Did you ever watch yourself on video? Did you discover gestures,
movements and tics that you had no idea you were doing?
Most of our body language is an unconscious and automated response to
emotional reactions, such as fear, fatigue, excitement, and stress.
Whenever your mind perceives a threat – such as 50 pairs of eyes of an
audience staring at you – the limbic system in your brain will command
your body to protect itself.
A blur of blinks, taps, jiggles, pivots and shifts … the body language of a
man wishing urgently to be elsewhere. – Edward R. Murrow
Luckily, with awareness and determination, we can act against these
reflexes and adopt a body language that makes people want to listen to us
and believe in what we say. For public speaking, it is helpful to think of
body language along two key dimensions: confidence and
connection. Confidence, signaling to your audience that ” I know what
I’m talking about” and connection, telling them that “I care about you”.
Here are some tips for embodying confidence and connection:
Stay tall, wide, and open. Align your neck with your spine, making
yourself as tall as possible. Relax your shoulders and imagine them
expanding to the sides (i.e.. not slouching nor pushing your chest). Avoid
closing your body by crossing arms or legs.
Own your space and take your time. Carry yourself as a president, a
queen or other celebrity. Hurrying or fidgeting convey a lack of confidence
or low status, so take your time to “land” before you start talking, and
make good use of pauses.
Move or lean towards your listeners. Walk towards the audience when
on stage. Keep the weight on the balls of your feet so your body leans
slightly forward. You will look and feel more engaged. When sitting at a
table, lean forward from your hips.
Move with determination. When you stand, avoid any “dancing”
movements from the hips down. Imagine your feet being the heaviest
parts of your body, keeping you grounded. When moving, walk with a
Keep the eye contact. Make eye contact with a person in the audience,
and keep it for the whole phrase or line of thought – a bit longer than you
normally feel comfortable doing. Then move your eyes to someone else
and sustain eye contact for the next phrase or two.
Use natural hand gestures. Relax your shoulders, arms and hands. Let
your hands react naturally to what you are saying. How do your arms and
hands move when you speak about something that you feel passionate
about? These are your natural gestures.
Observe others. What do other people do that makes you like and
Get feedback. Ask a friend or colleague for feedback. Videofilm yourself.
Enjoy the practice!