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What is Grandstanding?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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When someone is said to be “grandstanding,” it means that he or she is putting on an ostentatious performance with the goal of impressing people, and that the performance includes a great deal of exaggeration. Essentially, someone is putting on a show, often to the detriment of the message that he or she is trying to convey. A wide number of people can be accused of this behavior; generally, any public figure who abuses his or her position to get a point across may be considered to be grandstanding, and private citizens who indulge in a bit of hyperbole may also find themselves accused of it too.

The term references a grandstand, a large amphitheater used for performances. The idea is that when people perform in an amphitheater, they are forced to over-act so that they can be seen by people in the upper levels; without being extremely vocal and obvious, the nuances of the performance might be missed. When someone is accused of grandstanding, it means that a show is being put on that is perhaps a bit too excessive for the venue.

Often, this type of show involves a great deal of exaggeration, often out of a genuine desire to promote a cause with passion. These techniques can also be used in an attempt to intimidate people; for example, a prosecutor might grandstand in the hopes of cowing a witness on the stand, or to encourage a suspect to consider making a plea, rather than going to court.

Political grandstanding in particular can be quite dangerous, especially when a talented orator uses exaggerated techniques to get a point across. It is often easy to sway the will and ideas of the public with a few well-chosen words, so a politician could have undue influence over a situation simply by speaking well, and exaggeration could be used to push citizens into a particular opinion, rather than allowing them to draw their own conclusions.

It can be easy to slip into grandstanding, especially when a person is talking about something that he or she feels passionately about. Especially when someone is given a chance to prepare remarks for an event, he should read the remarks over first and ask himself how he would feel if you heard those words coming from someone else. If they seem appropriate to the setting and cause, the remarks will probably be received well, but if they seem a bit ostentatious and elaborate, the speaker might want to tone them down.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon356373 — On Nov 24, 2013

I always thought of grandstanding as someone that uses a turn in a controversy to raise themselves by lowering others by calling them out in public and trying to embrace them by throwing out their previous opinions, etc.

By anon340259 — On Jul 01, 2013

My husband grandstands when he feels like insulting someone who cannot or will not defend themselves, as in a social situation. He embarrasses the other person into retreating. He does this only when he's in a win-win situation and gloats afterward. He loves himself more than anyone else could and is very narcissistic.

He physically rubs another person's back while talking to them, just to make sure he has their attention. Being overly friendly and introducing himself and me to others as a means of boosting his self image. Everyone is turned off by this bully after they get to know him, and he does not have any friends.

By anon339345 — On Jun 22, 2013

You've talked about speakers with passion for their causes, but said nothing of grandstanders who are actually promoting only themselves and don't even believe the cause they are grandstanding for. These kinds of speakers have contempt for their listeners.

By feasting — On Oct 26, 2012
@JackWhack – I guess you're right about that. I don't like listening to motivational speakers because of all the grandstanding they do, though.

I find it annoying. They just seem silly to me most of the time.

Maybe it's because I associate them with people who are trying to sell a product or program to a large group of people. I've been to a few seminars on new programs to promote weight loss, and I had never seen so much grandstanding in my life! It turned me off to the product.

By Kristee — On Oct 25, 2012
Politicians are the best at grandstanding. I guess they think it will help get them elected. If what they are saying holds any truth, it just might, but if they are caught in a lie or two, it could do more harm than good.
By JackWhack — On Oct 25, 2012
I associate grandstanding with motivational speakers. These speakers are often paid by large groups of people who want to be inspired, so it is no wonder that they go overboard.

I think in this example, grandstanding is acceptable. No one would pay to hear a subtle, calm speech, because most likely, it would inspire no one.

People in need of motivation in a certain area sometimes need to hear grand speech and see someone jump around and flail their arms in the air. Excitement is contagious.

By Fa5t3r — On Oct 25, 2012
I actually kind of like it when someone starts grandstanding in a public place, as long as it's mostly in fun. There used to be a guy who would hold long diatribes in the park near where I lived, so regularly that he was almost considered to be a tourist attraction. And in his case, a lot of grandstanding was why people found him interesting. If he was just there quietly talking, I'm not sure anyone would have ever listened to him.

But, you do have to be careful about what you do and how far you go. The best public speakers seem to just have an instinctual knowledge for how to get close to that line without crossing it.

By irontoenail — On Oct 24, 2012
Yeah, I really don't like it when people aren't humble about winning. You should definitely be proud of yourself, no question, but winning one game doesn't mean the world should pay you tribute.

Being a good winner shows more about the character of the team or individual than the win itself in my mind. And yeah, those end zone dances often go a little too far to be considered being a good winner in my mind.

By whiteplane — On Oct 24, 2012

How do you guys feel about end zone dances after a guy scores a touchdown? I used to be for them, but it seems like some guys these day are more excited to show off their dance moves than their football skills.

By vigilant — On Oct 23, 2012
I played high school football all four years and ever year we would play this school from the other side of town that was considered a state wide football powerhouse. We lost ever year and everyone expected it.

The frustrating thing though was that the other team made a big deal out of it ever time. It was like the hare beating the tortoise and then rubbing it in his face. It used to boil my blood. Why couldn't they have been humble about it? It's not like they just won another state championship.

By anon222509 — On Oct 15, 2011

I don't think it's because they have an inferiority complex. It's because they are good listeners and don't buy into any bullcrap.

By anon70980 — On Mar 16, 2010

Grandstanding seems to be a mostly American originated word. Used often, unfortunately, wrongly as a means of defense from persons with an inferiority complex.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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