Speech Stability – Common Body Language Mistakes for Public Speakers
We like to think that effective speech presentation and body language are about timing your every gesture, stage position and movement. We have seen various students, be it kids or adults, finding themselves overly-fixated on artificially creating body language routines to make their presentations appear more dynamic. Choreographed or curated body language routine may make your presentation seem more like a play than a presentation. Worst still, it may backfire entirely!
Body language is more than perfecting the angle or height of your hand gestures or timing your feet positions to the precise details. It begins with the awareness that you have specific body language habits that form part of your unique speaking identity. These habits may be in the form of minor tendencies or major negative habits that need to be addressed early before they become more stubborn to resolve.
Learning about these habits starts with awareness – in today’s article, we will run through some of the common body language mistakes for public speakers to help you identify if any of these habits apply to you.
Mistake #1: ‘Eye’ Don’t Want to Look At You
Eye contact is an intimate and powerful body language aspect to connect with your audience. It is, unsurprisingly, one of the key body language traits that speakers tend to shy away from. We have observed our first-time students/clients attempting to avoid sustained eye contact throughout their presentations, choosing instead to dedicate their attention towards a script. The common tendency insofar as eye contact is concerned is to glance at the audience instead of having meaningful eye contact. This involves short, brief looks in the general direction of the audience and switching the attention within a space of 1 second. This gives the impression that you are not a willing speaker and is likely to impact your credibility negatively.
*Yes, eye contact shouldn’t be fleeting and cursory…but not creepy! (above)*
Tip: One of the effective ways to overcome eye contact shyness starts from the mindset. Reframe the concept of “eye contact” as looking at a general direction/part of the audience instead of looking at a specific individual. As a starting point, pick out the space between the eyes as a suitable eye contact zone or even an imaginary row at the back of the room to allow you to direct sustained attention to the front but avoid locking on to someone’s eyes. This is, of course, only a starting point – powerful speakers learn to anchor their eye contact on individual audience member as they become more confident and more competent.
Mistake #2: Swaying and Swinging to an Imaginary Tune
We find it difficult to stand still or maintain a steady posture while presenting on stage. Even with repeated reminders, some of our clients, in the early part of their development, tend to move around or fidget while presenting. This manifests in the form of leaning on one leg or even swaying from side to side continuously throughout their speech/presentation. It goes without saying that this trait, if left unmanaged, will distract your audience from your speech content.
From our experience, the most effective advice to our students is a simple one – a simple, 5-minute exercise to get comfortable with a neutral standing position. Right before your presentation or speech, relax your muscles and start exploring the comfortable and stable standing position to remind yourself before you start. The key is to build awareness so that you will continue to correct your standing posture and instil stability in your presentation!
Mistake #3: Heavy Hands Do Not Make Light Work
Finally, hand gestures are one of the more natural tendencies of a speaker. Beyond the specific types of gestures to adopt, the common mistake observed is the location of the speaker’s hand gestures. Most new speakers prefer to keep their hand gestures/position below their stomach region, at times even gesturing from below. This creates a distracting height gap between the speaker’s face and his hands, forcing the audience to switch between both.
Instead, start to identify your action zone and your rest zone for your hand gestures. The action zone demarcates the area around your body from the stomach area upwards as the safe space for hand gestures. Adopt open hand gestures by extending your hands beyond your body frame for a more welcoming gait. You should also take note of your shoulder position (e.g. a higher hand gesture may tense your shoulders up and induce unnecessary pressure). The rest zone is the home location for your hands once they complete their gestures. This should be within the stomach region instead of at the back of your body or even in your pockets. Closed hand gestures (such as the folding of arms) are also not encouraged to ensure that you continue to engage your audience.
Experiment, Try It Out and Play With Body Language!
Ultimately, body language is an extensive corpus of theory that is best implemented through practice, practice and more practice. By finding out more about the common body language negative habits of other speakers, you start to develop an awareness of your own body language tendencies. Start identifying those habits that need to be changed and adopt the body language that will turn you into a dynamic and powerful public speaker!
If you’re keen to take your public speaking & presentation skills (either business/corporate presentation or kids class presentation) to the next level so that you may public speak and present with flair and charisma, feel free to check out our offerings below!
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