Have you ever heard that most communication is non-verbal? In the 1960s, studies were conducted in UCLA on human communication patterns. Information was relayed in abbreviated form by the researchers to represent the actual words. According to the findings, most people could later only remember the figures and not what they stood for. It has been one of the reasons why people keep saying that communication is 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. While this is arguable, a sequence of tonal variations and a bunch of meaningful gestures, when there is no substance in your words, cannot get your message across either. Therefore, verbal and non-verbal cues do need each other.
For a message to show emotion, tone and body language play a more significant part than words ever could. The words should be organized and flowing, giving time for meaning and emotion to be absorbed. Delivery and great content are also part of the essence of a good speech. Considering content as a non-issue in every presentation is an insult to your audience’s intellect. It also showcases your ineffectuality as a message sender, your communication role as a presenter. So, yes, your content is still your number one priority. The objective of presenting these messages to an audience is to promote an idea or put out information to the masses. Applying non-verbal cues to these messages is a means to catch your audience’s attention and maintain it as you emphasize and apply the appropriate dose of emotion.
Of that non-verbal communication, 55% is body language. As you begin to learn about these cues, it is essential to understand that writing is still very much relevant today. Though we live in a visual world, social media and other forms of interactive internet still pass across their messages by the written word. However, for you to stir up excitement in your target audience, you must use body language in our presentations. Looking straight at your audience with no movement whatsoever is also a form of body language. It may mean rigidity or the absence of emotion. So, the part where you decide what kind of feelings, you’d want to depict is crucial as well.
Throughout Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Gettysburg Address” speech, no one saw his body move nor heard his tone vary. Perhaps, it can be assumed that he was aiming for that exact reaction and needed the message to be impersonal. Body language is a whole bunch of activities happening at the same time through one person. While observing them from your seat, these movements keep your eyes darting to various parts of their body that are in motion. A fidgety body, scratching an itchy nose, blinking hard, flailing of the hands, and many other possible movements can distract the audience from what he has to say.
The most intelligent speech will not make its way to its intended audience if it is not backed up by the correct balance between motion and stillness and by the correct gestures and expressions. A smile often shows approval or happiness, whereas a frown may indicate disapproval or unhappiness. As a presenter, it is essential to detach your personal feelings from your facial expressions so you can determine what the audience sees.
The show must go on, or so they say. A fight with your spouse and a problem with your finances should not affect your presentation. You put the problem aside (you are not neglecting them!) and then you proceed with your presentation. Remind yourself of the importance of the presentation and the hard work that has made it possible.
In some instances, facial expressions show us the actual emotions of the presenter. If you are narrating a story about a gruesome accident, your audience should be able to see a grimace or a frown. They don’t really expect you to feel jolly about your narrative, unless your speech emphasizes a morbid sense of humor. Similarly, when you are trying to tell a funny story, the audience expects you to give a smile or even laugh with them. Make sure that the story or joke tickles your funny bone, too. The more genuine you are, the better your audience connects with you. However, do avoid laughing at your own joke long after the audience has calmed down. That would be very awkward. Now, how about an emotional story? Whether or not the story is personal, make sure that you have already moved on from the initial sadness or have at least come to terms with it. This way, you can express your sadness in a controlled manner while also being able to provide insight about what you have learned about the experience.
The gestures and movements coming from the presenter should be able to affect the mood of the audience. In real day-to-day life, the face is the mirror to the soul. Most will say that the eyes particularly serve this purpose. When you are weary, your face is long and defeated-looking. The torso also provides a peek into what you may be struggling with. Your shoulders will slouch, as if you are carrying a heavy burden. When you find some sort of relief, your shoulders straighten to convey more confidence. The people around you might not always express themselves with words, but if you look closely, you will see the emotions in their eyes and on their faces. Have you ever met someone at a party, at a bus station, or the sidewalk and thought, “He looks so sad” or “He looks so happy”? Our faces disclose our deepest emotions to our family and friends. Even strangers can pick up our moods.
