Many times, we presenters practice our speeches by memorizing our scripts. We think that by getting all of the words right, we’ll be clearly communicating to our audience. But actually, your words are but one component of your presentation. You also need to be aware of your nonverbal communication. Your body language speaks louder than your words.
Picture a boss trying to motivate her staff. If the boss is in front of the group but staying as close to the wall as she can, or stands still with her arms hanging down by her sides, or repeatedly brushes her bangs off her face, her message won’t be “Let’s do this, team!” Instead, she’s communicating “I hate public speaking and I can’t wait for this to be over.” Her body language is broadcasting introversion, apathy, and nervousness. No matter what she says, her body language conveys meanings that are counter to her main message. When you’re trying to be persuasive, you should lean in toward your audience, bringing them into your confidence and getting them interested in what you have to say. Wide gestures can convey excitement and enthusiasm. Avoid defensive postures such as crossing your arms, keeping your hands inside your pockets and touching your face and hair.
Gestures are good except when…
Gestures that emphasize your speech can communicate volumes. Movements such as spreading your hands out wide in welcome, miming an activity or gripping your hands together can help to punctuate your words. When you gesture while speaking, you’ll find that your voice becomes more expressive. Be careful not to go too crazy with the gestures, because then you’ll appear hyperactive! Also, when presenting to an international audience, be aware of what gestures mean to them. Some common American gestures, like the “thumbs-up,” “OK” and the peace sign are considered quite vulgar in other countries. (For a guide on the international meanings of common American gestures, read this Huffington Post article.)
Lose the lectern
Another impediment to body language is the common lectern, the stand upon which a speaker puts his notes. Don’t be seduced into using one! Standing behind a lectern places a barrier between you and your audience. When you grip the lectern, you can appear anxious. It can also make you seem unprepared if you’re constantly glancing down at your notes or your laptop. Instead, liberate yourself from that imposing piece of furniture! You can even make a show of moving the lectern off to the side and telling the audience that it will only get in your way when you’re talking to them. Now, you’re some kind of renegade speaker who defies convention to be closer to his people! Well, maybe it won’t be as dramatic as that, but you’ll definitely be sending a message that you don’t want any obstacles between you and them.
What about webinars?
Even if you’re not physically in front of the audience, such as when you’re delivering a webinar, you can use body language to your advantage. Putting a mirror next to the phone can remind you to smile when you speak. The pitch and tone of your voice changes for the better when you smile; you sound more optimistic, helpful and cheerful. Another thing I like to do when talking on the phone is to stand up, move around and gesture. Having a headset and a clip for your phone makes this easy. The result of my movement is that my voice sounds more energized and persuasive.
So the next time you’re practicing your speech, don’t forget to practice your body language, too. In public speaking, as in much of life, actions speak louder than words!