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.