Since body language is one of your best assets as a presenter, it is vital to be aware of your usual body movements and the messages they send to their intended or unintended audience. Be more wary about your facial expressions and your hand movements. Flip the figurative mirror and focus on how other people speak to you, as well. Which movements make you feel comfortable with them? What facial expressions make you feel intimidated? Take note of the ones that you want to emulate, and the ones that you want to discard from your repertoire. Of course, your emphasis should be in getting your message across and making people understand you. You are not out there to become a deceiver, but perhaps an entertainer or an effective narrator. Face the person you are talking to. This way, you can simultaneously show confidence and interest. Relax the slope of your shoulders and straighten your back.
It is crucial to lean in during this exchange of information to convey interest and enthusiasm. Look across at your partner/ the target of your information straight in the face. However, avoid being too intense as not to intimidate. The tilting of the head can imply uncertainty and submissiveness, but it can also show a willingness to listen. Also, while a firm handshake is often recommended, it is best to match the other person’s grip especially if he is a higher authority. So, gauge the handshake and respond accordingly.
Your body posture is the first thing that your audience will notice. You are, after all, the center of attention. The audience will look at the general picture, and then focus on each detail that you emphasize with your movements. Your body reflects your attitude and informs the listener about how you feel. If you aim to look alert, confident, and in-charge of the situation, your whole body should cooperate to showcase this attitude.
When you move about tilting from side to side, you look like you are swaying. Other clues to your insecurity or unpreparedness would be forgetting your words, stuttering (unless this is a disability), looking down at your feet, and shifting from one foot to the other. At this state, you may wish that the audience is not paying attention at all.
As a well-prepared presenter, you must be constantly conscious of your body movements. Practicing at home should help you envision what the real presentation will be like and how you will be standing in front of the crowd. Have a trusted person spot your nervous gestures. Sometimes, you need a second pair of eyes.
Body language can efficiently work for you, and it might also work against you if you do not understand the impact of your body movements. Every movement you make on that stage should serve a purpose. More importantly, when you move in accordance with your message, it suggests that you are alert and attentive to what you are saying. Through this, you get to keep the audience’s attention locked in. However, moving constantly diverts attention from what you are addressing. Stepping forward while presenting implies that you have arrived at the point or the climax of your presentation. Taking a step back means that you are moving from one thought process to another, or the conclusion of an idea.
Moving with a purpose during a presentation is usually used to drive a point home. To show any physical violence or action, you can come up with a couple of body movements to dramatize your events. Coming onto the stage is a necessary process as well because the audience gets to read in on your energy from the start. On your short walk up to the stage, straighten your shoulders and subtly watch your step. Make sure not to fall as it shows clumsiness. Beginning your presentation with a mishap may not be how you want it. This will tear off your cloak of confidence.
While practice certainly helps before a presentation, it is better to live with the knowledge and application of bodily gestures and facial expressions. Seamlessly including these in your life will make your movements natural and yourself genuine. Think about it. How would you like to be seen as, on a first date? Of course, you want to be confident without being arrogant. You want to be a good conversationalist so that your date won’t get bored. Then, you must know when to step back to allow the other person to speak. It is all about communication: you know how to send your message, but you also need to take some cues from your audience or listener.
Unfortunately, unseasoned speakers can easily give in to nervousness and lack of self-confidence. By your first presentation, use your nervous energy to fire up the audience with an impassioned speech for example. If it calls for something toned down, then you can limit your movements, thus revealing little of what you are feeling. As you go from one presentation to the next, the fidgeting and the restlessness may soon die down. Gone will be the uncontrolled tics and flailing hands. Yes, not everyone who emphatically moves their hands are good presenters. Some are passionate – their facial expressions will match that feeling. On the other hand, some just want to wriggle the nerves away.
