Willing to become a successful speaker? Whether for an audience, your staff, colleagues, your shareholders, or other stakeholders.
Are you using your power benevolently?
As a good speaker, you don’t need to manipulate audiences.
At the same time, you should realize that you must exert control at every turn:
- Over the material
- The passage of time
- An audience’s response
- Over your own body
- The nature of the audience
- Speaking situation,
- Your purpose . . .
- The emotional context of an event matter greatly
Yet you must also control that most critical of public speaking components:
your body language.
Always Stand if You Can
Your body is such an important communication tool that it’s a shame to deprive your audience of 50% of it. Yet that’s what happens when you choose to sit to deliver a presentation (where you have a choice). Your position in a room and your full-body movements are part of your speaking power. Give your audience all of you!
“Grounding” means to assume a strong stance, with your feet at armpit-width and your weight evenly distributed. Setting yourself like this gives you the appearance of stability. You will appear steadfast—and your audience will see your ideas that way, too.
Keep Your Arms in “Neutral”
Self-consciousness in speaking means you’re apt to do everything with your arms except what they’re meant to do: hang at your sides.
That’s the “neutral” position you should start with. From there, you can bring your arms up to make gestures naturally. Keeping them above the waist at all times only calls attention to them.
Use Open Body Positions
Crossing your arms or locking your hands in any way creates a barrier between you and your listeners. Instead, keep your upper body open, so there’s literally nothing between you and the audience. Influence and rapport will flow freely in both directions.
If you are Sitting,
Sit Straight and Slightly Forward
Let’s say you have to sit to deliver your talk, as some situations require.
Bring your backside one-third of the way forward on the seat, and lean in slightly with your upper body. You’ll look professional, engaged, and interested. Lean back or slouch and you’ll be comfortable but much less effective.
Make Your Gestures Spare and Clean.
Don’t worry about using your hands too much—just use them effectively.
Gestures are there to be used when you really need to emphasize something.
If you make each gesture strong and “clean” in the sense of well defined, it will possess its own power and amplify your message.
Move with Purpose
Have you seen some speakers wandering like a cloud, or others pace annoyingly?
For your part, you should move with purpose.
Take a couple of steps just before you start a new talking point.
Approach a questioner; or go to the screen to point out something.
Love Your Audience More than Your Manuscript
Speeches aren’t occasions for audiences to be read to. They are performances where you share what you know with people interested in hearing it.
The exact words you say don’t matter in the least; opening up a communication channel does. Look at the people you want to influence as much as you can!
Glance down for the next talking point, but no more.
Love Your Audience More than the PowerPoint Screen
Why? Well, for one thing, the screen won’t love you back.
Pay more attention to those you’re trying to persuade than to the data that helps you do so.
If you have to look at the screen to remind yourself of what comes next,
you’re not ready to take this act on the road. Get prepared!
Move Away from the Podium . . .
Keep Your Hands Where they Can See Them
Podium or lectern is a physical barrier between you and everyone else.
Don’t hang on it, or even rest both hands there—you need your hands to gesture. Best of all is to step to the side and speak.
You can always go back to see your next talking point, then come away again.
If you’re lucky enough to have people question or challenge you, you should make them feel welcome. Avoid pointing a finger aggressively in the questioner’s direction; use an open palm gesture instead. It’s a subtle yet effective way to keep an audience on your side.
Don’t Hold a Writing Instrument Unless You’re Prepared to Use It
Ever notice how many speakers hold a marker while presenting near a whiteboard or flip chart that they never actually write on? A variation is the speaker who’s been taking notes up to the last minute and forgets that the pen is still in his or her hand. The audience waits in vain for the instrument to be used!
The language of nonverbal communication is often as important as the verbal content of your speech or presentation. Learn to use it to your advantage.
Remember—a body is a terrible thing to waste. The Body Language
Join us at Pathfinders. We hold role plays for our clients to master the art of speaking.
Suresh Shah, M.D., Pathfinders Enterprise