People Don't Like Anything (or Anyone) Moving Toward Them

People Don't Like Anything
(Or Anyone)
Moving Toward Them

There is a new study discussed in the October Harvard Business Review that says people don't like anything or anyone moving towards them. The research the interview is based on is called Approach Aversion: Hedonic Reactions Toward Approaching Stimuli. 
The third research study method had a video tape of a man walking toward the subjects 
viewing the tape, walking backward away from them and walking in place. The researchers found complex results but, in the discussion in the Harvard review they recommend that speakers not step forward towards their audiences when they speak as the subjects in the original study had an approach aversion result. Though the subjects in the study viewed the man approaching them on tape negatively no matter how he approached I wonder if because it was a video tape rather than a live person who could establish rapport? I think there is another way to look at it as well.
As a body language expert and presentation skills trainer I strongly recommend moving toward the audience to break through the "stranger barrier" and establish rapport with the audience and to indicate that the you are the one in charge and have power.  So there may be another benefit that goes along with the advance aversion finding. You can briefly shock your audience by moving towards them and thus capture their attention.   I am a short blond women so I know moving into the audience is a significant advantage for me as a professional speaker.
The research study had the man on the tape use different facial expressions. In on his facial expressions where neutral, another he was somewhat frowning and in the positive he was somewhat smiling. There are gender based differences in many aspects of persevered power and perceived fear. I do believe that men need to be more careful about moving toward their audiences to start their speeches. They should give what I call "softening signals" first such as smiles, as in the studies, but be very careful what kind of smiles. Having done research on smiling for many years a small change can make an enormous difference in the perception and emotional response. You may want to look at my blog posts on smiling to see what a true full face smile looks like and practice smiling all the way to eyes so you have the little pockets under your eyes and the small lines radiating outward as well as a relaxed lips smile. The smile is helpful to make your approach be less threatening, but I advise you also open  up the front of the body, showing the palms of their hands, raising the eye brows in an eyebrow flash and perhaps if they are tall or otherwise imposing, tilting their head to the side very briefly before or as they move forward. You might also make sure your opening is positive and warmly given so your voice (para language) agrees with the warm opening. 

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at