Leaders know that body language is one way to demonstrate leadership qualities when speaking in public. Ordinary speakers only deliver content, but leaders do much more, using their physical presence to create influence. Body language, in other words, conveys a message concerning your ability to lead.
That's because when you speak in public, you are the message as much as anything you say. (To be an unforgettable speaker, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate Audience Engagement.")
Body Language Demonstrates Leadership Qualities
Always remember: when you deliver a speech or presentation, you are the leader in the room, whatever you reside in the hierarchy of a company or organization. And as a leader, you must go beyond simple body language that helps support meaning. You need to inspire and excite audiences by how you look and sound. (For your voice, which colors how you say a thing, is an element of nonverbal communication.)
Speaking like that separates mundane presenters from those who demonstrate leadership qualities, and can therefore speak with presence and charisma.
Your Body Is Exciting
I thought of all this yesterday, when I spent the day proofing the digital version of my new book Fearless Speaking. The book includes 50 exercises to reduce fear of public speaking and build confidence, and as we get ready to roll out the e-book to join the paperback version, it's important that the text is accurate and the exercises look right.
One of the interesting aspects of being an author is that you re-discover elements of the story you're telling. That happened yesterday, when I ran across this sentence in my chapter on using biofeedback to deal with physical symptoms of speech anxiety:
Whatever else public speaking represents for you, it's literally an exciting activity.
"Your body become energized and ready for action," I went on. "Your job is to harness that energy into constructive channels so you can be relaxed yet dynamic."
I was struck by those words: "exciting," "energized," "ready for action," "harness that energy," "dynamic." — Understanding the body's role in creating influence in this way should shake upour thinking as to just how powerful nonverbal communication can be in speaking for leadership.
Three Ways to Use Body Language to Speak with Impact
Clearly, as speakers who lead when we present, we need to go beyond hand gestures and eye contact to use body language to move audiences. Whatever you do visually has a powerful effect on those who watch you speak. That's because human beings are hard-wired to respond viscerally to the physical presence of other people.
So how can you use this knowledge to inspire and activate listeners and speak as a leader? Here are three ways:
#1 — Energize Your Speaking: Physics tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not surprisingly, audiences are excited by speakers who demonstrate excitement, and stay cool toward presenters who don't expend much effort. Energy is the key word. You need to generate enough so that it bounces back to you, an echo of your own enthusiasm.
To achieve this, think of an imaginary bubble that encloses you and your listeners—and fill that space with enough energy to reach every audience member, from the front row to the back. Start practicing this performance technique, and you'll get very good at creating a physical "outwardness" that lets every member of the audience feel as though you're talking to them alone.
#2 — Get Physical with Listeners: Proxemics is the study of spatial arrangements and requirements among humans, and it always comes into play when you're speaking to an audience. The venue or space you speak in—whether it's a boardroom, auditorium, or conference hall—has an effect on your ability to influence others and on the impact of your message. Imagine passionately explaining your idea in a 2,000 seat theater versus an elevator.
Learn to use closeness to your listeners to your advantage, and use every opportunity to reduce the distance between you and them. (Although your speech in that elevator can correctly be exempted from this rule!) Generally, audiences feel closer to you and what you're saying when you're physically closer to them. You've seen game show hosts and even speakers come down from the stage and walk up and down the aisles while talking to the audience. Works, doesn't it?
#3 — Fill Your Performance Space: If you don't already, start thinking of every speech or presentation as a performance, rather than an opportunity simply to deliver information. If you can create a sense of community between you and your audience—as happens in the theater—magical things can occur. People's lives can be changed by the ideas you express if this phenomenon takes place.
Your own body is preparing you to make this happen every time you speak. Those butterflies and jitters are telling you that it's game time, and they're getting you ready. The stage is set (however informal or humble the space may be), and it's your job to use that space! Audiences don't want a talking head joined to the body of a statue.
Your job as a speaker if you want to lead is to make something extraordinary happen in the space. It won't be leading a nation or saving millions of lives, but it can be extraordinary nonetheless. Listeners want to be immersed in you as much as what you say, and they need to see you command the stage. Take up all of the space that's rightfully yours, not for the sake of doing so but with purpose. (Choosing a different spot in your performance space for each main point is a good place to start.) Using the stage like this is one clear way to show leadership qualities, and to get an audience to say, "Wow!"
You should follow me on Twitter here.