I have a number of friends from Australia. I have also had the good fortune to visit that great country. If you know any Australians or have heard them speak, you will know that they pepper their sentences with wonderfully unique expressions such as “G’Day, Mate” or “She’ll be right” or the ever popular “Ripper”. You can brush up on your Australian here.
I was thinking that one Aussie expression has particular relevance for public speakers: “walkabout”.
A walkabout is a kind of rite of passage in which male Australian Aborigines undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months. The expression has also been used to refer to a desire to travel without an itinerary or fixed destination. It is also refers to things that have gone missing as in: “Have you seen my pen? It’s gone walkabout.”
As speakers, we should “go walkabout” whenever the opportunity presents itself. No, I don’t mean that we should go missing when it is our turn to speak. I mean that we should use the stage and walk around when we give a presentation. Doing so enables us to have maximum contact with our audiences; it frees us from being anchored to a lectern and allows us to use the speaking area to maximum effect. It makes us more engaging speakers.
Have a look at this photograph:
It is a great example of a speaker breaking away from the lectern. The speaking area is fairly large and the speaker is using it. Notice how he opens himself to the audience. They can see his entire body, most of which the lectern would otherwise hide. He is able to use his arm to make a sweeping gesture. (In fact, it is too bad that he did not have a lapel microphone; having a handheld one greatly limits his range of motion.) He is interacting with the audience.
Keep in mind that a speaker should exercise judgment about how much walking, if any, to do. Sometimes the speaking area is just not conducive to walking around; sometimes the solemnity of the occasion is such that it is better to stay put behind the lectern. That is fine. Using a lectern can be completely appropriate.
However, for those times when it is both possible and appropriate to do so, you should definitely go walkabout. Your audiences will appreciate it. And if there are any Aussies listening, they might just come up to you afterwards and say, “Strewth, Mate, that was a bonzer talk! A real corker! Good on ya!”