Are you huffing and puffing to use effective body language as a speaker? It's much easier than that! Here's how to let your body think for itself.
Some years ago, a teacher at the acting academy I studied at in London said something that's stayed with me my entire life. It didn't have anything to do with acting. In fact, that's precisely why the advice is so valuable.
She said: "Twenty percent of the reading you do should have nothing to do with your profession." There are lots of reasons why that's an important thing to hear, whatever kind of work you do.
As it turns out from something I read this week, body language is one of them.
The article was an online piece with writing advice from the great short story writer and novelist Ray Bradbury. Here's what he had to say that rang true for me:
[It's a] type of dynamic relaxation, as in sculpting, where the sculptor does not consciously have to tell his fingers what to do. The surgeon does not tell his scalpel what to do. Nor does the athlete advise his body. Suddenly, a natural rhythm is achieved. The body thinks for itself.
Two things are of value here: First, a writer talking about body language is inherently interesting, as it reminds us that human behavior transcends our individual small worlds. (Twenty percent of reading outside your field, remember?)
Second, the body absolutely does think for itself. Any dancer or athlete could tell you that.
That's exactly what you need to happen when you deliver a speech or presentation: your body should be responding to the immediacy of what you're saying. You're most effective as a speaker when your body is an effortless tool of communication: supporting, amplifying, and demonstrating what you mean.
Are you using positive body language to engage listeners? When you speak in public, you're being judged not just on what you say, but how you look and sound. You need to be on the right body language wavelength, instead of sending messages you don't want to be received! To be credible and persuasive every time, download my free presenter's guide, Negative Body Language: The 7 Deadly Sins of Nonverbal Communication."
So how do you get to the place where that happens naturally? Here are three ways you can create the body electric where charging up an audience is concerned.
Living in the Moment Creates Flexibility
For natural body language, you need flexibility. Not only is tightness antithetical to dynamic physical performance—it also leaves you unable to respond quickly and organically. And this is where what I call The Disease of Content comes into play.
Most speakers concern themselves with delivering information. What's needed instead, for it is the essence of public speaking itself, is connecting with an audience. If you're more concerned with getting through your PowerPoint deck than noticing what's happening in front of you, you're not going to be able to react physically moment by moment to your audience's response.
Let's say someone interjects a comment that goes right to the heart of your message. "Yes! That's exactly what I'm talking about," you respond. Because you are more concerned with the audience's response—exactly what you're here to achieve—than the next thing you had planned to say, you react verbally instantaneously. Far more effective, though, is your vocal and physical response that reflects your enthusiasm. If you're in the moment, your body language, words, and tone will be unified.
Sensational: You Need to Inhabit Your Body
Another mantra my clients hear frequently is, "You have to get out of your head and into your body." It's amazing actually, once we've come down with The Disease of Content, how little we're aware of the physical sensations we're experiencing while in front of an audience.
Think about sensations now: Do you have any sense as you're reading this what your body feels like? Are you hot, cold? Where are the pressure points between your body and what you're sitting on, or between your feet and the floor or the ground? What's your breathing feel like? Any areas of tightness or tension? Are you aware of your alignment? What's your face doing right now?
Taking a moment while you're presenting to an audience—and I'm speaking here in terms of just seconds—to "inhabit" your body may change your awareness radically. It will put you into your body. It will clinch the relationship between your physical self and how it can express itself fluidly, naturally, and spontaneously. It will make you literally "sensational," while learning the ways body language can make you a better speaker.
Create the Conditions for the Gesture . . . and Voila!
Finally, the way to get your body to think on its feet is, well, to stop thinking. Especially harmful in terms of effective body language, is any kind of premeditation where gestures are concerned.
Gestures should never be plotted out ahead of time. Doing so is part of the prescriptive approach to public speaking that is wholly artificial and sterile. What could be more robotic than a gesture grafted onto a remark instead of arising spontaneously from your feelings?
The essence of gesturing while speaking is this: We bring our hands, arms, or whole body into play because we can't avoid doing so any longer. "I just can't say this without amplifying it with a gesture!" is what we'd say to ourselves if we were to script out our response.
But of course that's exactly what we don't want to do—and the same need to serve the emotion of the moment is what makes a gesture true and powerful. So don't create a gesture. Create the conditions for the gesture. What emerges, and when it shows up, may surprise you, if you were thinking about it all. Naturally . . . naturally, you won't be.
 Alison Nastasi, “Ray Bradbury’s Practical and Inspiring Writing Advice,” flavorwire.com, August 22, 2017.