Quick Tip

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Pacing on stage—or happy feet as I like to call it— is a common side-effect of nervousness, where you pace endlessly on stage without any deliberate purpose to your movement. It can be distracting to the audience, not to mention driving the cameraperson crazy trying to follow you.

You won’t always notice it’s until you see the video afterwards, which of course is too late.

If you had an overhead map of your movement, it would probably look something like this:

What to do when you're pacing on stage while speaking in public

Once you’re aware you have happy feet, you have two things to do: develop the ability to be aware in the moment, learn techniques for dealing with it.

How to become aware that you’re pacing on stage

  • Be more present: The next time you’re practicing at home, try especially hard to check in with your body to feel what’s happening. Your goal is to register how it feels when you’re pacing so you can start to notice it when it happens.
  • Place a full-length mirror in front of you: The simplest way to see that you’re pacing is to watch yourself as you present. This is also a good technique for practicing expressive body language techniques.

Techniques to stop yourself from pacing on stage

Our goal is to replace uncontrolled movement with deliberate movement.

  • Physically limit your movement with a barrier: Step 1 is to build a circular barrier on the ground around you. This will let you know very quickly that you’re starting to move. You can use something as simple as a pile of t-shirts on the ground. To catalogue your progress, practice a 5-minute segment from your talk and count how many times you step on your t-shirts. Repeat this until that number comes down.
  • Pretend you’re in quicksand: Step 2 is to remove all motion from your feet. For the same 5-minute segment of your talk practice standing completely still while you present. This will feel incredibly awkward at first, but try to relax your upper body and focus on gesturing with your arms and hands.

What to do when happy feet strike in the middle of your talk

Hopefully your awareness techniques allow you to catch yourself quickly when it starts happening. When it does, take a breath, and walk to centre stage, and pause for a beat before continuing with your next point or sentence.

Maintain your position centre-stage with quicksand feet, surveying the crowd, and when you begin a new point—could be a new slide—walk toward one side of the stage making deliberate gestures with your arms and hands to embrace the audience. Pause on that side as you deliver your point, repeat with the other side, then return to the centre.

You are now fully in control of your movement and the audience will feel a stronger connection with you.