Your Body Language
Speaks Louder Than You Do!
By Arvee Robinson
Sometimes your body speaks louder than your words. We’ve all heard that when you’re giving a speech, you shouldn’t cross your arms, put your hands behind your back or wave them in front of you. In other words, you should stay away from any body part when you’re presenting. In a way, that’s a myth because when you read body language it takes more than one action to communicate.
Body language works both ways. It works for you and it works for your audience. For example, if you cross your arms, according to most body language experts, it means you are shutting people off. Typically, when you see an audience member crossing their arms, it means they are resistant or that they don’t agree with the speaker. However, it simply might mean that the person is cold and is trying to get warm.
As a public speaker, when you stand before your next audience and use body language, I want you think about this idea: Mind, body and spirit, working in unison, as one, to deliver one message.
You can’t really separate your body language from who you are as an individual. That’s what a lot of speech coaches try to do. They tell the speaker what not to do. You’ve heard this a million times, “don’t point at your audience” or “don’t bang your fist on the lectern.” That’s all true, but what about what you can do and what you should do?
Ultimately, you want to speak in unison of body, mind and spirit to deliver your message. How do you do that? Let’s break it down.
Eye contact is one of the most important elements of body language that you use to communicate to your audience.
Recently, I was invited to a Rotary Club meeting where they were having a speech contest for high school students. Whoever won that day’s contest would go on to compete at the district for a $5000 scholarship. Five thousand dollars is a really big deal. These four students had already won a couple times and had given a number of speeches to get to this moment.
When they each spoke, I rated them even though I wasn’t a judge. Lo and behold, I was right on. Afterwards, one of the young men, who didn’t win first place, came over and asked me for feedback. I didn’t give him feedback right then, because feedback should come later. I let him bask in his glow and feel he did a good job. I got his card and told him I’d call him and connect with him later. I wrote him an email so I wouldn’t forget some of my points.
My main point was that he made no connection with his audience. He did several disconnects as he spoke. The first one was that he started talking before he was in front of his audience. Believe me, I did that once in college and I thought it was some great technique. Little did I know that it is the worst thing you can do.
You want to make sure before you utter a word, that you are up in front of the group fully planted, that you take a beat or pause, and then look around, and make that connection with your audience. Your time does not start until you utter your first word. So don’t worry about time. Just look at your audience, really look at them, and make a connection. That was one thing this young man did wrong. He didn’t even stand up in front of his audience; he just started talking before he even got up to the speaking area.
The Rotary Club had a standing banner on the stage, which outlined their core values. The student’s speech was to be about these core values. He kept looking over at the banner, as if he was looking at notes.
As a speaker, whenever you turn away from your audience, you disconnect from them. This is in regards to a speech that is from 5 to 90 minutes long. When you’re doing a workshop you’re going to be all over the place, and it is a different dynamic. The less time you have, the less you want to disconnect because you don’t have time to make it up.
The student had only 10 minutes to do his speech, so there was no time for any disconnect. He already had one disconnect when he came up to the stage. The second was when he kept turning his head to look at the banner. I could tell that he was trying to be dramatic and show the judges that he knew what he was talking about, but it backfired. You have to be careful because your body language can backfire on you. He spoke well, but disconnected from the audience when he turned sideways, looked at the banner, read the core principal and then delivered what it meant to him.
The third disconnect was that he never made eye contact with his audience. I noticed because I was watching and waiting for him to make eye contact with me. In the entire seven minutes he never did. He was looking at dead air and dead space, but not into people’s eyes.
Eye contact is so important that you have to look into somebody’s eyes. That’s the only way you can make that deep connection. You need to look in each individual’s eyes as often as you can, and you want to do that for 3-4 seconds. Make eye contact, communicate, connect, and then move on or continue to the next person—so remember: Contact, Connect, Communicate and Continue.
That connection is so important. If you don’t have any other connection or any other body language in your entire speech as long as you have solid, strong eye contact, you will succeed. In this case, the young man would have won because he had a very good speech, he looked great, and he had practiced and rehearsed, but he didn’t make a connection. If you have no connection with your audience, you’re dead.
Practice your eye contact. When you’re a public speaker, make sure you look at each individual 3-4 seconds and that you do a kind of weaving in and out (some say it’s like making a Z with your eyes). Look to the back of the audience, up to the front to one side, then over to the other side.
What ever you do, don’t dart your eyes from one area to another. If you’re in a group of 300 people, obviously you can’t look into everyone’s eyes; however, you can look at the ones closest to you and you can separate the room into quadrants. Make an effort to look at all areas so no one person (or section) feels left out.
Hands or Gestures
The best way to use your hands is to keep them at your side and let them speak for you. Let them be connected. Remember to speak in unison of body, mind and spirit. Let your hands have the freedom of expression. Don’t worry about them.
Practice ways that you can use them to mean something. You can draw a square, if you want to say someone’s a square. You can take your thumb and forefinger to your ear like a telephone, saying, “Call me.” You can do a circle to indicate going around the world.
