Monday, July 29, 2013

Let Your Body Do The Talking

Some time back I, like a number of my Algoa compatriots, decided to start the Competent Communicator manual again. 

I decided this time to try to turn each of the manual speeches into an educational so that I was not only doing the speech, but also using it as a way to teach some of the skills I had learned to others in the club. What follows contains some of what I learned along the way.

I am sure you are all aware of the research that has been done about how communicators convey their message:

  • Only about 7% of the meaning of a spoken message is conveyed via the actual words 
  • 38 % of the meaning of that message is conveyed via one’s tone of voice; and
  • 55% of the total meaning is conveyed via body language.

Add to those statistics the saying that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression and you will realise just how important body language is.

The way we dress and the way we stand (our posture) are all part of our body language and will inform the opinions people make of us.  I am sure you have heard the phrase dressed for success, so I want to spend just a moment on that topic.

Men; dress for the occasion in a dark suit – or at least in a jacket and tie. Neutral, dark colours are good with a contrasting tie – but not a comic one. Ladies: don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing outrageous styles, like too-high shoes or too-short skirts. Avoid wearing jewellery that rattles or blings. 

Sloppy, casual wear sends out the message that you don’t care enough for your audience to have dressed properly. Ultimately, you do not want your audience to lose your message while they are staring at your outfit.

One is often nervous to stand in front of an audience. That is not a problem, as long as your nervousness is not evident and you are able to project confidence.

Firstly, be aware of the tell-tale signs of nervousness, like hands clasped in front of you; in the fig leaf or reversed fig leaf position. Other signs include: grabbing hold of the lectern, standing with your legs crossed or playing repetitively with your hair, jewellery, coins or keys in a pocket; or clicking a pen.

Show confidence in the following ways:

           Stand squarely with your feet slightly apart and pointing forward
           Breathe from your abdomen – not your throat
           Smile – you will win your audience over
           Make eye contact with the whole room – if that is possible
           Use open gestures –not tight ones close to your body; otherwise, allow them to rest naturally at your sides.

Even if you don’t feel confident initially, by using a confident stance you will soon relax into your presentation – and before you know if, the nervousness will actually have gone.
Movement is something natural and usually enhances a presentation as long as that movement is not distracting. Watch out for repetitive pacing, rocking or rising to the balls of your feet.

What is important is to let your body mirror your feelings and the content of your speech. Most gestures are spontaneous, but there are times when you will want to add emphasis to what you are saying. Look at three such areas:

Symbolic Gestures communicate words, numbers, or position.

           A raised hand signals for a stop
           A thumbs-up showing you agree
           Three fingers for the number three
           Pointing to show a position – up, down, behind, beside

Descriptive Gestures communicate an idea or movement.

           Spreading hands apart to show length
           Using hands to show a shape.
           Swaying hands to show a flow of movement.

Emotional Gestures suggest feelings.

           A clenched fist to show anger. It is hostile and threatening.  It could also convey the sense you are hiding something.
           Hands clasped to show pleading.
           Using a pointed finger.  This makes you look accusatory, even if that wasn't your intent.

Your face is your most obvious means of communicating the emotion of your message and your audience will read meaning in your expressions. Ensure that they enhance what you are saying. You can’t tell about witnessing a horrific fire with many casualties while you have a smile on your face – your audience will be confused and you will come across as insincere.

Ultimately, we are all in the business of reading body language, whether we are aware of it or not. We make snap judgements about people the very first time we see them, even if we have not heard them speak – this is because of the way they dress and the impression they make on us when we first become aware of them.

As effective communicators we need to make use of what we know about body language to sell ourselves to our audience as confident experts in our field.

This past weekend saw a gathering of our Division in Grahamstown for WinterCon and I am sure Glenis Whitehead will be telling us all more about it in her newsletter.  I want to remind you all about the Club Humorous and Impromptu Speech Contest on 27 August.  Mike Brosnahan, who will be the Contest Chairman, will be in touch with you all soon with details.  Please consider competing; it is a wonderful experience.

Until next time
Ricky Woods

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's Just Like Riding a Bicycle

Last night was the first meeting of a new Toastmasters year.  It has also been a year since I started writing this blog and so, as is the habit of this creature called man (or woman), I reflected upon the year that has past and upon new beginnings.

What is it that makes us want to draw a metaphorical line in the sand and say, “This is it; this is the start of something new”?  Whether that something new entails a renewed enthusiasm for life; or for honouring the commitments we have made in the past, but to which we have paid scant notice, it is all the same. I suppose if we didn’t, we might find ourselves despairing that change is impossible and that we are forced to keep on committing the same foolish errors forever.
In any event, the closing of one door leads inevitably to the opening of another.  We find ourselves
taking stock of our lives; setting new goals and aiming for a better year to come. It is my wish for all of you that a year from now you will look back having realised all of your dreams.

I want to commend two people from our club especially.  The first is a new member (not to Toastmasters, but to Algoa) who did her CC1 Ice-breaker last night. Megan Judd already has an ACG award, but she has set herself the goal of starting afresh in a new club. This is not an easy thing to do because, although the requirements for a CC1 are not stringent by any means, we all know that so much more is expected of someone who is doing it for the second time. Well done, Megan!

The second person is our Area Governor, Colleen Love. Colleen joined Toastmasters in 2006 through a Speechcraft Course. She was painfully shy at the time and really worked hard to overcome this, finally earning her CC award.  Subsequently, she has served on the club Executive; then as President and she is currently fulfilling the role of Area Governor – for the second time. However, getting involved in the running of a club and its affairs does not leave much time for personal development. Colleen did the first speech last night from the Speaking to Inform Manual – it was her first project speech in three years! Some initial nerves were soon overcome and she proved the truth of the expression ‘it’s just like riding a bicycle’. Congratulations, Colleen!

I was privileged to spend the past ten days in Grahamstown at the National Festival of the Arts where, amongst other performances, I watched my two sons deliver comedic performances of a very different nature. Rhys, my younger son, is a rock star in the making who is also the King of ad lib. I   Impromptu, reactive and spontaneous. I couldn’t help comparing his performance, which relies largely upon interacting with the audience; to the skills we learn when we do Table Topics. I remember how fearful I used to be of them. These days I am a little more philosophical, but it is definitely a skill which one can master through practice. 

My older son, Gareth produces what one would call a ‘thinking man’s comedy’. He has taught me so much when it comes to the preparation of my own speeches. A notebook is always at hand into which he jots ideas and his observations on life.  He works hard at his writing, honing the contents of his comedy to get the perfect punch-lines.  I am reminded of the recent LeaderCon, which we attended in Johannesburg. One of the presenters – I think it was Mark Brown – encouraged us to remember the everyday occurrences and stories of our lives as material for our speeches.

Every time we speak before an audience, whether it is impromptu or prepared, we are performers in our own right.  Let us learn whatever lessons we can along the way in order to make our own dreams come true.

Until next time

Ricky Woods