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How to hold a crowd: Expert advice

Mary Civiello

I’ve been in Washington, D.C., welcoming Fortune-U.S. State Department mentees from around the world — rising-star women leaders who will shadow U.S. participants of the Fortune MPWomen Summit from companies such as General Electric , Wal-Mart , American Express , Google , JPMorgan Chase and Exxon-Mobil .

Tonight, they and more than 100 women leaders will be with us for a MPWomen dinner that will also include U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, SEC Chair Mary Schapiro, and FDIC Chair Sheila Bair. I’ll be interviewing Senator Dianne Feinstein on stage — and thinking about this good advice from Mary Civiello, a media and presentation coach who works with executives at such companies as Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (
), American Express (
), DreamWorks Animation (
), and Siemens AG (

Guest Post by Mary Civiello

You know the feeling, when you’re giving a talk before an audience? To keep them awake, you want to move away from the podium … but you wonder:

Will I forget what I want to say?

When, exactly, should I step away?

Why should I move when I could get by without the extra stress?

First let me answer the last question: Why step out? Getting out from behind the podium makes you look good. It makes you look like a leader. Like someone who doesn’t need to hide.

Moving out and forward also allows you to connect better with your audience. Your forward motion will perk up your crowd and make people listen.

And when? You should step from behind the podium when you want to stress an idea. When you’re sharing a little story. Or when there’s no real reason to be there reading a script — like when you’re saying, “Great to be here…” or “We’ve got a big day ahead…”

As for that fear of forgetting what you want to say next, well, that’s legitimate. Most executives know to mark the point in their presentation when they want to start moving away from the podium. But you also need to mark the moment where you want to begin walking back toward the podium. Since you probably won’t carry the script with you, identify the words to signal your return.

And practice. Many executives get on a roll and feel like they can stay center stage. Don’t risk it. You can end up tap dancing after the music has stopped.

Remember how we all learned to walk? A few small steps at a time. Same idea here. Pick three spots in your script where you want to step out: maybe your open, your close and a story in the middle. Don’t walk out too far. A few small steps will bring big rewards.

Mary Civiello is a media and presentation coach and author of Communication Counts: Business Presentations for Busy People. She has been coaching executives for 10 years, after 20 years as a reporter and anchor for NBC News in New York. Read  Mary’s other Guest Post on How to Capture a Crowd.