Don’t stress about keeping your hands at your side. If you find them clutched in front of you, don’t get freaked out. However, if you find them in a position that is not complimentary to your speech, just let them go and let them do what ever they do. If you talk a lot with your hands, just don’t have them in front your face. Keep them low in front so that they don’t cover you or distract your audience.
Give your hands purpose, like give them a job to do. Talk about height or geometric shapes, because it will keep them busy. The less you think about them, the better. They’re connected to your speech and to your message. And when you practice the required amount of time (10 minutes for every 2 minutes of your speech), they’ll just follow in suit. They’ll behave and be just fine.
Some gestures are not complimentary or professional. Stay away from them. I also recommend an open hand, instead of pointing. Every once in awhile, I will pound my fist a little, but I don’t do it a lot. Use everything in moderation.
Movement and How to Stand
Movement is the one thing that can distract your audience the most, if you walk too much on stage. I had a student that whenever he spoke on stage, he would waltz back and forth, like in a square. I put a stick between his feet and told him not to let the stick drop as he stood there to deliver his speech.
It is far better for you to stand in one place to deliver your speech, letting your hands move and making eye contact, than it is to move all over the place. Some speakers feel compelled to move. Moving can create disconnect if you don’t move with a purpose.
If you feel like you have to move, it must be with a thought that you have to get closer to that person. When you think that thought, there’s no disconnect because you’re getting closer to somebody. You’re not breaking the connection with the entire audience that way. Make sure you always have a purpose to move or just stand still.
How you stand is very important. You want to always stand in the rooted position, which is standing with your legs shoulder length apart, or maybe even further. Imagine that you have roots growing out of the bottoms of your feet down into the earth. That really keeps you grounded in your message and strong in what you are saying. You will feel the strength and the power of your words by imagining how rooted you are by standing in a rooted position.
You’ve heard a lot of myths about gestures and what you should or shouldn’t do. I want you to keep in mind, that as a speaker, you are a whole person, a whole being. You’ve got your mind (which is your message, that you’ve thought about and practiced and are teaching) and you’ve got your body that is going to speak, and you’ve got your spirit that will speak through you. You want to make sure that your body language speaks loudly and compliments your message, and that it doesn’t distract from your message or have its own language.
Your face conveys powerful body language, even beyond eye contact. I’ve seen some speakers with a very stoic face. It is not very inviting, it is not very trustworthy, and it can be rather boring. Make sure when you’re practicing your speech you look at yourself in a mirror.
I don’t recommend rehearsing your speech the whole time in front of a mirror because you will distract yourself. You should be in your own thoughts and your own place as you practice. Speak out loud, walk around, go to the beach, or go outside. Be free to speak and think and move as your spirit moves you.
However, after you have your speech down, I recommend that you go to the mirror and make sure that your face is congruent with what you are saying. There’s nothing worse than when you’re speaking about something sad and you have a grin on your face, or talking about something happy with a frown on your face.
Practice your expressions. Are you trying to make gestures with your eyebrows or with your facial expressions? The biggest asset you have is your entire face. Raising just one eyebrow can mean something or conveying something. If you want to know more about this, observe comedians. They will say something and then stop, and with one look on their face, the entire audience will start laughing.
Facial expressions are very important, so use them. However, you won’t be able to use those until you’ve got your speech down. Once it is practiced, then go to the mirror and practice your facial expression. Have fun with them and you certainly can add some laughs and add some dynamics to your speech.
Use subtle facial expressions and use them sparingly. It doesn’t take much. As a speaker, you’re under a magnifying glass. For example, when you lick your lips, to your audience it looks like you’re licking your entire arm! So be careful of the gestures that you don’t want your audience to see and stay away from those.
If you’re trying to break a habit, have someone in the audience or a coach or a friend, tell you or write down or count every time you do that habit. One of my students had a habit that when she was on stage, she would throw her hair back with her head all the time. She had short hair so there was no reason for this. It was a kind of jerking motion. I asked her about it and she didn’t realize she was doing it. With proper coaching, she doesn’t do it any more.
Awareness is key to stopping a habit, especially if you’re speaking on stage. I had another student that during a certain part of her story would bend down a little bit, instead of standing straight up. She didn’t even know she was doing it. We had to break that habit. She would have seen it in the mirror.
Sometimes it takes a trained coach to see through the gesture and what it is doing to the presentation before they can stop it. Sometimes your friends and colleagues will let you get away with stuff, because they don’t know themselves how detrimental that gesture can be to your speech.
All in all, practice your gestures as well as your speech. Once you have your speech down, go to the mirror, and start adding gestures. Pay attention to the ones you might not want to add because all gestures are magnified when you get up on stage to speak.
Arvee Robinson, is The Master Speaker Trainer, International Speaker, and Author. She teaches business owners, service professionals, and entrepreneurs how to use public speaking as a marketing strategy so they can attract more clients, generate unlimited leads and grow their businesses, effortlessly. She teaches a proven speaker system for delivering persuasive presentations, and easy formulas for creating killer elevator speeches and magnetic self-introductions. Arvee has helped hundreds of individuals to win clients and close more sales every time they speak. She offers private coaching, workshops, and weekly teleclasses. Her programs will make you money for the rest of your life.
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