Actrice Mae West once said: “I speak two languages, Body and English.” Body language can make or break your presentation.
An audience decides within seconds if they trust the speaker that is on stage.These seconds are used to look at how the speaker presents him- or herself.
If they don’t trust him or her, it won’t matter what the speaker says, they won’t be able to persuade.
In a lot of cases, what you say makes less of an impact than how you act. Your movement, gestures, and voice send out an important message!
What is body language?
Body language is part of the non-verbal communication. It is the combination of movements, gestures, and postures. This includes the way a speaker talks, moves and looks on stage. Body language is part of the message a speaker wants to give.
Many people only think body language is only about the way you position yourself on stage. This is a big part of it, but there is much more. Body language shows your confidence. The right attitude on stage gives you an air of authority, which supports your story.
The importance of body language in public speaking
You can say that having the wrong body language makes that your talk almost can’t be a success. You need a lot of talent on other elements to make up for bad body language.
Some examples of bad body language include: turning your back to the audience, moving around too much or hiding behind a desk. Gesturing also can have a bad influence on your talk. Being too aggressive in your gestures, drumming your fingers or even biting your nails are also examples of bad body language.
But even when you aren’t doing a bad job, improving your body language can have a big effect. Especially on the way, the audience receives your talk. It can make a difference between a nice talk and actually persuading people.
What to pay attention to?
Good body language means you are paying attention to different elements. For example, you have to know how to move, where to look, where to stand and what gestures to make.
Where to look?
Are you looking towards your audience? Or are you one of those speakers who have a tendency to look behind you at the screen? Are you giving your entire audience the attention and not just a happy few?
Where are you on stage?
As a speaker, you always have to be aware of where you are on stage. This is why for example the TED conference has a circle speakers can’t move out of. It means you have to think about where you will sit in a panel discussion and where to (not) move to when walking around.
Happy vs sad
What message are you getting across with your body language? Are you showing happiness? Or are you sad? This reflects on your audience!
Are you smiling?
Did you know for example that smiling makes people more comfortable with you as a speaker? Your facial expressions are extremely important. The way you look says a lot about how you feel and about your message. At the same time, you don’t want to be smiling through a very serious story. Your facial expressions should be in line with the story.
How’s your energy level?
How much energy are you putting into your talk? Too little energy will make your audience fall asleep. Then again, too much will make them pay less attention to your message!
Are you in control?
Audiences love speakers who are in control. If a speaker shows strength, the audience will believe the speaker’s words faster. This means standing up straight and powerful, but also learning how to avoid saying stop-words like “uhm” all the time.
What gestures are you making? Are you using your hands and not hiding them in your pockets? Are you pointing, being expressive?
Are you training your body language?
Good body language can be trained. You can do this by rehearsing or practicing in front of colleagues. Just be careful with rehearsing in front of a mirror.