Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Could your body language be more expressive? Do you inhibit your natural body language when you’re public speaking because of your self-consciousness?
Or maybe you’ve been told (by a well-meaning but misguided person) that you wave your arms around too much? As a result you’ve shut down your natural gestures and become stiff and boring.
The secret to curing boring body language in public speaking is to replicate the state you’re in when you’re in an animated one-on-one conversation. When you’re in that state your gestures unconsciously complement what you’re saying and give your message energy and persuasive power. You’ll look and feel more confident. And there’s even evidence that natural gesturing makes you more fluent.
Here’s what to do to develop natural, expressive body language when you’re speaking:
Put down anything you’re holding, whether it be a pen, the remote or your notes (once you’re gesturing naturally you can hold your notes or the remote, but for the moment they just make the task of freeing up your gestures more difficult).
Holding your hands together, putting them in your pockets, or hanging onto the lectern will stop you gesturing.
So where should you put your hands? For the moment just let them hang loosely at your sides (this is a default position – this is not where your hands will stay). I know that this feels awkward. You probably feel a bit like a gorilla! But have a look at the photo to the right… do most of these global leaders look like gorillas? No. The only one who looks awkward is the one who doesn’t have his arms hanging loosely at his sides!
Your hands will probably creep together without you noticing. When that happens, immediately separate them again.
OK. We’ve got rid of the barriers to expressive body language. Now what?
When you’re in a one-on-one animated conversation, your hands naturally gesture. So kick-start your hands into gesturing by replicating that animated state. Do this by looking at one person and feeling in that moment that you’re just talking to them – and to no-one else. At the end of a phrase or short sentence, talk to someone else in the audience. But always be talking to someone (for more tips like this see: 8 presentation tips to make your eye contact more powerful).
To enlarge your body language, move your feet. You could for example, move towards the person you’re talking to. The larger body movement will free up your body and will encourage you to make larger gestures. For more ideas on moving while you’re public speaking click here: 9 ways to use space in your presentation.
Once you’ve opened up your body language, check that you’re not making repetitive gestures. Either ask someone to give you feedback, or video yourself. In my early public speaking days, I watched back a video and saw that my most common gesture was moving my right arm from the elbow outwards – like I was constantly opening and closing a door. Once I was aware of it, I caught myself doing it and was able to change what I was doing.
Remove distracting and repetitive gestures but don’t try and choreograph what you’re saying with specific gestures. It will look forced and unnatural.
Follow these five steps and you’ll develop natural body language that will add energy, engagement and persuasive power to your presentations.
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