A confident, meaningful persona is a fast way of earning the approval of your listeners. Your greatest consolation should be in knowing that you alone can shape your listener’s minds once you perfect your presentation. I once met a young lady who has had the honor of gracing some of the world’s greatest stages. I had attended one of her book signings in the city, in which I approached her to express my admiration at her work. I felt honored just being in her presence. She certainly knows how to handle herself in front of an audience.
So, what was the meeting like? It was almost like I was caught in her spell. Her movements were natural and fluidly animated. She embraced each person in the same kind of way, and you could see their positive reactions toward her. Her gestures and body movements portrayed her as calm, trustworthy and meaningful. By these, she showed how much she valued the presence of each person around her. Some may say some people are just born with charisma and can make it look very easy. However, do not give up just yet. Your awareness of how you should move and act in front of an audience should guide you towards being someone like this well-postured lady. Observing her and others like her is just one of the first steps.
On that day, I understood the meaning of presence, on or off-stage. I understood what it means when people command a presence. They are not big, powerful or scary. You can be the shortest person in the room and still command a presence. It is a certain aura that emanates from someone when they have done their homework and have implemented their research effectively through rigorous training and practice. It is not about a set pattern or technique. Becoming a smooth presenter is about achieving a natural fluidity that comes from rigorous training and practice until you get to portray the kind of persona that you would love to emulate. By perfecting your moves, you move from focusing on you and your body language to establishing a bond with your people.
Great speakers use gestures. Gestures are probably the loudest form of non-verbal communication. They support your words and clear out any misunderstandings caused in the exchange of information. Your gestures, accompanied by what you are saying, give the audience clarity by bringing these ideas to life. Feelings and attitudes can then be seen by the plain eye leading to an emphasis on the words spoken. To let out tension and nervousness, sometimes it helps to move a bit, but purposefully. Besides, gestures serve as entertaining distractions that capture the audience’s attention and enhance retention of the information given out.
By being highly visible, gestures can address many people and get an immediate response from them. There are several types of gestures. They can be grouped into four categories: descriptive, suggestive, emphatic, and prompting
. The descriptive gestures are the ones that give clarity to the message. They can be used to show number, location, size, or shape. They can also visually help to compare or describe the function of an object.
Suggestive gestures, on the other hand, can express thoughts and emotions easily. They can easily generate an emotional response from the audience.
Emphatic gestures are used to underscore what has already been said. When feelings are too strong, such as anger or hatred, we often clench the fists when describing that emotion.
Lastly, prompting gestures are used to get the audience to mirror you. For instance, if you want your audience to jump up or clap their hands, you must illustrate it by doing it first.
Globally, there are people who either gesture too much or too little. For the presenters who gesture too much, as you practice for your presentation, grab gym weights or any other heavy object. This can be something seemingly inconsequential, like a mystery tome or a filled water bottle. By doing this, you will notice just how often you gesture with the help of the added weight. For those that gesture little, setting a timer can work. Set it on your watch or phone for fifteen seconds. Every time it goes off, make one gesture. By overreacting every time, it goes off, it will force you to start gesturing more often and think on your feet.
As a speaker, if you wish to become dynamic and effective, it would be wise to know how to use your tools of the trade to your advantage. Since gestures show off your personality, it would be an added advantage to respond naturally. When tension builds up in your system, it is easy for you to try and improvise with phony gestures that you observed and borrowed from somebody else. Be careful, though. People have different personalities, and it shows. Therefore, the audience loves rawness. If you are naturally reserved and an introvert, likeminded people can still relate to you. Have you noticed that there are so many funny introvert-related memes on social media? When you find a topic that others in the audience can relate to, you have won yourself a following. Similarly, extroverts do not have to pretend to be somebody else. They are already natural people magnets. So, they must find a way to capitalize on this.
Gestures should always flow naturally – to convince and to captivate. As a presenter, it is your work to be lively and hearty even on a dull Monday morning, if that is the intended impression. For the smooth execution of a gesture, it should flow in this way- balance, approach, stroke, return, balance. – As we try to recall this much, timing is of the essence. Poor timing can spoil a joke, crash the point of a quote, or the presentation. The timing must be accurate and precise to that exact word and moment; neither before, nor after. Memorizing gestures usually flops because it goes right out of cue.
