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What is Proxemics?

Presentation skills top tips – why should we pay attention to proxemics? The study of personal space is called proxemics. Notice how when a couple has had a fresh argument, they keep their distance from one another. By distance, I mean not just emotional distance but also physical distance. On the flip side, when couples are extremely happy together, they can’t stop holding hands or being really close. This very study of personal space is a fascinating field called ‘proxemics’.

We’re all very touchy about our personal space. Too much proximity to another person, especially a stranger, can either intimidate or infuriate us. There is nothing worse than someone ‘getting in your face’ when you don’t want them to be close to you.

Proxemics is the study of people’s territory and the implications of space in relationships with others. We want to be physically close to people we deeply love and maintain a distance from acquaintances or strangers.

Presentation Skills Top Tips – Focus on the four zones of proxemics

Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist, developed the concept of proxemics. He divided the personal distance we keep from others into four main zones:

Public Distance Zone: This zone is for public spaces that provide the greatest distance between people. Other shoppers, public transport commuters or concertgoers fall in this category. Does anyone else always pick the seat on the bus in the hope that no one will sit next to you? Here, the distance is approximately 3.6 m (12 feet).

Social Distance Zone: This is a more neutral space, allowing a little extra distance between other people and us. Polite conversations or business discussions happen in this space. In this zone, the distance is about 1.5–3 m (5-10 feet).

Personal Distance Zone: Reserved for family and friends, this space is for casual and close conversations. Here, the distance is 0.6–1.5   (2-5 feet).

Intimate Distance Zone: Intimate spaces are reserved for those we trust the most such as our partners, parents and siblings. The distance ranges from direct contact to 0.6 m (2 feet).

Importance of proxemics in public speaking

The main aim of Public Speaking is getting people to listen and engage with what you’re saying. But it’s hard for people to engage if you’re having trouble efficiently using the space around you. Whether it is a scientist explaining a concept to an audience, your wedding speech or public debate. If you’re not leaning in, people are going to shut off.

When considering presentations skills top tips, leaning in is important. What I mean by leaning in is showing your passion through gestures and expressions that mirror your thoughts. At the same time, not being invasive or aggressive, and keeping a safe distance. It’s the same for your audience too. Leaning in is a sign that they are more interested. Leaning away means that they’re losing interest in what you’re saying.

Presentation Skills Top Tips – What we can learn from proxemics

The study of proxemics teaches us about how to be a compelling communicator by using personal space to our advantage. Everything from the tone and pitch of your voice to your posture affects the way people take in your message. When you’re speaking to an audience, make sure that your voice is loud so that everyone can hear you. And that all members of the audience can see you, your gestures, and any supporting visual materials you’re sharing.

Presentations Skills Top Tips – Don’t be afraid to move

You may also move off the platform and into the very front of the audience or move among the audience while speaking. This movement creates a greater level of familiarity and makes the speaker seem more approachable, and hence, more effective. To freely move and interact with your audience, you will need to wear a wireless microphone, so it’s best to tell the event planner in advance.

As part of your preparation, think about how you will use the space available and when you will move closer to your audience. I’m not suggesting you get too close and personal, and of course, there are cultural considerations to remember.

Aim to make your talk an experience to be remembered. Get out from behind the lectern, and use the space between you and your audience to deepen your connection.


As a storytelling expert, known as The Story Midwife, I help leaders to create compelling presentations through business storytelling.

Before becoming a Professional Speaker, I worked for over twenty years as a midwife.

I now live and breathe stories as a speaker, trainer, performer and coach.

Looking for more presentation skills top tips? As a World Class Speaking & Storytelling Coach, I’ll help you mine, refine and deliver a captivating story for your business or brand. Whether it is the boardroom, podium or stage; I can show you how to develop a persuasive presentation with a compelling story that will be hard to forget by anyone who gets to experience it.

If you would like to find out about training for your team, I’d love to hear from you.  Contact me lisa@speakingsavvy.com.au or call +61 (0)438 902042.

For more presentation skills top tips, have a look over on my blog.