The 5-step cure for boring body language

The author debunks some common misconceptions about gesturing and offers keys to finding a balance between stiffness and wild histrionics.

Could your body language be more expressive? Do you inhibit your natural body language when you’re public speaking because of self-consciousness?

Maybe you’ve been told (by a well-meaning but misguided person) that you wave your arms around too much? As a result you have shut down your natural gestures and have become stiff and boring.

The secret to curing boring body language in public speaking is to replicate the state you’re in when you’re in an animated, one-on-one conversation. When you’re in that state your gestures unconsciously complement what you’re saying and give your message energy and persuasive power. You’ll look and feel more confident. There’s even evidence that natural gesturing makes you more fluent.

Here’s what to do to develop natural, expressive body language when you’re speaking:

1. Empty your hands

Put down anything you’re holding, whether it be a pen, the remote, or your notes. (Once you’re gesturing naturally you can hold your notes or the remote, but for the moment they just make the task of freeing up your gestures more difficult.)

2. Keep your hands free

Holding your hands together, putting them in your pockets, or hanging onto the lectern will stop you from gesturing.

So, where should you put your hands? For the moment just let them hang loosely at your sides. (This is a default position; it is not where your hands will stay.) I know this feels awkward. You probably feel a bit like a gorilla, but have a look at the photo below—do most of these global leaders look like gorillas? No. The only one who looks awkward is the one who doesn’t have his arms hanging loosely at his sides.

Your hands will probably creep together without your noticing. When that happens, immediately separate them again.

OK. We’ve gotten rid of the barriers to expressive body language. Now what?

3. Talk to one person at a time

When you’re in a one-on-one, animated conversation, your hands naturally gesture. So kick-start your hands into gesturing by replicating that animated state. Do this by looking at one person and feeling in that moment that you’re talking only to them and to no one else. At the end of a phrase or short sentence, talk to someone else in the audience, but always be talking to someone. (For more tips like this see: 8 presentation tips to make your eye contact more powerful.)

4. Move your feet

To enhance your body language, move your feet. You could for example, move toward the person you’re addressing. The more expansive movement will free up your body and encourage you to make larger gestures. For more ideas on moving while you’re speaking in public, read 9 ways to use space in your presentation.

5. Vary your gestures

Once you’ve opened up your body language, check that you’re not making repetitive gestures. Ask someone to give you feedback, or video yourself. In my early public speaking days, I watched a video and saw that my most common gesture was moving my right arm from the elbow outward—as if I were constantly opening and closing a door. Once I was aware of it, I caught myself doing it and was able to change what I was doing.

Remove distracting and repetitive gestures, but don’t try and choreograph what you’re saying with specific gestures. It will look forced and unnatural.

Follow these five steps, and you’ll develop natural body language that will add energy, engagement, and persuasive power to your presentations.

A version of this article first appeared on SpeakingAboutPresenting.

Topics: PR

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