Use of Your Body
As you stand before an audience, be confident and be yourself. Remember, you planned for this speech, you prepared well, and you practiced so that you know the material you will present. You are probably the expert in the room on this subject. If not, why are you the one making the presentation?
You need to consider not only what you say, but also how your body will support you and your words. When your actions are wedded to your words, the impact of your speech will be strengthened. If your platform behavior includes mannerisms unrelated to your spoken message, those actions will call attention to themselves and away from your speech.
Here are five areas on which to focus as you plan, practice, and present:
- 1. Rid Yourself of Distracting Mannerisms: Eliminate vocal and visual impediments. Some common faults of inexperienced or in effective speakers are:
- Gripping or leaning on the lectern
- Finger tapping
- Lip biting or licking
- Toying with a pen or jewelry
- Adjusting hair or clothing
- Chewing gum
- Head wagging
These all have two things in common: They are physical manifestations of simple nervousness and they are performed unconsciously. When you make a verbal mistake, you can easily correct it, because you can hear your own words. However, you cannot see yourself, so most distracting mannerisms go uncorrected. You cannot eliminate distractions unless you know they exist.
The first step in self-improvement is to learn what you want to change. In speech preparation, nothing is as revealing as a video of your self. The first step in eliminating any superfluous behavior is to obtain an accurate picture of your body’s image while speaking. This should include:
- Body movement
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
The next step is to free yourself of physical behaviors that do not add to your speech. This can be accomplished by simply becoming aware of your problem areas. After you have viewed a video of yourself speaking, review the video several times and make a list of all the distracting mannerisms you notice. Once you have completed these reviews, go over the list of all the distracting mannerisms you saw and heard. The next time you are having a conversation with someone you know well, try to notice whether you use any of these distracting mannerisms even in casual circumstances. Tackle each of your negative points one at a time.
- 2. Build Self-Confidence by Being Yourself: The most important rule for making your body communicate effectively is to be yourself. The emphasis should be on the sharing of ideas, not on the performance. Strive to be as genuine and natural as you are when you speak to family members and friends.
Many people say, “I’m okay in a small group, but when I get in front of a larger group I freeze. ” The only difference between speaking to a small informal group and to a sizable audience is the number of listeners. To compensate for this, you need only to amplify your natural behavior. Be authentically yourself, but amplify your movements and expressions just enough so that the audience can see them.
- 3. Let Your Body Mirror Your Feelings: If you are interested in your subject, truly believe what you are saying, and want to share your message with others, your physical movements will come from within you and will be appropriate to what you are saying.
By involving yourself in your message, you will be natural and spontaneous without having to consciously think about what you are doing or saying. For many of us, this is not as easy as it sounds because it requires us to drop the mask that shields the “real self ” in public.
To become an effective speaker, it is essential that you get rid of your mask and share your true feelings with your audience. Your audience wants to know how you feel about your subject. If you want to convince others, you must convey your convictions. Speak from the heart and to the soul.
- 4. Build Self-confidence through Preparation: Nothing influences a speaker’s mental attitude more than the knowledge that s/he is thoroughly prepared. This knowledge leads to self- confidence, which is a vital ingredient of effective public speaking.
How many of us have ever experienced a situation in which we had not prepared well for a presentation? How did we come across? On the other hand, think of those presentations that did go well. These are the ones for which we were properly prepared.
- 5. Use Your Everyday Speaking Situations: Whenever you speak to people, make an extra effort to notice how you speak. Observe, too, whether the facial expressions of your listeners indicate they do or do not understand what you are saying. Before calling to request something on the phone, plan and practice what you are going to say. Even a phone request is essentially a short presentation. Another exercise is to prepare a ninety-second presentation about your self. Describe who you are and what you do.
Record your presentation and review it using the four steps described above.
Since you are talking about yourself, you do not need to research the topic; however, you do need to prepare what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Plan everything including your gestures and walking patterns.
