How Does Body Language Affect Your Communication?

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We judge our intentions, but others judge our actions.
— William Moulton Marston

Research suggests that body language accounts for two thirds of communication. Therefore, body language can make or break a presentation. To some degree, your body language is set in place, but there are several simple tips to help you.

Eye Contact

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When you are making contact with people, it is natural to look at them almost constantly. Most people do this during normal conversation.

Generally, most of us find it easier to talk to others one-on-one rather than to a group of people. That is because you can use the normal rhythms of speech, and use your body language to relate to people. When Persuading for Results, your job is to try to transfer the intimacy of that one-on–one situation to an audience.

Rather than sweeping your gaze over the audience constantly, it is more effective to pick out one person at a time. Make your selection from different sections of the audience and look directly at the chosen person, for a full sentence or two. You will build a rapport with that person, and appear more genuine to the audience as a whole. Vary your eye contact between four or five spots around the room. These people will become proxies for the entire audience.

Making eye contact can be intimidating. To make it easier, greet people as they enter the room. Linger to talk with a few friendly people. Then, when you begin your presentation, seek out these friendly, familiar faces. Start by making eye contact with these people and as your confidence grows you can broaden your gaze to take in the rest of the audience.

Facial Expressions

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Herbert Samuels put it the best when he said, “The world is like a mirror; frown at it and it frowns at you. Smile and it smiles too.” Your face is a powerful tool for communication. Even if you have perfected your speech, appearance and gestures, you will not win the audience over without a smile. A smile is easy to do and the dividends far outweigh the effort.

Start your presentation with a wide, friendly and sincere smile. It will be infectious. Your smile will put the audience in a positive frame of mind, and may even fool you into a state of relaced confidence; the more you smile, the better the rapport between you and your audience. However, your smile must be sincere. Practice smiling in front of the mirror. Get to know how a sincere smile makes your face feel so that you can recognise a false smile without a mirror.

Psychologists have shown that smiling release serotonin into your brain. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that gives us a natural feeling of pleasure, peace and well-being. So, a genuine smile will in fact make you feel more relaxed and positive.

A smile is not the only powerful facial expression. An arched eyebrow can signal scepticism, wide eyes can indicate surprise and a furrowed brow can show deep contemplation. Practice using different facial expressions – this is a chance to let your dramatic instincts take over and to capture the audience’s attention.

Gestures

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The most effective presenter uses his or her entire body to communicate. The first step is to have a good posture. Stand up straight and balance your weight on both feet. Theoretically, the field for your gestures is as far as your arms will stretch, as high as your arms will reach and as long as your legs will stride. In a small room with a small audience, you may want to make your gestures subtle, but in a large room with a large audience, you can use more dramatic gestures.

Many presenters use the same tired gestures. Through overuse, the technique of upturned palms to show honesty has become redundant, so avoid ‘textbook’ gestures. Be creative and look for dramatic images that can be expressed through body language. You may find it helpful to watch someone communicate in sign language. This provides a great ideas on how to communicate with gestures. It may also be helpful to video your presentations to see how you can improve.

Just as gestures can add to your presentation, fidgeting or awkward movement can detract from it. If your hands are shaking from nervousness, resist the urge to clench your fists. This will make you seem anxious or even aggressive. Do not keep your hands in your pockets or wring them. Do not fidget with rings, watches, pens or our hair. If you are uncertain about what to do with your hands, and there is a podium, just rest them lightly on the podium. Watching yourself in the mirror or on video will help you to pick up any unconscious mannerisms that you use.

Getting better

Sometimes we are not aware that we have gestures or facial expressions that may irritate, annoy or distract. If you can, video a presentation or a practice and then review the tape. Alternatively, ask a friend, “Do I use any gestures or facial expressions that might irritate, annoy or distract an audience?” Write down whatever they say and do not argue with them. At first, do not try to change, but simply count how many times you use this gesture in a presentation or ask a friend to do this for you. Often just being aware by counting the gesture will help eliminate it quickly.