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Speaking With Your Body

 

Techniques Public speaking > Speaking Tips > Speaking With Your Body

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

When you are speaking in public, remember to use your body as an integral part of your communication. Speaking is like song and dance: The words and movement should fit perfectly together.

Stance

When you stand, do so with intent. As default, stand straight, facing the audience, with a vertical spine and head balanced.

To present a strong opinion, plant your feet slightly apart and perhaps put your hands on your hips. To give something, point one foot forward, pointing towards the audience and angle your body at 45 degrees.

Beware of 'happy feet' where nervousness makes you shuffle or pace around. Also avoid defensive, deceptive, aggressive or other negative body language. A typical defensive stance is to cover your genitals in the 'fig-leaf' posture. It is better to be open and (reasonably) relaxed.

Arms

At the start of the presentation open your arms with palms up and diagonally out in an embrace to welcome and greet everyone. Push palms up and together towards them when presenting an idea to them. Point to parts of the audience with open palm up (not the 'scolding' finger).

Beware of excessive gestures and too much 'windmill' arm movement. It is better to make fewer big gestures that accompany your key points only.

Hands

Shape things with your hands, making circles as containers and holding precious ideas between your fingers. Think about how people can see you and do things in profile when your hands in front of you may not be seen.

Generally avoid putting hands below the waist as it draws attention to the nether regions. Also do not touch your face or head.

Approaching

Move towards your audience when making a key points and move back during transitions and pauses. Don't get trapped by the lectern. Move to the sides as if speaking to many different people. To speak fully with your body you should try to ensure you also do not have anything in your hands (if you have slides, perhaps a small radio clicker can be used or get another person to advance the slides). If you are trapped and cannot move then make full use of your hands and head, leaning forward to indicate approach.

Eye contact

Lock eye contact with one person when making a point. Look at people in each quadrant of the room, doing this to people in various parts of the audience, not just the front. Hold the gaze briefly before moving on. 

Expression

Smile, frown and use facial expressions as in normal conversation, especially if you are being videoed and projected on a large screen. Even if not, the shape of you face will change your voice and the emotion will be better communicated. Move your head for other communication, looking up for inspiration, looking down or shaking your head in despair and so on.

Example

I am presenting at a conference and beforehand ensure I have a roving microphone clipped to my jacket. I then move back and forth, using my palms to plead my case as I approach from different angles.

Discussion

We communicate with our bodies as well as our voices, which many speakers forget as they focus on getting the words out. Organizers also forget as they anchor people with lecterns and fixed microphones. It can also be an issue if you are being videoed from a fixed camera.

It is natural to feel exposed when speaking and adopt a defensive position. This, however, separates you from the audience, pushing them away. It is much better to invite them in with open body language. Face-touching is an indicator of discomfort and should generally be avoided.

Eye contact is very important in any communication and in public speaking too, even though many speakers never lock gaze with anyone.

As the audience are further away than in a normal conversation, making larger gestures with your arms can help reach them, but do not become a windmill, flailing about in a way that looks like you are out of control.

Actors are good examples of how to use your body as they engage into the character and do not just stand and read their lines. Other professions can also provide useful models, from lawyers in court to sales people on the forecourt.

See also

Using Body Language

 

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