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August 24, 2015

By: Ben Travis

There are many qualities that determine speaker quality. One of the most important yet overlooked is body language. We’re all at least subtly aware own body language, and it’s especially meaningful when speaking in public.

Why Is Body Language Important?

Body language is the nonverbal communication of an idea, and your body language can send and amplify all kinds of message to your audience. It’s a great way to show passion around a subject or solidify your expertise in a field. However, it can also detract from presentations. For example, you may sound confident, but if you're fiddling with your hands or pacing around nervously, you can project your own anxiety on an audience resulting in decreased credibility or a loss of interest. When expressing feelings and attitudes, spoken words only account for 7% of all communication, thereby placing a huge emphasis on tone and non-verbal communication. Even if your speech has great content and loads of information, a delivery as stiff as the podium you’re standing behind will fail to impress your audience.

How to Improve Your Body Language

Improving body language can do wonders for a presenter, and the good news is that getting better isn’t that hard to do. Here are a few quick tips to improve your body language: First, work on your posture. The way you stand on stage shows your confidence level and helps assure your audience that they’re listening to an expert. Stand tall and straight (not stiff) when presenting, and avoid slouching at all costs. This is especially true when you need to walk around the stage while presenting. Take slow and relaxed steps, while keeping your back straight at all times.

Second, focus on your hand gestures. It’s easy for speakers tend to use either not use their hands at all, which can feel awkward or stiff, or overuse them, which can distract an audience. Aim to use natural, strong gestures in public speaking. According to public speaking coach Gary Genard, “Any movement that reinforces or amplifies your message is good, and any movement that detracts from your message is not.” Finally, take note of your facial expression. As humans, we’re acutely trained to surmise emotions from faces through macro and microexpressions. Your facial expressions amplify and expand on the words you speak. Arching your eyebrows, rolling your eyes, frowning, or smiling can all have an effect on the audience’s interpretation of your presentation. Many conferences nowadays use projectors where they splash the large screen with the speaker’s face, which makes appropriate and effective facial expressions even more important.

The importance of body language in public speaking cannot be stressed enough, and if you’re used to ignoring your non-verbal communication skills, now’s the time to change. If you’re curious about more resources to help with body language, check out these videos:

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