Body Language Tips for Public Speaking
Albert Mehrabian wrote extensively on the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal messages and his findings are summarized in ‘7–38–55 Rule’. That is:
Our words convey 7% of the meaning, our tone 38%, and our body language makes up 55% of what the audience will remember.
When you combine these 3 elements, your audience will be more engaged and connected with you. The body communicates nonstop and is an abundant source of information. Tune into your body language to make your messages loud and clear. If your words exude confidence, but your body language expresses nervousness, your conversation partner will pick up on that. A quick check for your body language is NODS: Neutral, Open, Defined, and Strong.
- Good posture: stand straight with your shoulders back and feet shoulder-width apart
- Do not cross your arms, put your hands in your pocket or slouch
- Face the audience as much as possible and keep your body open. Tilt your whole body towards different parts of the audience, so everyone feels included.
- Maintain eye contact with a specific audience member for 4 more seconds before moving to another member of the audience
- Make eye contact in a ‘Z’ formation — look at one person at the back left corner of the room, then the back right, then to the front left, and finally to someone at the front right
- In one-on-one settings, maintain eye contact for 9–10 seconds and then break away to save yourself from coming across as intense or like you’re starting
Hand Gestures — Storytelling tools
- Put verbs into action by acting them out with your hands in a strong and defined way.
- Use descriptive gestures to communicate movement, eg. shapes, size, length, etc. Use symbolic gestures to communicate numbers and position, eg. 2 fingers for the number 2 and a raised hand for a stop.
- Vary your gestures with different parts of your body. You don’t have to just use your arms- you could use your legs, facial expressions and full-body movement as gestures too.
Movement — Use space like an actor to control the room
- Pacing too much can distract your audience. Wait at least 2–3 minutes before moving to another area of the stage.
- Time your movement with a change in the topic — this is a way of physically marking the transition
- Move towards the audience when asking questions or making an important point
- When trying to show shock or confusion, raise your eyebrows
- If you’re conveying anger or concern, frown. For sad moments, frown a little and slightly tilt the sides of your lips downwards
- When you’re happy in your story, simply smile. A smile will make your audience feel more comfortable and at ease.
- Warm-up your voice: inhale for 3 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds
- Take relax and deep breaths to ensure that your voice holds power and can project
- Use slow and measured breathing to pace your speech.
Voice and Vocal Expression
- Practice your volume, tone, and rhythm
- Speak clearly and focus on your enunciations
- Replace filler words like ah, ums, oh, so, etc. with pauses and you can use a pause to emphasize key points