You are an animal. The people listening to your speech or presentation are animals. We’re pretty smart members of the animal kingdom. We communicate with complex languages. But we also communicate with a more primal language – body language.
Your body is always saying something, through your movements, expression and appearance. And the audience is picking up the signals, even when your mouth is saying nothing. The audience may be spending more time wondering about that pink streak in your hair than listening to what you’re actually saying.
Your body language can contradict or drown out your words. You need to be able to manage your body language. Here are some tips:
If you ‘talk’ with your hands when you speak to friends, use them during your presentation. Don’t wave your arms like a windmill. Just do what you always do.
If you speak from the heart, the hands will follow naturally.
Think of your speech or presentation as a conversation with the audience, and you are well on your way to that natural body language that helps you communicate effectively. Be yourself. At our workshops, people always ask what they should do with their hands. I tell them not to focus on their hands – but to focus on their heart. If you speak from the heart, the hands will follow naturally.
Adopt a body position that matches your content. If you’re talking about something serious, don’t stand casually leaning on one leg with one hand in your pocket. The audience will be confused by the casual body language and the serious content. By the time they re-focus on your words, they may have missed a relevant point. And if that happens, the rest of the speech becomes meaningless. That’s when they tune out.
Don’t cross your arms or look down at the audience. It makes you look aggressive or superior.
If you’re using slides, don’t turn your back on the audience to look at the screen. How would you feel if someone was talking to you and they turned their back?
Keep your body relaxed. Before you speak, give your body a good shake. Make faces to loosen the facial muscles. Roll your shoulders. Shake out your hands. Wiggle your hips.
Your body is your instrument. If it’s tight, you will sound tense. The more relaxed you are the more natural you’ll sound.
Importance of eye contact
Look at the audience, not at your slides or your speaking notes. If you are talking to a small group, try to make eye contact with every person in the room.
If you have a large group, divide the room into quarters and speak to each quarter. Stay away from bored or negative faces near the front. Their state of mind may have nothing to do with you. Focus on attentive listeners, but not to the exclusion of others. Keep looking at everyone.
Power-positions for speakers
Resist pacing back and forth as you speak. Use the space strategically. The most powerful spot on a stage is centre front. You can train an audience to expect to hear something important when you go to that spot. Don’t speak. Just walk to centre front. Pause. Then deliver your message.
These tips are condensed from Halina’s popular ebook TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers. It’s an invaluable resource for all speakers – and great value at just $10 from our online store.