Public speaking isn’t just about speaking – your non-verbal communication is as important as your spoken words.
Just imagine for a moment that you are in the audience attending an event with a brilliant speaker. While his content leaves no doubt that he is highly knowledgeable about his subject matter, he stands in the far corner of the stage; looking grim, he has his arms crossed and keeps staring at the floor has he speaks. What will your impression be?
How about that same speaker, standing front and centre on the stage, a broad smile on his face as he speaks with wide open gestures, making eye contact with everyone in the audience (remember that moment when your eyes meet and you feel like he’s speaking only to you?). What will your impression be now?
There are many different (and some controversial) studies out there of what percentage your body language vs. your content weighs in during a presentation including:
- The Albert Mehrabian 7-38-55 Rule of Communication that states that 7% is the spoken word, 38% is the voice tonality and 55% is the body language.
- Other sources claim that 80% of what we perceive is body language and 20% is content.
Percentages vary, fact is that you should pay as much attention to your body language as you do to your content…. you come as a package deal when you get up to speak in front of an audience.
Here are 5 pro-tips how you can improve your body language when you speak:
- Keep your facial expressions authentic as you speak.
- A smile will make your audience feel comfortable; a sad expression can draw them into your story.
- There is nothing wrong with turning to an angry expression to make a dramatic point in your speech.
- When you speak in front of an audience (especially a larger group), make an effort to amp up your facial expressions compared to what you do when you’re in a one-on-one conversation.
- Keep your shoulders back, stand straight.
- Make an effort to face your audience as much as possible.
- Keep your hands out of pockets.
- Maintain an open body posture (avoid crossed arms unless you illustrate a story or use it for a demonstration).
- Use gestures with a purpose – avoid “just waving” your arms around
- Avoid clasping your hands, crossing your arms or holding your arms behind your back.
- Incorporate your gestures into your presentation – hold up 2 fingers for example to illustrate talking about 2 ways to solve a problem or spread your hands apart to show a measurement or length.
- Use gestures for engagement – for example, raise your hand when your ask a question where you want your audience to raise their hand in response.
- Let your eyes move slowly across the audience – if you present in a large space that may mean that to look to the left or the right you have to turn your body a bit.
- Make direct eye contact with as many people in your audience as you can during your presentation – long enough to create a moment of connection, but not so long to make them feel uncomfortable.
I am including physical touch in this list, because it is a powerful form of body language creating connection – when used appropriately and respectfully!
- Always ensure any physical touch you choose to incorporate in your presentation is appropriate for your audience (age, gender, ethnic background).
- Always be respectful of your audience and their boundaries with regards to physical touch.
- A high five or a handshake can be a simple, safe way to incorporate physical touch in your presentation.
- Putting your hand on an audience member’s shoulder for a moment can be comforting and encouraging.
- A hug – if appropriate and with permission – can create a powerful connection.
Pay attention to your body language the next time you give a presentation and work on incorporating these techniques into your speech. Don’t worry if you don’t do them all perfectly… it takes practice. It’s much better to forget a few gestures you had planned than to lose your train of thought in the middle of your presentation when you’re trying so hard to move your hands the right way that you forget what you wanted to say (yes, I do speak from experience!!).
I believe in you,
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