Leave that deadpan expression to poker players. A speaker realizes that appropriate facial expressions are an important part of effective communication. In fact, facial expressions are often the key determinant of the meaning behind the message. People watch a speaker’s face during a presentation. When you speak, your face -more clearly than any other part of your body -communicates to others your attitudes, feelings, and emotions.
Remove expressions that do not belong on your face. Inappropriate expressions include distracting mannerisms or unconscious expressions not rooted in your feelings, attitudes, and emotions. In much the same way that some speakers perform random, distracting gestures and body movements, nervous speakers often release excess energy and tension by unconsciously moving their facial muscles (e.g., licking lips, tightening the jaw).
One type of unconscious facial movement which is less apt to be read clearly by an audience is involuntary frowning. This type of frowning occurs when a speaker attempts to deliver a memorized speech. There are no rules governing the use of specific expressions. If you relax your inhibitions and allow yourself to respond naturally to your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions, your facial expressions will be appropriate and will project sincerity, conviction, and credibility.
Eye contact is the cement that binds together speakers and their audiences. When you speak, your eyes involve your listeners in your presentation. Jan Costagnaro says, “When you maintain eye contact, you present an air of confidence in yourself and what you are communicating. People who are listening to what you are saying will take you more seriously, and will take what you say as important. If you lose eye contact or focus on everything else but the person(s) you are speaking to, you may not be taken seriously and the truth in your points may be lost. ” There is no surer way to break a communication bond between you and the audience than by failing to look at your listeners. No matter how large your audience may be, each listener wants to feel that you are speaking directly to him/her.
The adage, “The eyes are the mirror of the soul, ” underlines the need for you to convince people with your eyes, as well as your words. Only by looking at your listeners as individuals can you convince them that you are sincere and are interested in them and that you care whether they accept your message. When you speak, your eyes also function as a control device you can use to ensure the audience’s attentiveness and concentration.
Eye contact can also help to overcome nervousness by making your audience a known quantity. Effective eye contact is an important feedback device that makes the speaking situation a two-way communication process. By looking at your audience, you can determine how they are reacting.
When you develop the ability to gauge the audience’s reactions and adjust your presentation accordingly, you will be a much more effective speaker. The following supporting tips will help you be more confident and improve your ability to make eye contact:
Know your material. Know the material so well that you do not have to devote your mental energy to the task of remembering the sequence of ideas and words.
Prepare well and rehearse enough so that you do not have to depend too heavily on notes. Many speakers, no matter how well prepared, need at least a few notes to deliver their message. If you can speak effectively without notes, by all means do so. But if you choose to use notes, they should be only a delivery outline, using key words. Notes are not a substitute for preparation and practice.
Establish a personal bond with listeners. Begin by selecting one person and talking to him/ her personally. Maintain eye contact with that person long enough to establish a visual bond (about five to ten seconds). This is usually the equivalent of a sentence or a thought. Then shift your gaze to another person. In a small group, this is relatively easy to do. But, if you are addressing hundreds or thousands of people, it is impossible. What you can do is pick out one or two individuals in each section of the room and establish personal bonds. Then, each listener will get the impression you are talking directly to him/her.
Monitor visual feedback. While you are talking, your listeners are responding with their own nonverbal messages. Use your eyes to actively seek out this valuable feedback. If individuals aren’t looking at you, they may not be listening either. Make sure they can hear you. Then work to actively engage them.
Your Appearance Matters
Multiple studies have has shown that appearance influences everything from employment to social status. Whether we like to admit it or not, ours is a culture obsessed with appearance. Attractive people are more likely to get the job, get the promotion, and get the girl (or guy). Bonnie Berry’s 2008 research on physical appearance also shows that communicator attractiveness influences how an audience perceives the credibility of the speaker. Overall, more attractive speakers were thought to be more credible (51).
So what does that mean for you as you prepare for a speech? Bottom line: Make an effort. If your listeners will have on suits and dresses, wear your best suit or dress -the outfit that brings you the most compliments. Make sure that every item of clothing is clean and well tailored. Certainly a speaker who appears unkempt gives the impression to the audience that s/he doesn’t really care, and that’s not the first impression that you want to send to your listeners.