Your ability to communicate through gestures also comes from the passion within you that compels you to share that story, whether personal or not. During Sunday services in church, we get to hear the word from different pastors who have different ways of sharing it. Some can get more passionate than others depending on the content or how close it is to home. I would like to imagine that on those Sundays that the pastor delivers a fiery, passionate sermon, I am not the only one who thinks to myself, “Wow! He knows his stuff.” Passion plays a huge part in how a presentation can go to. I can recall quite vividly all the times that a church pastor has spoken his word so truthfully while touching my soul that I thought, “I should get born again today.” Hey, even if you do not attend church, I am sure you have met a passionate speaker up-close sometime in your life.
Verbal and visual messages can partner up effectively to communicate similar emotions or express oneself with clarity. When the gestures and the words clash, it can start to get a bit comical. The vigor and frequency in the gestures should also match the nuance of the words. This implies that the energy the word exudes should reflect the gesturing hand in hand. For instance, a word like ‘infuriating’, should get a far more vigorous expression compared to the word ‘irritated’. The expression used to express the word ‘infuriating’ should start to show on the presenter’s face before the actual term comes out, unlike the expression for ‘irritated’ which can use just a slouch on the shoulder at the end of the term.
The venue of your presentation can also determine the way you present. In a tiny board room, in front of corporate heads, it would be quite absurd to walk back and forth. Compare this to presenting at a large auditorium stage in front of 30,000 people. Therefore, a platform that is physically confined requires minimal gestures. It is also the kind of audience that you are addressing that can determine how you move. When addressing a younger audience in the range of, perhaps 20 to 35 years old, you will require a livelier presentation. Be up to date with the latest trends, too. Getting into their popular inside jokes, without trying too hard, can score you some points, too.
However, an audience of the older generation might be turned off by a speaker with vigorous gestures and powerful moves. They might find you rude and crude. So, reduce the pace and focus on the clarity. Making the gestures slower and broader increases your chances of the gestures’ visibility. Relatable gestures make it easier for the audience to understand what you mean. Matter of fact, everyday expressions that you use daily are the best to use since they come off naturally. Familiar phrases are also advantageous in that they do not distract us from the speech. You don’t really want your audience grasping for a dictionary mid-speech.
Chapter 4: Eye Contact
At the beginning of your presentation, try to meet the eyes of your audience, especially the ones who are paying the most attention. Going for these members of the audience will boost your confidence right from the beginning. These carefully selected audience members will be your allies and your cues as to how your presentation is going. Maintain eye contact at some points of your speech to show how personal and direct you can be. You want to be relatable. You want them to see that you are talking to them and not just reciting some memorized lines.
In some cultures, looking at someone directly in the eye is a sign of honesty. On the other hand, older generations seem to believe that direct eye contact from younger people can be a sign of defiance. On the stage, the presenter’s eyes convey emotion while alert to the state of the audience’s attention. Starting it off right can be a big boon to you as the presenter. Glimpses of agreement or even admiration should power up your presentation. So, start strong. You will not feel too good about seeing audience members checking their watches or fiddling with their smart phones.
This chapter reminds you that the eyes can work several ways. They are the windows to your soul. You can reveal so much with your eyes – even things that you want to hide. Your eyes can also scour the crowd for their reactions. This way, you can adjust your presentation if need be. If you don’t look at your audience from time to time, you may not be able to catch outrage and total boredom until it is too late. Once you hear grumbling or footsteps leaving the venue, you know that you are too late. So, use those eyes.
