How Better Body Language Can Improve Your Presentation
I was fascinated when I found this study about the importance of body language for public speakers and what a difference it can make in your presentation. Today I’m going to provide a quick summary of what the research showed, and then I’m going to give you some takeaways that you’ll want to keep in mind when delivering your next speech.
In this study volunteers were asked to rate TED speakers, and the researchers compared these ratings with specific “nonverbal and body language patterns” that they observed among the various speakers. Here’s a summary of what they found:
Your audience is paying more attention to what they are seeing than the words they are hearing – so much so that even when the volunteers watched a TED speaker with the sound off, that speaker’s ratings did not change.
Using lots of hand gestures, smiling and “vocal variety” all helped speakers’ ratings.
Ad libbing resulted in better ratings than sticking to a script.
Audiences formed their impression of speakers within the first 7 seconds.
Now, let's look at my 3 takeaways from these findings and ways you can use this information to be a better speaker.
#1 ENTHUSIASM IS YOUR FRIEND.
If you’re someone who talks with their hands, laughs loudly and is very expressive in general, you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to delivering a talk. Being expressive is a kind of charisma that is hard to resist. That’s why the volunteers in the study didn’t care if the sound was on or off - they were watching the speaker, and reading her face and body. And an expressive person is much more interesting to watch than someone who is very subdued. So if you’re excited about your topic, don’t hold back!
In addition, the study showed that people who smiled a lot received higher ratings. In my experience, when you smile at your audience, they smile back. It’s quite comforting. It also makes everyone, including you, feel better. So smile...a lot. The research also showed that “vocal variety” boosted ratings. Vocal variety refers to things like raising and lowering your voice and pausing for effect. Even yelling is permissible, assuming it’s appropriate in the context of your talk. (Go here to read a great example of this.)
I’ve found that vocal variety is something that needs to be practiced. The tendency when we are on stage is to speed up, and often to become “smaller”, usually out of nervousness. But if you can slow down, control the pace and use your voice in very deliberate ways, it can greatly increase the impact of your words.
#2 RESIST THE URGE TO WRITE AND MEMORIZE EVERY WORD.
I understand that having all the words you want to say typed out neatly on a page provides a feeling of security. And then memorizing all those beautiful words seems the smart thing to do...except it’s not. This study showed that your audience likes it better when you ad lib. That’s why I recommend that you practice from an outline. An outline forces you to use your own “original” words every time. It helps you speak more naturally, because you aren’t trying to remember the specific words that you memorized.
There’s a subtle energy shift that happens in your body when you are trying to remember what you memorized. It’s as though you retreat into yourself ever so slightly, instead of moving outward and forward toward your audience. But if you know what to say next because you can mentally picture the major parts of your speech like a chain of events, you’ll be able to stay connected to your audience and keep that energy flowing from you to them.
Getting comfortable speaking from an outline or short phrases takes practice. However, once you get used to it, you’ll find there’s a kind of freedom in being able to simply talk about what you know.
#3 BE “ON” FROM THE VERY FIRST MOMENT
That last finding is worth quoting: “People had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.” How many? Seven. See those words in bold? It took me about seven seconds to read them aloud. That’s how long seven seconds is, and that’s how much time you have to make a good first impression. It’s almost no time at all. So here’s what I suggest.
Show up BEFORE you stand up. What I mean is, be that enthusiastic, smiling, powerful and in control “you” before you even get to the mic. Find a place where no one can see you. Move around to both harness and shake off some of the nervous energy. Walk through your talk while in a “power pose”, both arms raised, to remind yourself that YOU are in control. Listen to a song that makes you feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof. If possible, find friendly looking people in the audience to make eye contact with. And then, bring all of that excitement and energy to the stage. Because when you’re excited, your audience will be excited, too, and ready to hear what you’ve got to say.
I’d like to finish up with one final point that I see as the best part of this research.
I believe this study shows that when it comes to public speaking, it’s a good thing to be yourself. It’s good to speak naturally and ad lib as necessary. It’s great to smile when you’re happy and to enjoy yourself on stage. And it’s wonderful to use your whole body - your hands, your face, your voice.
I used to worry that my facial expressions were too extreme, that I opened my mouth too wide when I laughed, that I talked too loud when I got excited, and that at times I looked ridiculous because of how intensely I express myself. (You can guess which one is me in this picture, lol.) Finally I came to terms with the fact that this is me - this is simply who I am. If you’re like me, the good news today is that this expressiveness is great for public speaking! So go out there and be your big self....your audience will love you for it. If you found this post helpful, use of the share buttons to the right, so it can help your friends, too!
And finally, if you need some feedback on your own body lanuage and delivery, go here to schedule a session with me. If you’ve already got a video of yourself speaking, I can use that to give you feedback as well - just go here.