While we generally consider “communication” to be verbal only, we tend to forget about the part of communication that can speak louder than words. Body language, such as hand gestures, posture and facial expressions, whether conscious or unconscious, can convey a lot of information about our message and therefore, its importance should not be underestimated. Body language plays a vital role in both interpersonal communication and public speaking. Paying attention to our gestures and posture can create all the difference between a dull, monotonous exchange of ideas and an engaging conversation or presentation where we appear confident and authentic.
Body language is a part of our day to day communication and can be categorized as positive or negative. People who demonstrate positive body language come across as confident and relaxed whereas negative body language, such as crossing hands, leaning back, standing too far or too close, could make a person seem nervous and insecure. Sometimes, negative aspects of body language are not easy to control as they develop into long term habits, such as fidgeting often. People may fidget sometimes because of nervousness but stop when they feel comfortable in their environment. Those with anxiety disorders, however, have more trouble with all aspects of their communication. For example, they may fidget involuntarily or be unable to maintain eye contact which can negatively affect their persona. The good news is that positive body language, like other skills, can be learnt. Therefore, any habits of negative body language that you may have should not be a reason for discouragement.
In terms of business presentations and other situations where an individual has to address a group of people, positive body language reinforces the content of the message and increases chances of an impactful communication. While speaking in public, some of the following tips may be useful in connecting with the audience:
- Facial expressions: Do not forget to smile! A person who smiles often comes across as more humane and approachable and, hence, the audience becomes more receptive to the message. Also, when we smile at others, they may smile back at us which can relieve some stress. Other facial expressions, such as raising eyebrows, can also be effective at certain times during the presentation as long as they are consistent with what you are saying.
- Eye contact: Maintaining eye contact keeps the audience interested and engaged. Just remember not to stare at the same person for a prolonged period as that may be considered rude or aggressive. Instead, try to glance at everyone from time to time.
- Posture: Do not slouch or be tense. Standing or sitting up straight inspires confidence and makes people want to trust you. While posture should be adapted according to the situation and audience, it should always be relaxed so that you look at ease with yourself.
- The Power Pose: Certain poses convey the position of power and hence, confidence and leadership. Any listener would find it easier to pay attention to a speaker who adopts a power pose from time to time. There are a few types of power poses, all of which involve taking up some more space such as spreading the feet apart or placing your arms outward, and keeping your chest and head lifted.
- Hand gestures: If a speaker does not use hand gestures every now and then, they can appear rigid and unnatural. So do not be afraid to use some gestures to emphasize a certain piece of information, count a number of points by raising your fingers, or pointing towards the audience when needed.
Body language is a skill that is as essential for public speaking as it is for developing meaningful one to one relationships and progressing in our professional life. Learning how to control one’s own body language and practicing how to read other people’s subtle non-verbal cues can help us respond better and more quickly to everyday situations. For people with anxiety disorders, behavioral therapies and exposure therapies can help them improve their overall communication.
If you want to learn more about how to be an effective public speaker and excel at delivering business presentations, Ed-Watch is conducting a master class on March 10, 2021 at 10AM (GMT-5) / 8PM (GMT+5). For more information, click here.