Three Keys to Powerful Body Language While Speaking

Article by:
Conor Neill, EO Spain-Barcelona
Conor Neill
EO Spain-Barcelona

As a business owner, having to speak in front of large audiences is part of the entrepreneurial game. Though public speaking is empowering, it can also be difficult to manage. I had the priviledge of introducing a couple of speakers at the EO Barcelona University and looked out on a sea of expectant faces.

Alongside founding and building my companies, I have been teaching persuasive communication at IESE Business School in Barcelona for the past six years. I have given 520 sessions to 1,760 students and have coached more than 2n500 speeches. In my experience, how you should stand, hold your hands, look or dress when giving a speech can be confusing. I recommend Sandy Linver’s "Speak and Get Results." It has helped me learn how to get my message across through powerful body language.

In her book, Sandy outlines three key areas for superb public speaking: authority, energy and audience awareness. Authority refers to looking and sounding like you have something to say about the subject; energy refers to projecting that the subject is important to you; and audience awareness is having an interaction with those to whom you are speaking so that they feel like they’re a part of the experience. Here’s a more intrinsic look at these key areas:

Authority
How do you transmit authority? I’ve learned that there are several ways in which your body language or non-verbal language can signal authority to the audience:

  • Visual Image: The clothes you chose to wear at 7 a.m. will have a big impact on how your audience judges you. Do you look the way an "expert" on your topic would look? If you’re speaking to an audience about business, you should always look the part.

  • Body Image: Feet shoulder width apart, body balanced, gestures supporting the key moments of the speech— these actions convey confidence. There should be nothing to distract the audience from your message. If you have your hands in your pockets, for example, it will look like you’re more interested in your car keys than your speech.

  • Voice: According to Sandy, there are five characteristics of a powerful voice:

  • Breathing – Relaxed, deep breaths give you projection and power

  • Articulation – Open your mouth and clearly pronounce the words; no mumbling and no "filler words" (i.e., um, ah, like)

  • Downward Inflection – In all languages, we tend to signal answers by terminating the statement with a downward inflection, and we signal questions by finishing the phrase with a raised tone. Many times nerves will drive us to use inflections incorrectly, which will confuse the audience. Slow down to emphasize the right points of your message.

  • Pauses – Include three-to-eight-second pauses at key moments; i.e., just before key statements or right after a story.

  • Projection and Resonance – When speaking in public, it’s best to use your whole diaphragm— the chest and lungs, as well as mouth and nose. A voice that comes from the chest will transmit powerfully.

Energy
Emitting the right energy during a speech is easy; all you have to do is truly care about the subject on which you’re speaking. If the speaker doesn't act like the subject is important, it will be impossible for the audience to engage in the messaging.

Audience Awareness
Audience awareness is an integral part of the speaker’s responsibilities. By assessing the audience and determining whether people are engaged or not, the speaker will know what to emphasize and where to slow down. Usually, a quick glance at the audience or a pause in speech can show them that they matter to you.

There’s no hidden secret to excelling at public speaking; it just takes a lot of practice, determination and a willingness to adopt helpful habits. After reading Speak and Get Results, I’m confident I can continue to deliver powerful speeches to the people who are most important to me and my company.

To read more of Conor's work, click here.

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