Gary Genard's

Speak for Success!

"Be a voice not an echo." - Albert Einstein

The Body Language Rules for More Powerful Public Speaking

In my last blog, "Body Language: What Are You Revealing when You Speak?," I shared my view that to move an audience, you need to do more than deliver information. Importantly, you also need to engage, move, inspire, or otherwise lead your listeners to action.

Let's look at some of the other ways body language reveals who you are as a speaker and affects an audience's response to you. We can call them The Body Language Rules for More Powerful Public Speaking.

Key Decisions Audiences Make

How can you achieve the goal of activating audiences? To begin with, you have to positively affect the decisions your listeners are making about you. After all, in one way or another every talk involves persuasive speaking.

At every moment in your speech or presentation, your audience is judging your trustworthiness, the importance of what you're saying, and your values and those of your organization. These judgments strongly affect whether listeners are willing to be persuaded and influenced by you, i.e., to be led to action by you.

Body Language as One of Your Key Speaking Tools

Among your most powerful tools for maximizing this interaction between you and your listeners is body language. (To learn how to use body language effectively, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language.") To understand why this is so, consider how strongly visual our culture has become. Television, movies, video games, smart phones, Pinterestthe list is long of visual stimuli that rule people's attention spans.

To speak with influence, then, you have to look good as well as deliver important information. And that means using one of your primary communication toolsyour bodyeffectively.

Body Language Can Be Obvious or Subtle

Previously, I discussed stance, facial expressions, and gestures: three areas of body language that are obvious and easy for speakers to understand. "Easy" does not mean unimportant, however. As I often say, how you stand affects your standing with listeners; and countenance and gestures are powerful tools of amplifying and supporting meaning.

Yet there are more subtle uses of body language. Not so obvious at first glance, they also support your relationship to your material, your message, and not least, your audience.

Three Rules of Body Language: Space, Objects, and Proximity

Did you know you can and should be using your performance space productively when you speak? Each time you stand, or even sit, in the presence of listeners, a certain space is yours "by right" as a speaker. This speaker-audience equation, of course, includes meetings, speaking to your team, panel discussions, and other situations aside from formal presentations. Methods of using the performance area to your advantage include space, objects, and proximity.

Space: Here are three ways you can use space to clarify or support your message:

  1. Choose a different spot to deliver each of your main points. In a small performance space, this may mean taking just a step or two before each point.
  2. If you're discussing a chronology, move from your audience's left to their right as you talk about each stage or element of a timeline. In Western societies, left-to-right is how we read, and your audience will follow your time progression easily.
  3. If you're outlining sides of an argument or alternatives, stand in one spot for one side of the argument, in another place for the alternative, then remain where you are or go back to your original position, depending upon which side of the argument or alternative you agree with.

Objects: An analogy from the theater helps us here, in an actor's use of props. An inexperienced actor is often self-conscious about using a prop ("I have to handle this thing as well as act in this scene?") And so, as we actors say, the prop uses the actor. Experienced performers accomplish the opposite: they not only know how to handle the prop skillfully, but they actually use the prop to reveal an element of their character.

The same applies to your presentation or speech: Do you use the lectern, "clicker," PowerPoint screen, model you're demonstrating, handouts, product sample, or elements of your technology effectively?

The most important object on view for your audience is, of course, yourself. Are you using any of these visual elements, as you should, to strengthen your message or the action you require from the audience? The key word here is "Practice!" until the object becomes part of the flow of your narrative, and looks natural in your hands.

Proximity: The word for the cultural aspects of the spatial distance between people is proxemics. Your nearness to or distance from others affects their response to youa process that's often strongly determined by culture.

In terms of public speaking, you need only remember this rule: your audience will generally respond more positively to you if you are close to them or remove any obstacles between you and them. Approach your listeners whenever possible, so they feel a physical connection to you. Arrange your performance space with listeners sitting around you in a "U" shape, if possible. Walk up and down the aisles in an auditorium (again, if it's appropriate and easy to do so in your presentation).

And take every opportunity to come out from behind a lectern. It's one of the few actual physical obstacles that diminish your relationship with audiences and keep you distant from them.                                                                New Call-to-action





Tags: persuasive speaking,body language,speaking tools

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