by Ellen Egan
Body language has become a “hot” topic (just go check out your local bookstore and you will see a big section on body language) in relation to business, sales, relationships and dating, even though the study of body language has been around for a long time. Trust me, I went into a book store last week and I was amazed at the amount of books on the topic. So, how does all of this relate to public speaking.
Body language is really all about non-verbal communication. What are you saying without using your voice. Now, with public speaking this has often translated into “how are you showing your nervousness” without saying “I am nervous”. If you have ever seen a presenter pace back and forth across the stage, cross their arms, hide behind the podium, tap their foot incessantly, etc you have seen someone who was shouting out their nervousness, without using a single word.
There are those who would quote Albert Mehrabian’s research and say that body language accounts for up to 93% of the meaning that people take form human communication. That’s not completely accurate as Mehrabian’s research focused on communications with a strong emotional element (including aspects which fall outside the standard body language definition). But it is safe to say that body language is very important tool to convey meaning. Most researchers would agree that between 50 – 80% of all human communications are non-verbal.
Body language includes gestures, stance, and facial expressions. When you are presenting, you will want to be aware of the messages you are sending the audience through your gestures, stance and facial expression.
First of all you will want to give a strong impression. You will want to use good posture and stand up straight. This give s the impression of confidence. Your stance should include facing the audience, but I recommend standing at a slight angle with your feet in a “T” position. This allows you greater flexibility of movement and makes it less likely that you will lock your knees.
In terms of gestures, you will want to use your hands to convey your message during your presentation. You have a wide range of gestures at your disposalto convey your message. One of the most effective is numbering the main points of your presentation. You can also use your hands for gestures related to adjectives (big, small, long, high, low, etc.)
Facial expressions are one of the most important aspects of body language and presentations. Eye contact with members of your audience denotes interest, sincerity and confidence. Smiling also helps to make a positive connection with your audience. Ideally, you will focus your attention on parts of the audience and then move your attention to another part of the audience as you move on with your speech. This way the whole audience has the impressions that you are speaking with them.
The critical aspect of body language and public speaking is that there must be congurence between your non-verbal communication and your verbal communication. A serious message needs serious facial expressions, a serious stance and gestures. A lighthearted message needs lighhearted nonverbal communication. It is very confusing if a person is saying “No” while they nod their head up and down. Keep your messages congruent and it will be easier for your audience to absorb the message.
Here are some resources if you are interested in learning more about using body language:
To your success,