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

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