Body Language Speaks Louder Than Words

We’ve talked about how important it is to use power words in a presentation or media interview in previous blogs. But your non-verbal language is much louder than words and speaks volumes about what you’re really thinking and feeling.

Body Language

Body Language

Most speakers don’t realize how transparent they are. Your body speaks for you, too – your gestures, your eyes, and the way you move. Your body language needs to be in sync with what you’re saying.

Stone Face

During a recent media training session with a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, the new head of Corporate Communications was invited to join us. She barely nodded hello as she came into the room and then sat there stone faced, never smiling, with her arms crossed. Her body language said she was annoyed that we had interrupted her day.

Finally, after about 30 minutes, she volunteered that she found what we were doing very interesting and was looking forward to his on-camera interview so she could hear his talking points. This was surprising, as her body language sent out only negative signals.

After the CEO had left for another meeting, she explained that this was her third day living in New York. She told me she was from Russia and that Russians are taught not to show emotion. She was also self-conscious about her heavy German accent, as she had been educated in Germany.

She realized that her manner is brusque and can be off-putting so we discussed ways that she could make a more positive first impression. She will be meeting new people every day, so she welcomed this feedback. We parted on very good terms.

Smiley Face

The Good Soldier

The Good Soldier

Your face is a dead giveaway. Emotions from joy to sadness to fear are all registered by your facial expression. If you plaster a smile on your face all the time it won’t come across as sincere. The audience will know you’re faking it.

Of course, smile when you’re delivering good news. People with a perpetually sour expression – and we’ve all met them – give off negative vibes. No one wants to approach them. It may not be anything they said. Their body language is stifling two-way communication.

Smiles aren’t always appropriate. If you’re presenting on a potential downsizing, it doesn’t call for a smile. A smile is often a sign of nerves, not of self-confidence.

Body Movements

In order to connect with your audience, or a reporter, make eye contact. While speaking, move toward them, not away from them, so that you are truly engaging them in a conversation.

If you are delivering bad news to someone, you might put a comforting hand on his/her shoulder – but only if you feel it will be accepted in the right way.

It takes practice to learn how and when to use the proper body language. If you’re announcing good news – like a revenue increase – you need to look and sound excited. If you say, let’s give everyone on the team a round of applause, you need to lead by example and start applauding. Use an inclusive gesture to indicate that everyone on the team should stand up to be acknowledged. Match the movement with the moment.

In order to get comfortable using gestures, practice in front of a mirror or, better yet, in front of a video camera to ensure that your gestures are consistent with what you’re saying.

At the Podium

The Rattler

The Rattler

If you’re speaking from a podium, beware of becoming one of these clichés:

  • The Gripper. This is the speaker who hangs on to the podium for dear life with both hands. He couldn’t let go to make a gesture if he tried.
  • The Leaning Tower.  This is a first cousin of the gripper. While hanging on to the podium the speaker leans to one side so it looks as though the lectern is supporting her.
  • The Rattler. This speaker is usually the guy who has a hand in his pants pocket rattling the change, tokens, keys and assorted other items. It may calm his nerves but is distracting to his audience.
  • The Pacer. Back and forth she goes across the podium, often walking right in front of the slides. Continuous walking during a presentation tells the audience that this is a nervous speaker. The constant pacing diverts their focus away from the message.
  • The Parade Rester.  At ease, soldier. This speaker assumes a military stance, feet apart, and hands behind his back. Never moves. Often glowers to make a point.
  • The Statue.  This speaker is so nervous about presenting in front of a large audience that he places his hands in a fig leaf position down low in front of him. This signals, “wow, am I uncomfortable,” which robs him of any authority or credibility. Gestures should add to rather than detract from your presentation.

We all speak two languages simultaneously — verbal and non-verbal. Remember, the non-verbal is much louder in leaving a final impression. So watch your words – and your body language — when presenting yourself.

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