Another way of using your eyes for non-verbal communication is by using them to control your information. Knowing your content beforehand, either by cramming or memorizing, helps to maintain composure and keep the speech flowing. Without this sequence, natural pauses and laughter from the audience will interrupt you often and you may end up at a loss. Interruptions can ruin your entire presentation, but your well-practiced pauses can drive a point. Even jokes have some necessary silences for people to have their laugh, and for the presenter to get back to his goal of emphasizing his message. It takes a lot of practice to create a well-paced presentation. No, you are not just there to read or say the whole thing monotonously.
Throwing your gaze emptily across a crowded room does not necessarily assist in creating a rapport with your audience. People like to feel noticed and special, that is when they give you their full attention as well. Select one person in the crowd and hold their gaze for about ten seconds. Pick another one and do the same. By establishing a visual bond with the people across you, it means that you are inviting them to share your thoughts. With your eyes, you can communicate with them as you speak out as well. Don’t forget that as you are throwing around non-verbal cues, the audience is sending you their feedback via their non-verbal cues. It is a somewhat silent exchange of information.
Monitoring all these visual messages can be difficult and tricky. At first, they may easily confuse you and ruin the whole act. It is essential to understand if these messages are negative or positive. It is easy to have an adverse reaction to the audience, when in fact they are barred by something else from getting your message. Looking up from your speech to look at the audience, for example, you may notice that they are not looking at you. You may gauge this reaction in different ways. They may not be listening to you because they are disinterested or that they cannot wait for the next speaker. There are many possible reasons. After all, you are presenting to a crowd of people with disparate personalities. Of course, you may also get tempted to think that you are a failure.
Before jumping to conclusions, however, it would be wise to ask the crowd. Halt the speech for a moment and ask if there’s something wrong. Sometimes you’ll hear that they cannot listen to you because you are speaking in a low tone or that the sound on your microphone is off. Perhaps they are too tired because they have been seated in the same position for five hours without anything to eat. Give them a break of an hour or thirty minutes to stretch and grab something to eat and drink. It gives you time to also prepare for the next session while relaxed.
Out of all the options above, there is one that might happen, and we are not ready to deal with that truth. Your audience may look bored and disinterested because they are bored and disinterested. Your jokes may not be funny or relatable. There may not be anything or special about what you are saying. Once you see this kind of behaviour when you are on the stage, keep calm and follow the script as you’d initially done it. Changing it in the middle of the speech will catch you off guard and cause you to make more mistakes. Finish your script and live to fight another day. However, if you find a break in the middle, improve some bits here and there.
Dynamic speakers are not born; they are made. During your first presentation, find someone to record you as you proceed. Upon completion, go through all of it with no bias or pretense, and see the kind of presenter you are. Decide if you want to be a better speaker or you feel that you have attained your goal. If you still have a lot of work to do, sit down with a notebook and pen and analyze both your strengths and weaknesses. Accept that you are dull, rigid or too funny. As human beings, we were not built to perfection, we improve ourselves daily to the goals we have in mind.
Check on your tonal variation; does it bring out the effect you had intended for your audience? Look at your humour, is it dry or dark, and do you need to improve on it? Is your content relatable and if so, does your target market think it is a current issue that needs to be addressed? Figure out whether to increase or decrease the pace of your body movements and gestures. Are they relevant to your content? What are your facial expressions saying? Do they show the passion that you have in your work? Are they connecting with you to form synergy?
A better way to improve yourself is to listen to criticism from people of various backgrounds. When we sit down to analyze ourselves, we can get one-sided. We can easily get lenient with ourselves because we think that we gave our best shot. Sitting down with your friend, family member or co-worker and listening to the flaws they witnessed can be tough to hear. Our egos will really take a beating. However, if we do not accept correction, we will not set out to improve ourselves. If they do not laugh at your joke, perhaps it is because most people do not find it funny. If they did not understand a word you said, maybe it is because you used a lot of slang and jargon.
Growing up, we all had one word that would get us caned at school or disciplined by our parents. No matter how hard we worked or how silently we endured our chores, we’d always get a telling off for not conducting ourselves appropriately. Body language truly speaks louder than words.