourself and your work, stand. If you want to hide yourself, sit. If you sit down during your speech you are saying "And now I'll show you awesome video!" without any word actually said; when you stand up you are saying "Show is over; listen to me now."

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    When sitting, you focus the audience on the slides, video, etc. putting yourself in the background. It can be understood that your slides are self-explanatory and you are here just to comment it if it is needed. In that case, why is there a seminar? You could just post your slides online, and people could click through them. – Ben Crowell Jun 20 '16 at 22:20
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Thus far I've found it depends greatly on your field. In some (Such as Media Studies), the sitting/standing difference comes baked in with the difference between a seminar or lecture structure. You would not be expected to stand during a seminar except for utility purposes. On the other hand, in the 'suit fields' (business, law) you'd be expected to stand for both types of talks.

0

It depends on what you wish. If you wish to present yourself, stand and walk. If you wish to convey material, but keep yourself in the background, sit.

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