Of all the communication skills available to you as a public speaker, how important is body language?
The answer: as important as any single element of your speeches or presentations!
From job interviews to high-stakes appearances, audiences are judging you according to what you show them. To build your credibility, presence, and influence, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language."
The 5 Key Body Language Tips for Public Speaking
Consider that the most important visual you can show an audience is yourself. Add the fact that your voice is produced physically. The result? The way you look and sound are hugely important concerning whether you're successful as a speaker. And that includes your audience's physical responses to you, which are largely subconscious.
At The Genard Method of performance-based public speaking training in Boston, body language is a key element of all of our executive speech coaching and team presentation training. Below are 5 key areas we include in our work with clients. You need to know them as well if you want to practice powerful body language techniques for your own public speaking.
1. Movement and gestures.
When it comes to using body language, you should be asking yourself: "How can I use movement and gestures to be effective in my presentation?" Here's an easy formula to remember, one that will help you avoid sleepy audience NODS: Neutral, Open,Defined, and Strong. (And here's some essential information on how to use natural, strong gestures in public speaking.)
You should begin in a neutral position with hands at your sides (it may feel awkward at first, but it looks fine). That keeps you open to your audience, so that influence flows freely in both directions. Gesture sparingly, using defined or "clean" hand movements; and make them strong.Follow the NODS formula and your upper body movement will always support and amplify what you say.
Your body language reveals important clues about you, your message, and your relationsihp with your audience. Learn proven techniques that can make you a more dynamic and engaging speaker in my e-book Body Language to Look and Feel Confident.
2. Using space.
When you speak in public, a certain amount of space on the stage is yours by right. You should claim it! Leaders know how to project power by the way they stand and move; and of course, when you speak in public, you are a leader. Learn how to occupy space in a way that proclaims you're comfortable in the spotlight. Nothing demonstrates confidence like a speaker who is at ease in their own skin in front of an audience.
When you speak, the stage is your world. Show your listeners they can have confidence in what you're telling them by commanding the space around you. Don't overdo it, but don't minimize the area through which you move. Need a reminder of a speaker who knew how to move as a leader? Here's my piece on Bill Clinton's secret: compelling body language.
3. Dealing with Objects and technology.
Stage actors know that good actors use props, and bad actors are used by their props. This isn't just a witticism. Inexperienced performers are discombobulated by a property—a cigarette holder, a wine glass, even a sword or a gun. Solid professionals, on the other hand, understand that the prop exists to help them define their character for the audience. So they use it in a way only that character would.
When you deal with objects in a presentation, from a remote clicker to a handout to the slide screen itself, find a way to help that object further your message and its impact. The object is there for a reason. How can it help you get your message across? Need some specifics? Read my blog on how to energize your PowerPoint presentations.
4. Facial expressiveness.
We might call this the forgotten relative in the family. Yet the human face is vital to communication, from recognizing another person to understanding the subtle clues that underlie motive. Audience members depend upon your facial expressions to augment meaning.
If you don't have an expressive face, work with a mirror to create a link between what you're trying to express verbally, and how your facial expressions make your meaning clear. As part of your practice, give your entire talk without a sound coming out of your mouth even though you form all the words, letting your face do all the communicating.
As I mention above, your voice is physical, so it's obviously a component of effective body language. In fact, aside from your brain your voice is the most flexible communication instrument you own.
So you should learn how to use your voice to influence others. I don't mean only in terms of voice and speech improvement. I'm also referring to the many ways vocal expressiveness helps you indicate meaning and intention.
Listen to speakers good and bad, and listen some more. Take a voice and diction course. Or work with a speech coach, preferably one who trained as an actor. A motto I've used for years in my own public speaking training company is "Find Your True Voice." Literally and figuratively, it can make a radical difference in whether your real message is heard.
Body Language and Power Poses
Finally, some exciting new research has emerged regarding using body language to strengthen your power as a speaker. It has to do with social psychologist Amy Cuddy's research into "power poses." Cuddy discussed her findings in her TED talk, "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” (which happens to be the second most-viewed TED talk ever).
According to Cuddy's research, assuming a powerful pose before participating in a high-stress situation demanding peak performance increases one's level of testosterone (the dominance hormone), and decreases cortisol (a stress hormone). In other words, assume a power pose and you’ll feel more able to control the situation and experience less stress. Find out more in my blog on using power poses to achieve amazing presence.
Add this approach to the five key body language techniques I discuss above, and you'll be well armed in terms of powerful and productive body language. You'll literally stand out from the crowd—in all the right ways.
This blog was originally published in 2012. It is regularly updated.
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