Public speaking is more than just the words you say. It is about connecting with your audience and building trust and being authentic. Body language plays a big role in this communication process and good body language can enhance your chance of success. Unfortunately, many people struggle with body language and unknowingly make body language mistakes that can undermine their message and impact. In this article, I will outline six of these common mistakes and how to avoid them so you can become a more effective and engaging speaker.
1. Avoiding Eye Contact:
One of the biggest mistakes people make is avoiding eye contact with the audience. Failing to engage visually can make you appear disinterested, nervous, or even dishonest. Establishing eye contact creates a connection with your listeners, conveying confidence and sincerity. Make a conscious effort to scan the room, maintaining eye contact with different individuals throughout your speech. This simple act will enhance your credibility and help build rapport with the audience. Many people associate good eye contact with trust. Eye contact does vary from culture to culture, so in some countries, eye contact is not appropriate.
Nervous energy can manifest as excessive fidgeting and distracting gestures. Think of playing with a pen (constant clicking of a pen) pacing back and forth, playing with jewelry (earrings, bracelets, rings), adjusting your clothing, or playing with your hair. Fidgeting can be distracting and detract from your message and your ability to be influential. Instead, focus on purposeful movements that complement your speech. Use gestures to emphasise key points, and practice standing still to convey confidence. With practise you can eliminate these fidgets allowing people to fully focus on your message.
3. Poor Posture:
Your posture speaks volumes before you even utter a word. Slouching or crossing your arms can make you appear uninterested or defensive. Hands on hips may be seen as aggressive and the fig leaf stance may be seen as passive. Stand tall with your shoulders back and maintain an open stance to project confidence and approachability. A strong, upright posture not only conveys confidence, but it also allows for better breath control, contributing to a more powerful and resonant voice. Breathing and relaxation are related to good posture and good stance.
4. Monotonous Expressions:
As I say, “a face is worth a thousand words”. Public speaking is not the time to have a poker face. A monotonous facial expression can make your audience lose interest quickly. Be mindful of your facial expressions, using them to convey a range of emotions that align with your message. Smile when appropriate, express concern or enthusiasm, and let your face be a dynamic and engaging tool that enhances your verbal communication. Take your audience on a journey, not only with your words but also with your facial expressions.
5. Overuse of Hand Gestures:
While gestures can be powerful, using them inappropriately can be distracting. Avoid excessive hand movements that may come across as nervous ticks or, conversely, as overbearing. Don’t bounce your hands up and down in a rhythm, as if conducting an orchestra. Instead, use purposeful and controlled gestures to accentuate your points. For example, palms up can signal approachability and palms down can signal credibility (Michael Grinder). You can list points on different fingers and indicate large and small with the size of your gestures. Practice moderation and ensure your gestures enhance rather than detract from your message. Over time you can build purposeful and congruent gestures that align with the words you are speaking.
6. Ignoring the Power of Silence:
Body language isn’t just about movement and gestures; it also includes the strategic use of pauses. Some speakers underestimate the impact of well-timed silence. Rushing through your speech without allowing moments of quiet reflection can make you seem anxious or unprepared. Embrace the power of the pause to let your words sink in, build suspense, and give your audience time to absorb the information. A composed and deliberate pace, combined with strategic silences, can enhance the overall impact of your public speaking. Actor Sir Ralph Richardson said, “The most precious things in a speech are pauses. A pause will fill the void, capture attention; it will punctuate, illuminate, and build the tension in a speech”.
In conclusion, mastering the art of public speaking involves more than just crafting eloquent speeches. Your body language serves as a silent but powerful communicator, influencing how your message is received. By avoiding these 6 common mistakes and embracing positive body language practices, you can elevate your public speaking skills and leave a lasting impression on your audience. Don’t let poor body language detract from your presentation.