We’ve all been there. You’ve been asked to give a keynote speech. Or an important presentation on your area of expertise. Or, maybe you’re prepping for a crucial, one-on-one conversation: persuading a senior exec to back your proposal, or providing constructive feedback to a direct report.
You already know that preparation is key, and nailing what you plan to say is an important start. But it’s not enough. Keep in mind that your body communicates, too – often louder than your spoken words.
Think of body language like a movie soundtrack: either it underscores the story you’re telling, or completely distracts from it. Here are three “watch areas” for non-verbal communication and how to make sure your body language draws the audience into the story you’re telling.
Your Hands & Arms
Humans tend to gesture when we’re passionate or excited. But what are your hand motions saying to your audience? Flailing fingers undermine your confidence. Pointing shows aggression. Crossed arms signal a closed mind.
The solution to distracting gestures starts with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Practice your presentation or conversation on video, then play it back with the sound off. Soften those pointy movements by curling in your fingers. Get comfortable with your arms at your sides. And if you need to fix a flail, remember there’s no simpler gesture than interlacing your fingers and letting them hang in front of you – or, if you’re sitting, fold your hands in your lap or on the table.
If you pace the room or stage while you speak, your audience will be counting your steps instead of hearing your words. And yes, the other meeting attendees are completely aware your leg is jiggling under the table. There’s no getting around it: Even if it’s just how you habitually move, your constant foot and leg movements come across as nervousness.
To cure a bouncy leg, you’re going to need a trusted partner. Every time you absent-mindedly tap that foot or jiggle your knee, have them call it out, until you’re aware how often you do it. Then replace the habit with something less outwardly nervous (try picking up a pen and slowly turning it in your hands).
To remedy stage pacing, start by slowing your roll. Move from side-to-side too fast, and you look like a caged tiger (and, no, that’s not as cool as it might sound). Stroll at a measured pace to one side of the riser or stage, pause, and deliver a few lines while making eye contact with the audience. Do the same heading the other direction. Lather, rinse, repeat. And if you have a podium at your disposal, treat it as your home base. Venture out to make key points, then return – bringing your audience back to the core of your remarks.
Nothing supports or betrays verbal communication like a facial expression you just can’t hide. A furrowed brow can show skepticism, even as you’re singing the praises of a new idea. A big grin is awesome when you’re welcoming a new employee – horrifying when you’re announcing layoffs.
Simply put: Your face must match the situation. And most importantly, your expression needs to show that you understand the audience’s perspective of whatever situation you’re addressing. Again, self-awareness and practice are key. Role play the critical presentations or the tough conversations with a colleague, and be wide open to honest feedback. Like with any communication, the goal isn’t to strip out all the emotion – it’s to convey the right emotion for the moment.
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss are founders of ROCKdotVOSS Communications. For more tips about communicating with confidence, listen to our guest interview on the Career Warrior podcast. To learn more about how we help companies and executives sharpen their stories, visit us at rockdotvoss.com.
(c) ROCKdotVOSS 2019