Negative body language undermines your credibility and message. Use this guide to see if you use one of the ‘7 deadly sins’ of nonverbal communication.
Body language fascinates you, doesn't it? Of course it does. We're all fascinated by body language, especially when it comes to interpreting what someone else's physical actions mean.
What does that gesture signify? Is he or she responding positively to me? Am I seeing truthfulness or lying? Is any of this nonverbal behavior reliable information?
Your body language affects an audience's perception of you. So if you want to speak with lasting influence, use the nonverbal techniques that will convince listeners. Download my free guide, "The Body Language Rules: 12 Ways to Be a More Powerful Speaker."
Body Language Is Key to Nonverbal Communication
If you're that interested in what other people are showing you in terms of their intensions and motives, let's turn that situation around: What about when you're the one giving a speech or presentation? You get it: your audience wants to know the same things about you, including:
- Are you trustworthy?
- Is what you're saying credible?
- Do you have the audience's interests at heart rather than your own?
- Are you a confident speaker?
- Can they believe in your message?
The list is actually much longer concerning how you're coming across and whether your message is resonating. Clearly, you need to use body language powerfully to be credible and persuasive in the eyes of your audience.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Nonverbal Communication
Below are the 7 ways speakers exhibit "negative body language" that undermines their credibility and influence. If you see your own behavior reflected here, it's time to take stock and start employing body language that helps rather than hurts your cause.
#1. Poor stance or posture.Audiences cue in on your sense of self-worth by how you hold yourself. Slumped shoulders and a caved chest indicate surrender, not a willingness to take on the world in a worthy endeavor. As I tell clients at The Genard Method, "How you stand affects your standing with the audience." Here's a easy yet effective exercise: Imagine a string leading from the top of your head into infinity. Someone is tugging gently and steadily on that string. Allow yourself to respond . . . and notice in a mirror how much more capable and confident you look!
You know the variations of this one: the nervous speaker who talks to the floor; the PowerPoint user who has a cozy dialogue with the screen while ignoring the audience; the keynoter who has an excellent relationship with his notes and none with the people in the seats. Or a presenter who reads those amazing invisible notes on the ceiling none of us can see. Trust is your most valuable commodity as a speaker, and that attribute begins and ends with eye contact. To dramatically improve your eye contact in public speaking, use this technique.
#2. Avoiding eye contact.
#3. Creating a barrier that shuts out listeners.
This sin has many variations. Standing with arms crossed; the fig leaf position of hands in front of the crotch; creating a church steeple with one's fingers; "washing" the hands while speaking; even a gesture with palm outward toward the audience that seems to say, "Stop!" — Every one of these features a speaker creating a physical barrier in front of listeners. Let those arms remain at your sides, and bring them up to make a gesture that amplifies or supports your meaning. It may feel awkward at first, but you'll soon get used to it.
#4. Unproductive use of space.
Believe it or not, it's easy to over-emphasize gestures and ignore using space! Audiences expect a performer, not a statue. In fact, it's your job to command space. Using different parts of the stage tells an audience you're comfortable up there; and few performance techniques aid engagement like letting listeners know you're about to start a new point. If you stand in a different spot for each of those points, listeners will retain each one more reliably. Use your audience in terms of space as well, approaching them to answer questions or to "check in" frequently. Here are 5 acting techniques to improve your stage presence in public speaking.
#5. Employing weak or repetitive gestures.
"What should I do with my hands?" is a frequent question of anxious speakers. The answer is simple: a gesture should be an integral part of what you're saying. As Hamlet put it, "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action." With that mantra in mind, it should actually become difficult to use too many gestures, since that particular gesture couldn't possibly fit that many expressions! The other half of this equation is the power and spareness of the gesture: each one you make should be strong, support the phrase, and end cleanly. Want more on effective gestures? Here's how to look good and feel strong as a speaker.
#6. Relating negatively to listeners.
You've seen speakers accomplish this remarkable feat: Rather than cultivating influence with an audience, they antagonize them. Negative facial expressions, nodding impatiently at a questioner so they'll shut up so you can answer, pointing a stiff finger at the next unlucky questioner in line (instead of using a "welcoming" gesture), or even looking at the floor as you ponder your momentous reply even as they're still asking their question — these are clear indications that the speaker would rather be somewhere else. Pretty soon, of course, the audience will agree.
#7. Clumsy use of objects.
You've seen the laser pointers that dance playfully close to an audience member's eyes; the writing instruments held but never once used in a presentation; the piece of chalk tossed into the air constantly during a lecture; and the microphones held too close or waving in the air as part of a gesture. Like actors with props, speakers need to use objects rather than being used by them. As a minimum exercise in mastering objects, come out from behind a lectern whenever possible. A ponderous lecturn is the worst physical barrier of all, which is why I call it one of the "Devil's Tools."
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