I recently coached a Sales Director of one of the world’s biggest multinationals, concerning a public speaking skill he knew he needed to master. It wasn’t the easiest of tasks for Robert—which is exactly why his company had hired me to work with him.
He had to find a way in his presentations to express his messages physically as well as intellectually.
He needed to work on his body language.
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As I knew from viewing video clips of Robert's previous speeches, he was a whiz at putting together ideas and creating a compelling argument. The problem was, that he wasn’t physically expressive in a way that matched the thrust of his argument. He would always stand stock, for one thing, not moving his feet an inch. And while he gestured frequently, those movements were repetitive and jerky. As with all ineffective body language, his physical presence called attention to itself, rather than making his talks more interesting and engaging.
So our speech coaching session was focused exclusively on body language. Fortunately, I had a half-day free of interruptions in Robert’s busy schedule to coach him. So I worked with him along the following lines, to make his physical expression more natural and supportive of the content of his presentations.
Define Your Gestures
Our first task as I saw it was to give definition to his gestures, so those repetitive, jerky movements no longer drew attention from what Robert was saying. I wanted him, in his own mind, to define his gestures.
The reason any of us gestures in a presentation is to amplify or support what we’re saying through physical expression of that idea. Think of the times you’ve been excited about something you were talking about—didn’t you incorporate some movement to show that passion? Wouldn’t it in fact have been difficult to express what you were saying without any movement?
I’m not saying you should plan how you move. But if your gestures are too frequent, too similar, or weak to the point of vagueness, you should make them cleaner, more defined, and fewer in number. Your message will resonate much more strongly with listeners if, when you say something really important, you make an emphatic gesture no one has seen up to now.
Move with Purpose
Once we had made progress concerning Robert’s gestures including videotaped practice, I started to work with him on his overall movements. That approach was necessary because, like most business professionals who haven’t received training as an actor or a dancer, he wasn’t used to thinking of his talks in terms of his performance space.
Yet the venue we speak in—boardroom, conference room, convention or lecture hall, TV studio—plays an important role in how we reach and influence audiences. Unfortunately, too many speakers move (or don’t move) in ways that work against their own effectiveness. You’ve seen them time and time again: the still-as-a-statue speaker behind the lectern, the wanderer, or the tiger-in-the-cage pacer, among others.
Here are three exciting ways you can do the opposite, concerning how to use body language effectively for leadership.
One of the keys to moving well as a speaker is to employ something quite different from the unproductive approaches of those ineffective speakers: purposeful movement. Ask yourself if there's a reason you are moving from Point A to Point B. There should be. Approaching the PowerPoint screen to point something out is one example, as is taking a step or two toward a questioner in the audience, or moving to physically connect with people on one side of the room. So is one of the acting techniques known as coming “down-center” (as actors label the space in the center of the stage closest to the audience), which is the most powerful spot to deliver a strong opening and closing.
Link Movement to Your Message
One of the easiest ways to employ purposeful movement like this is to tie your stage position to what you’re saying. That is, you’ll be linking movement to your message—a particularly helpful approach for using nonverbal communication for effective public speaking.
The interesting thing about doing this is that your movement is not only more interesting for your audience. It’s also highly supportive of what you’re saying, since it allows your audience to more easily retain the points you’re making.
Here’s the easiest way to link movement and message: occupy a different part of your performance space for each main point you’re discussing. Let’s say you’ll be talking about three main points in your presentation. Start down-center for your Introduction. Then move to Position #1 for your first point. Gesture naturally when you get there, but don’t dilute the strength of that thought by moving during it. Move to Position #2 for your next point; and do the same for your last idea. Then come back down-center for a strong Conclusion. Your audience will find it much easier to retain your main points than if you were wandering, pacing, or even standing stock-still while you made each of them.
Is your performance space small? No matter—simply move a step or two each time, rather than striding across the stage as you would if you were speaking in a large lecture hall.
Click on this link for 3 ways to become a more exciting speaker through stage presence and charisma.
Move when the Urge Strikes You
Speaking of striding, that’s the last area I worked with Robert on in our time together that day. We needed to do so, precisely because he had done such a good job incorporating the rest of my coaching!
As someone who was perfectly comfortable speaking for leadership, he easily grasped the body language concepts I had introduced so far. Better still, he incorporated them immediately. The problem was, his sheer determination began to show.
For instance, when he was ready to introduce the next point he was going to talk about, by golly, he moved! He occupied a different part of his performance space, all right—but it looked exactly like he was supposed to get there, as though it were a dance step he had to execute. His movement appeared anything but natural. So I introduced him to the concept that his thought should compel his movement.
Physical expression of what you’re saying should be exactly that: a need to bolster through body language what can’t be shown strongly enough otherwise. Another way to think of this is,move only when you can’t NOT move any longer. That is, if you create the conditions for the movement or gesture, it will emerge naturally, and at just the right moment.
There’s that word again: natural. Body language is a powerful tool of public speaking. But it can only be effective if it doesn’t look staged, stiff, or planned. You are, without doubt, one of the most important visual aids you possess as a speaker. Make your physical expression emerge from your own need to communicate, just as you make it part of your message, and you’ll truly be someone worth watching as much as you're a speaker worth listening to.
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