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Persuade! — How to Use Body Language in a Persuasive Speech

Apr 21st, 2013 by Gary Genard

Whenever you speak, your content rests on the surface for all to see. But underneath that visible surface, a strong river of influence is flowing. That's the undercurrent that audiences can't as readily identify: the powerful undertow created by nonverbal communication. (To learn how to speak powerfully to stakeholders, download my free cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques").

These elements of perception and influence predate language. In some ways, we can't name them or identify their precise power at all. But they're always working alongside and beneath the identifiable parts of our speeches and presentations.

Among the strongest of these is body language. Every good speaker must learn how to use body language to advantage, for the body is an essential tool of communication. Click here to find 3 ways to create a stronger self-image in terms of body language. As speakers, we are bodies moving in space, and audiences react as strongly to what they see and perceive about us from body language, as they do to any other element of our communication.

Here are four ways you can use body language to speak with greater power to persuade, motivate, and inspire audiences. Three of these tips are concerned with the type of speaking you do in terms of your presence. The fourth involves an essential practice concerning body language that you must use in every in-person speech, talk, or presentation you give.

For Speaking when You're Standing

  • Ground Yourself. Stand with your feet apart at armpit-width to create a stable and steadfast presence. In performance, you get part of your energy from the earth. Don't deprive yourself of that power.

  • Move Purposefully. Too many speakers wander, pace, or move without purpose. Choose parts of the stage for each main point you discuss, and use visual aids and even the audience to give physical expression to your message. To boost your presence and charisma, learn these 6 skills building exercises for effective body language.

  • Make Strong Limited Gestures. The singular gesture that amplifies an important point is the one that adds to meaning. Make it clean and limited. Too frequent or weak gestures give no physical expression, per above.

  • Use Facial Expressions. Listeners decide in part whether to trust someone from facial expressions and the look in the speaker's eyes. An expressionless speaker is giving an audience too little to go on.

For Speaking when You're Sitting

  • Move Off the Back of the Chair. Getting too comfortable in a chair is a trap when you're speaking. When you need to display engagement and passion, you have to heave yourself forward, which is awkward.

  • Sit Up and Lean Forward. Good posture while seated shows professionalism, and adds to authority. Leaning forward is an important clue to your listeners that you're engaged and interested.

  • Open Yourself Up. A common mistake among speakers sitting at a board table is to clasp the hands together or gather the arms in a "locked" position. That creates a physical barrier between you and your audience.

  • Gesture. Just because you're sitting down doesn't mean you can't gesture. Too many speakers become talking heads and include no amplying or supporting gestures. Use your arms and hands!

When You're Speaking Virtually

  • Stand and Move. Audiences that you speak to virtually or on the phone will hear the physical expressiveness you use when you speak. If it's necessary for you to fully involve yourself when you speak in person, why eliminate movement when you're speaking on the phone or in a webinar?

  • Use Headphones. Not only will headphones free you to move and gesture, but they make your voice seem warmer and nearer. Once you get in the habit, you won't want to be without them.

  • Ask Questions. Since listeners can't react to the visual clues you're giving them (such as when they should respond), you need to give these clues vocally. Both you and your audience will feel like you really are connected. And you'll keep listeners from multitasking!

  • Use Plenty of Vocal Energy. In the absence of vital visual clues, your vocal energy must take up the slack. With no gestures for listeners to see, they need your voice to do the pointing up and emphasizing. Here are the 5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics to help you make more powerful speeches and presentations.

Observe Your Audience's Body Language

  • Direct Your Energy Outward not Inward. Body language coming from your audience is as vital as the nonverbal communication you're sending their way. Don't worry about how you're doing—watch to see how your listeners are responding.

  • Watch How Listeners Respond. Once you notice those movements, gestures, eye contact, and jiggling feet, pay attention if the patterns change. That's often a sign that you're losing listeners' engagement.

  • Change Your Pace and Approach when Necessary. If that happens, change what you're doing. Tell a story if you've been speaking in generalities; give an example; or switch out of the technology you're using or start using one if you've been talking for too long.

  • Build in Interaction. Above all, keep your audience active. That may mean literally using body language, to get them on their feet or involved with an activity. Audiences are always more persuaded, motivated, and inspired when they're doing, not just listening.

Key takeaways from this blog:

 

  • Content is visible. But nonverbal communication can be more powerful.
  • These elements of perception and influence predate language.
  • Audiences respond strongly to visuals, so body language is essential.
  • Keep yourself open, move with purpose, and use facial expressions.
  • Your audience's body language can tell you when you need to shift gears.

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