Body image and public speaking

By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

I have to admit, it appears I gained some sympathy weight during my wife’s recent pregnancy. But now the baby is here and so is the New Year; which means it’s time to cut back on pizza and hit the gym.

Weight loss is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, No. 3 in a survey I recently read, trailing the goals of reading more books and saving more money. Also high on the list: organize photos (No. 9), watch less TV (No. 13), revamp the wardrobe (No. 17) and quit smoking (No. 26). A number of the top-40 resolutions pertain to career: start your own business (No. 24), get a promotion (No. 27) and have a one-on-one meeting with the boss to determine where you stand (No. 39). This last one ranks just above bungee jump and, for some, may be equally scary.

Weight loss also affects work. The nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership compiled data that found a larger waistline affects an executive’s perceived leadership ability. If he can’t win the battle of the bulge, the thinking goes, can he win the battle in the boardroom? The Wall Street Journal reported on this research, running the provocative headline “Want to be CEO? What’s your BMI?”

Weight can be a matter of not just perception but performance. This is especially true of public speaking. Self-consciousness about weight affects how you stand and how you speak.

When my team and I coach clients, we break this down into the eight visual and vocal elements of a presentation, be it a one-on-one with the boss, a small group or a packed conference call. On the visual side, we examine eye contact, hand positioning, stance and facial expressions. On the vocal side, we look at inflection, volume, pace and non-words. These eight elements become painfully clear when our clients watch themselves on video during executive-training sessions.

One woman who took our “Leadership, Presentation & Image Skills” program arrived in a gold J. Crew blazer. It was a great top; it had polish and pop. But when it came time to stand in front of the group and speak, it felt too short. She found herself tugging at it and folding her arms across her stomach. In order to become a better public speaker, she confided in me after class, she needed to lose weight. The weight gain that had crept up on her, she realized, was standing between her and the vision she had for herself as a lively, dynamic speaker.

The neutral stance we teach to public speakers – hands at the side, fingers relaxed – is often uncomfortable to novices. There’s something about that position that can make you feel as if you’re in a fitting room surrounded by full-length mirrors. You become acutely aware of bulges and love handles. The remedy isn’t camouflage, crossing your arms while speaking or wearing a baggy outfit. The key is to take that hard look in the mirror and come to terms with where you are and where you want to be.

A little weight loss may improve your speaking in multiple ways, increasing your volume, slowing your pace and boosting your energy. Ultimately, it boils down to confidence. We assume our clients are knowledgeable professionals; we just want to help them communicate that knowledge as effectively as possible, to speak as well as they think.

Keep this in mind as you consider your goals for 2014. It may come down to the direct relationship between feeling good and looking good. Feeling good makes you look good. Looking good makes you feel good. It’s that simple.

When you begin with those basics, you boost your odds of a successful New Year. See you at the gym.




Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit