What makes body language so significant? What makes those thousands of cues that you give out every minute so important? Well, while you are rapidly giving out these cues, your audience is subconsciously processing them. In other words, they just look at you and go with their gut. However well-supported and prepared your speech content is, it is your nonverbal delivery that establishes your credibility for an audience. And, most importantly, however you hold yourself, however you move through space, and however you gesture, your body sends messages back to your brain. So if you are standing with your shoulders drooping and head bowed, the little pharmacy in your brain creates, and sends negative chemicals into your bloodstream in less than a fortieth of a second – to make you feel the way you look. The great news is if you know what creates powerful body language messages and you integrate that with an awareness of your own body language, you can feel as powerful as you wish to be.
What makes a speaker positively powerful? Attributes like full control of the space in the room, relaxed body language, a posture that is open, and a strong, authentic presence. To begin feeling that power yourself, imagine a lion in the jungle. He establishes his space and territory; he’s king of the jungle. He’s relaxed; he moves gracefully. If he met a mouse on his path, it’s the mouse that would be tense. His posture is open; he stretches out his limbs. He’s never had to battle for an armrest on an airplane. He’s authentic; he carries himself confidently. He’s himself. He’s not a zebra, though he may study zebras to be a better hunter.
Hold on to that image of the lion as you begin to become aware of your presentation body language.
Grab Their Attention Immediately with Your Voice and Body Language
Imagine that everyone in your audience is holding their own personal speaker remote control device in their hands when you get up to speak. Just like a TV show you only have a moment to grab each person’s attention or they will change the channel to watch something more interesting. (They may hit the mute button and watch your bobbing head, but they are still not there.) If you do not grab their attention immediately, it will be so much harder to get it later. Research says the entire audience listens to the first moments of a speech, but if the speaker doesn’t get them then, she has to corral their attention one audience member at a time. You must do something different to start your speech. You might grab their attention by running to the front of the room, by standing still before you speak, by having a powerful erect posture, by making powerful eye contact with everyone one in the room, by a booming voice, or all of these things, but begin your speech with powerful body language.
Tips to Create How to Stand When You Speak
Focus on your feet, those little doo-dads on the floor, the part of the body normally under your least conscious control:
- Notice how far apart your feet are in a normal stance. Now put them together so that the sides of the toes are touching and feel your lack of stability.
- Now, move your feet one inch farther apart to create a lion-like stability and presence.
- Feel the difference. Now move them slightly farther apart.
- Let your weight shift back so you are aware of your heels. Now you plant them firmly.
So your feet connect to the floor. When you speak you want to be grounded!
- Stand Up Straight. It’s surprising how years of pushing a gas pedal or sitting on a wallet can lengthen one leg, making us put our hip out to the side, rock back on our heels, or teeter back and forth, reducing our power.
- Stand with your weight evenly distributed on both feet. Make sure you are” on the level” You don’t want to lean to one side or the other or you will look “crooked.” When Nixon ran against Kennedy, he bumped his knee severely getting out of the car before his televised debate with Kennedy. Standing behind the podium, Nixon favored his good leg, and his body leaned over so he looked crooked to the television audience. In addition, he refused stage makeup and perspired heavily. In the poll of television viewers Nixon lost by a landslide. In the poll of those who listened to the debates on radio Nixon won by a landslide.
Space and Territory
Next let’s focus on expanding and using space. Imagine yourself in a conference room or banquet hall. Survey your jungle. The whole room is yours.
Tips for Taking Control of the Space in Room:
- Ditch the podium. Lions don’t stand behind them. Podiums are poison!
- Tape off the back rows or take out extra chairs. An audience that is close together creates great jungle fever.
- Walk around the room like a lion. Notice how your body feels, how your legs move, how your arms swing. Do your legs and pelvis lead as they should?
- Take long, purposeful strides and allow your arms to freely swing.
- Women in particular may want to remember to walk with their feet that extra inch apart, and slightly move the elbows away from the body
- Change the distance between you and audience members to change the relationship you have with them.
The distance that we maintain with others is related to our feelings toward them and indicates something about our relationships. This distance is called conversational distance. There are four basic kinds of territorial space. The closer you can work with your audience the more buy-in and connection you will get from them. Years ago, the speech books recommended you distance yourself from your audience so you could be seen as the credible source of information. But it is not as simple anymore. Now you have to move closer and farther away from the audience depending on whom that audience is and what you want to accomplish. You might need to move a few feet closer and few feet farther away or lean in and stand up straight as you move from point to point. Here are the four distance zones.
