In 1997 when I joined Toastmasters, one of the manuals I received along with my Communication and Leadership Handbook was one on “Gestures: Your Body Speaks”. The focus of that manual was on how to use your body effectively to enhance your message. It is a book I still use, to remind me of the importance of gestures as we speak.
As we speak, our bodies are constantly sending nonverbal messages which listeners judge. They judge both you and your message based on what they see as well as what they hear. If you want to become an effective speaker, you must understand how your body speaks. While you can’t stop sending your audiences nonverbal messages, you can learn to manage, control and improve the messages we are sending to your audiences.
Action Speak Louder Than Words. Our goal in public speaking is to communicate. To be an effective speaker you must communicate earnestness, enthusiasm, and sincerity by making your manner and actions affirm what you say. When you speak, people not only judge your speech, they also judge you. If they are not convinced of your earnestness and sincerity, they are unlikely to accept your message.
We remember more of what we see than what we hear. It is difficult not to look at a moving object. People also remember messages that reach multiple scenes, however, we remember best when both our visual and auditory senses are involved. As a speaker, you can capitalize on these tendencies by providing visual stimuli that capture your audience’s attention and enhance retention of your verbal message. Gestures, body movements, facial expressions – are all valuable tools to keep your audience engaged when skillfully employed.
To make your body speak eloquently, marshal your nonverbal tools. Use posture, gestures, body movements, facial expressions and eye contact effectively as you speak. When your actions are wedded to you, your words will strengthen the impact of your speech. Be yourself. The emphasis should be on communication and the sharing of your message or ideas. Strive to be as genuine and natural as when you are talking with friends and family members.
Believe in what you are saying. Let your body mirror your feelings as you share your message with others. Let your physical movements come from within and make sure they are appropriate for what you are saying. If you involve yourself in your message, you will be natural and spontaneous. Self-confidence through preparation is also vital. When you are well prepared, it is easier to focus on your message and your audience. Practice and rehearse your material until it becomes a part of you but do not try to memorize your speech verbatim.
Whatever your vocal strengths and speaking skills are, your ability to visually communicate your ideas through gestures and other forms of body expression will enhance not just your presentations, but your overall effectiveness as a speaker. Practice your nonverbal communication. Make it an important part of your preparation. A videotape of your speech will often remind us of those unconscious mannerisms you may want to avoid and the ones that are an accurate perception of your body’s spoken image.