Physical communication vital to public speaking

There’s more to public speaking than just speaking!

When you stand up to talk there is more to think about than simply what you are going to say and how you will say it. Here our founder, Chris Dawes, looks at another important element – physical communication.

physical communication

It may sound strange coming from trainers in public speaking and presentation skills, but for once we don’t want to focus on speaking at all. We want to look at everything else, all those forms of non-verbal communication, which, if done well, can take your public speaking and presentation to new heights; and if not done well can detract from the effort you have put in to your presentation/talk/meeting.

1. Stand tall

When you present, stand up straight, don’t slouch/lean, and do take your hands out of your pockets. This will help give you a greater presence, look more professional, and aid your ability to command the room, whilst ironically is will also make you feel more confident as well as look it.

2. Say cheese!

Always, always smile. Smiling is a natural relaxant (try it now), creates a connection with the audience and, think about – what do you do when someone smiles at you?

Remember, they are on your side and feel empathy for you – this isn’t an audition for Britain’s Got Talent! They are not looking for you to fail, and in fact want you to get through it unscathed. In truth, they probably aren’t judging us as much as we may think, so we just want to make sure we don’t do anything that stands out negatively for them to notice and remember, and leave their focus on the content of what they came to hear rather than us.

3. Make eye contact

One of the most important rules when presenting is to make eye contact. It is often said that a presenter should look at one person for two or three seconds at a time before moving on. But have you tried to count the seconds while remembering and delivering a presentation/speech?

Our advice is to look at a different person at the start of each new sentence. This will seem more natural and be easier to follow. Make sure you look at everybody, even if they are in the margins of the room. Equally, if someone is clearly uncomfortable when you make eye contact, avoid constantly returning to them.

Also, avoid 'eye darting' – glancing from person to person too rapidly, as this can come across as even more insincere as no eye contact.

4. Don’t plant yourself

Move around while you deliver your talk. Changing the focus of your eye contact will help you achieve this, as you will naturally take steps as you look at different people. However, don’t move too much, and never pace.

The movement aids your energy levels, whilst also aiding your audience's focus, interest, and energy compared to staring at the same spot for the whole time. If you have a lectern, use this as a base to return to, rather than an anchor point.

5. The hands have it

We’ve said you shouldn’t put your hands in your pockets, so where should they go? Your hands are very important in helping you to emphasise a point, so of course you have to move them. However, our advice is when they are ‘resting’ you put them in front of you, one palm gently on top of the back of the other hand. This is an “anchor point” and returning to this anchor will help stop you overusing your hands whilst leaving them free and easy to use to add emphasis compared to if you had them linked together – you should never be clenching, wringing, fiddling or clasping.

6. Watch your body language

There are many little habits people have that they should avoid and here are a few: fidgeting (perhaps with a pen lid), touching hair, touching their face, licking their lips, jingling keys, gripping the lectern, table or microphone stand for dear life… the list continues...

Not only will these be distracting to the audience, it can also raise the question over your belief and sincerity in the information you are delivering, or at the very least how confident you are in your knowledge of it. The trick is to look confident, whilst still being open and friendly.

7. Watch your back!

Finally, here is our golden rule that you should never break – don’t turn your back on the audience. You may be checking your slides, you may be doing it out of nerves, but it gives the audience the wrong message, it’s bad manners, and it interrupts the how audible you are. With “presenter mode” on the likes of PowerPoint, you are able to see what is on the screen, what is coming next, and any personal notes you require on your laptop screen that should be in front of you as you continue to look at your audience, so you should never need to look behind you at “their” screen.

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