When delivering a speech, your body movements tell almost as much about your message as your actual speech. Eye contact, body orientation, posture, facial expressions and gestures play into how your audience perceives your message.
Why Is Nonverbal Communication Important?
You’ve been waiting a very long time for this day to come. It’s Monday, and you are going to listen to a speech about ‘Why People Should Not Wear Skinny Jeans.’ All cozied up in the audience, you anxiously await the speaker’s arrival. And does he ever arrive!With a loud drum roll, the speaker rushes the stage with a great big smile, bows down and gives the audience a slap on the hands, points randomly at certain individuals and even gives a thumbs-up to others. But most importantly, he looks directly into your eyes and winks! Wow, it’s as if he knew each and every person in the audience.That, my friend, is nonverbal communication, and it really sets the tone for the rest of the speaking event.
It is the use of body movements to send a message to the audience. A dazzling smile, high-fives and waves probably make the audience feel very special. There are several ways in which the speaker can connect with the audience without ever saying a word.
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
When a speaker makes eye contact, he is connecting his eyes with one single member of the audience at a time. Speakers make eye contact with their audience for a couple of reasons. First, it tells the audience that he is honest.
It creates a bond of trust.It also tells the audience that you are confident in the material. The audience may interpret that to mean you know what you are talking about.
By maintaining eye contact, the audience will be more likely to remain engaged because they believe in you!The audience will also look for facial expressions.
That Look on Your Face
Just as your audience looks for eye contact, your facial expression is simply how you position and move the muscles of your face that tell a story. Let’s check out a few facial expressions that the audience will respond to.
Arched eyebrows tell the audience that you are surprised or that you are questioning something. You might use this one when revealing a shocking statistic.A frown tells the audience that you disapprove or are saddened by something. This may work if you are talking about something you want your audience to be moved by.
It’s also nice to see a smile. Your audience will pick up on how happy you are.Facial expressions are a reflection of your emotions. Using them adds to your speech. Keep in mind, the farther your audience is from you, the more pronounced your facial expressions should be.If your audience is close, tone them down a bit. You don’t want to scare anyone!The way you stand says a lot, too.
Shoulders Back! Stand up Straight!
You worked so hard on making eye contact and using facial gestures, let’s not lose it all with posture. Maintain good posture when on stage. The position you are in when you stand or sit tells a lot about the speaker.Leaning on the podium tells the audience that you are not confident.
This may be interpreted as not comfortable with the information.Try these tips:
- When standing still, keep your feet in one place.
- Avoid leaning or rocking side to side.
- Keep your shoulders back and head up.
- Keep your hands at your side and never in your pockets.
Speaking of hands at your sides, let’s talk about gestures.
What a Nice Gesture!
Wow, they say 55% of our communication is done through gestures. These are our physical behavior and actions that send the audience a message. It seems like so much to think about, but for the audience, it is as much of the speech as the words that you speak.So, where do you put your hands? How do you control your arm movements? Slow down; you don’t have to stand like a wooden soldier. That in and of itself may send a really bad message.
So let’s focus on a few gestures and their meanings.Placing your hands on your hip tells the audience that you may be overbearing, like a parent or someone in authority, and may come across as condescending. You don’t want your audience to think you are superior to them.
The old crossed arms may seem as though you are withdrawn from the audience. The audience should never feel shut out of the speech.When you cross your hands in front of your body, your audience may take you as weak and submissive. Now, this is a fine line.
You want to be approachable, just not frail.Whatever you do, keep your hands out of your pockets. The audience will know you’re nervous.I know what you’re thinking. You will leave your hands at home so you don’t have to worry. Since you cannot, just be mindful of your movements and you will do fine.
Last thing to think about is your orientation on stage.
Moving About the Stage
Now that we have hands, feet, eyes, back and shoulders all figured out, how do you put it all together so that you can move about the stage with ease? There’s nothing to it. It’s perfectly acceptable to move around the stage. In fact, it will keep your audience alert.While there is no hard and fast rule on this, keep your movements steady and simple.
Walk from side to side, but in a slow pace as not to get your audience dizzy. Sudden moves or jerks will only distract the audience.Consider the proximity of your microphone and always check for the wire location. Tripping into the first row never goes over well.
Now that you know the right moves, you should be able to deliver a winning speech with ease!
To wrap it all up, nonverbal communication is the use of body movements to send a message.There are several types of nonverbal communication to think about:
- Eye contact is connecting eyes with one member of the audience at a time.
- Facial expressions are the ways you position and move the muscles of your face. Smiles, frowns and wide-opened eyes are just a few.
- Posture is the position you are in when you stand or sit.
- Gestures are our physical behavior and actions, like folding your arms.
As we learned, every movement or expression we make on stage sends the audience a message. Some messages are positive, while others not so much.Be mindful of your words and your actions. The audience is watching!
After this lesson is finished you should be able to:
- Define nonverbal communication
- Explain what eye contact and facial expression can convey to your audience
- List some tips for the way you should stand on stage
- Recall what not to do with your hand gestures
- Understand how you should move on stage