Tips for Identifying What Amount of Space You Want Between You and Audience Members
- Intimate space includes distances from 14–18 inches. I call it kissy-face distance. It is used for such activities as comforting and protecting, hugging and kissing, and greetings between close friends. You might also note that it is used in sports such as wrestling and basketball, sitting in waiting rooms and movie theaters, and standing in elevators. Intimate space is usually reserved for people who have the right to be close to us.
- Personal space includes distances of 1–2½ feet. Personal distance is normally maintained between two friends in conversation around the office coffee maker or at a party where everyone knows one another. In American culture it is like an extension of our body.
- Social space is from 4–7 feet. Phrases such as, “Stand back and let me look at you,” and “Keep him at arms’ length” reflect our need for social space. In business the prime protector of social space is the desk. It automatically puts the heads of the people seated on either side about 7 feet apart. The same goes for a conference table. Studies of trends in office furniture have shown that status conscious top executives are getting rid of their big desks and putting small tables in their offices that reduce the space from social to personal. If you’re trying to persuade someone, get closer.
- Impersonal space is over 25 feet, the distance teachers and lecturers often stand away from an audience. This zone does add prestige and authority to those able to maintain it. But if you’re a speaker, connection is important. If you want the audience on your side, get closer.
Movement through Space: Your motion is like music. Move quickly: it stirs up the audience. Move slowly: you can keep them interested. Show your power and control of the space as you move through it. Get wild, run up and down the aisles, stand on tables and chairs, move furniture. Talk to the people in the back of the room. You want to connect with even the quiet group sitting on the back row of the jungle. Use your space to create transitional separations in your speech.
Tips for Using Movement in Your Speeches
- Get out from behind tables, podiums, and other barriers.
- Use the room, control your space. Takeover, go out into the audience.
- Walk around the boardroom table. You do not need to stand still in the center of the room to be effective. Move. Move. Move.
- Speak on your first point and pause. Move and then address your second point.
- Speak formally from far away. Silently come forward to get more intimate when giving your personal opinions.
- Make positive points from one side of the room, negative ones from the other.
- Use the walls of the room to make points. Point one: front wall; point two: left wall, etc,
Some people can stand still and be effective. Usually, however, you need to have some movement to add action to the speech and hold the audience’s attention. In fact research shows that your body’s movement actually helps the audience feel like they are moving so they are less fatigued by hours of sitting still and listening. Ideally your movement should be purposeful.
Movement to Show a Change to a New Major Point
As you introduce each major point of your speech, you could go to a point in the room, say point number one from the right front corner, point number two from the left front corner, point number three from the center. You can even return to the points. So go to those points as you preview the points in your introduction, return to each one as you give details and finally go to each point one more time as you review the points in your conclusion.
Movement as a Transition
From a point, walk a few steps and then begin a new point. The silence as you walk and the movement act as a transition for your audience.
Movement to Create a Break and Variety
You can have each of your major points on a flip chart and as you introduce each one, walk over to the flip chart, gesture towards the point, and then walk to a different area on the room to discuss it. If you are doing a Power Point presentation and your group size is less than sixty people, you can still have a flip chart. The flip chart will force you to break the habit of having to stand to one side of the PowerPoint presentation. Put the chart on the other side of the projector so you force yourself to walk over to it. This movement also creates a major point transition to divide your millions of slides into digestible pieces for the audience.
Movement as Emphasis
For a point that is really important, you could stand still and lean your body forward or go to the very front of the stage or right up to the edge of the conference table. Make your point and pause before moving back
Movement as Mood or Energy Indicator
Move slowly for serious topics. Move around quickly to get the audience up. You want to avoid unmotivated, extraneous movement like shifting from one foot to the other, bobbing your head, rocking back and forth, or pacing from one side of the room to the other.
I have said for years that it is important to move as a speaker because our eyes are designed to go towards movement. We begin not to see things that are still. Here is the scientific explanation of why you go to sleep when a speaker stands still and drones through their speech.
We detect changes in things, not sameness. If you stare fixedly at a picture on a wall, you will see it disappear from view. Your eyes must wander over the picture constantly to stimulate the rods and cones on the retina. Unless there is a change, the chemical reaction within the rod or cone comes to a stop and no further electrical transmission is made to the brain. Hence, the object disappears. Your nerves take about one-twentieth of a second to reset. So you need to reset your audience members’ brains by creating purposeful movement.