The first life lesson we all learn as kids is your body speaks. Do you remember the many times you were told: Now don’t you get sassy with me! You rolled your eyes, then came – Big Mama’s look that stopped you dead in your tracks. You were not even five at the time. Enough said!. Who could ever forget those good old days?
As you grew older, you learned to use your hands. You then add your entire body to communicate more effectively. Now, as a public speaker, you labor to find the right words to express your message, seldom putting the same amount of time and effort to refine what your body is saying. Body Language – that comes naturally! Really!! Then you were reminded by Ralph Waldo Emmerson that what you do speaks so loudly we cannot hear what you are saying – and darkness turned to light – Bing! On the platform, your body language and the spoken word must be in concert as one voice – to be heard, understood, and repeated.
Body Language is your nonverbal expressions of emotions, feelings, and ideas. It can be natural and also habit-forming, both good and bad. Your habits and delivery are magnified when you are on the platform. Appearance, manner, and physical behavior convey vast amounts of information. Audiences remember what you were doing -good or bad – when you said what you were saying. Gestures say more than words and may even succeed when your words fail to make that intimate connection. Body language is your most powerful instrument for conveying to an audience, your sincerity, earnestness, and enthusiasm. You must also be aware of the habits and tells you would like to avoid; autopilot moves that show your audience you might be in trouble. Looking up at the ceiling when you are lost, is a typical tell which as speakers we all should avoid
Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s Study; Elements of Effective Communication is a guide to which I often refer. His research shows only 7% of our spoken words communicate our message – Voice, and tone 38%. And body language accounts for a whopping 55% of our communication. His study also shows that at times, all it takes is a gesture to make your point; however, it must be the right gesture in the right place, at the right time. When executed correctly, that gesture can speak more eloquently than the spoken word. Words have many dependencies. Among the many are what your audience heard, listened to, accepted, rejected, or remembered. A look, a gesture, or even silence will often send the message you are seeking to communicate. This is why we must make gestures and your body language an essential part of our preparation, practice, and performance.
Gestures and Body Language when you are on the platform can improve with practice and simple exercises. Here is one. The first things I learned as a Cadet was how to stand at attention and at ease. At attention, feet together with hands at your side. At ease, feet twelve inches apart, hand behind your back, right hand over left palm, right thumbs over left. You know the drill. From both positions, try practicing your speech. First, at attention, then at ease. Soon you will notice a significant change in your voice, inflection, tone, and the way you bring words to life – your 38%. Now add your left hand leaving the right behind tucked behind your back. Do the same with the right, leaving the left behind your back. That exercise covers your 55%. Finally, free them both as you add your 7% your speech – you are now at 100%. This exercise can pay huge dividends when practiced assiduously. Get back to where it all began.
Get sassy with your audience. Let your body speak naturally and free, but be in sync with your voice. Use that Big Mama look, now you own it. Practice until your body language is in concert with your voice. Practice, until you achieve the dream of every public speaker – to be heard, understood, and repeated.