When you are chatting with a close friend you are relaxed and talk naturally. You use your body language for expression and description, both consciously and unconsciously. A hidden video of you having this same conversation would reveal your natural expressions and gestures. Well worth asking a friend to secretly take a video of your conversation style.
When you include body language as a part of your speeches you are adding an extra dimension. This is the most powerful visual aid you have. You are showing the audience what you mean as well as telling them. The language of the body is older and more powerful and transparent than our words.
The difference between a conversation with a friend and a performance on stage is you need to be yourself on purpose and adjust the magnitude of your gestures to the size of the audience. For example a large audience would miss small actions so to give all the benefit of your actions they need to be more expansive . Think how you might demonstrate something if you were a bit tipsy and had a group of good friends around for a BBQ. The fish we caught was This Big … well maybe a bit smaller.
Why Body Language
We have already learnt that the best speeches are those that are given about topics you really believe in. The most effective way to communicate your sincerity is to speak with your whole body.
Since we could focus as babies we have been learning by absorbing everything we see. We are visual beings. The audience will believe what they see in your face and your mannerisms, more than what you tell them. Learning appropriate use of body language by using facial expression, stance, gestures, eye contact and various other body movements.
You will illustrate and emphasise important parts of your speech. Using these techniques you will begin to consolidate the principals of timing, accuracy and the proper magnitude of your body’s gestures.
Gestures can portray many expressions and descriptions to help the audience be engaged, they also consume a good portion of your excess nervousness. Early in your speaking performance you will find considerable self consciousness exists with the use of body language. With practise and relaxation your gestures will be natural.
Some basic gestures show:
- Shape, size, weight, place, direction, height, width
- Importance, quietness, urgency, calm, turbulence
- Comparison, contrast, depth, variables
Gestures should be full and varied rather than partial and repetitious. Gestures are best made above the elbow, and away from the body, be vigorous and definite to show enthusiasm and conviction. Be mindful about pointing at people and as previously mentioned also be mindful of people from different cultural.
How do you tell when someone is sincere? Why do you feel the way you do when someone is telling an emotional story? Mostly your feelings are based on your observations combined with your experiences.
We process millions of pieces of information with our eyes. Our eyes really connect and communicate a mountain of information from facial expression. Facial expression, controlled by thousands of muscles, transmits cues to what you are thinking. Your expression must be consistent with what you are saying.
The mouth, eyes, eye brows and movement are all vital indicators in showing happiness, fear, sadness, confidence, interest, anger, wonder, excitement, nervousness, exhaustion, boredom, enthusiasm, frustration, hope, intrigue and relief. Practice these faces in front of a mirror. try to control them and see if you can control them whilst trying to remember a speech. I believe that is almost impossible. Therefore it comes back to how you are feeling about your topic and what you are saying so you can only be sincere if you are sincere.
Movement begins the moment you leave your seat and walk to the stage/lectern. This first approach needs to be purposeful, confident and even powerful with good posture. The same gait applies when returning to your seat. However when using your body on the speaking platform your movements, positioning, posture, poise and gestures all need to be congruent with your topic, your vocals and expression.
It’s best if you are purposefully moving around the speaking area during your talk. However, there are times when it’s just as necessary to stand still. Often you are still when making a definitive point during your opening or closing. Pauses can be most effective when all movement ceases at the same time as your words.
The stance you assume while still, projects your assumed level of confidence, comfort and poise. The correct posture when standing is with your head up, back straight, shoulders back and feet firmly placed about shoulder width apart. Looking directly at your audience with your hands and arms by your side.
What you do on stage and how you use the area to suit your talk as well as not distract the audience requires experienced stagecraft. There is a lot to be said for mostly standing still. I find there is impact engagement and focus when standing still. Also you can consider the point when you move there is distraction created by you moving compared with your surroundings that aren’t moving.
However we are visual creatures and therefore some help with visuals can be of tremendous benefit for the audience. The common use is a time line or natural progression with stagecraft.
With this you begin that part of your talk on the audiences stage left and as it develops you move across eventually reaching audience stage right. The reasoning is we read left to right so this is comfortable for the audience.
A more complex story may have several seemingly unrelated components and the stage can be used using what is called anchor points. This does require some choreography and then plenty of practice to make it appear real and uncontrived.
An simple example might be a picnic setting, playing a game of bowls and then home in front of the fire. Here you talk from the three different areas at the relevant time in the talk. You can’t be playing bowls on the picnic table or in front of the fire at home it would be so incongruent and you would lose your audience.
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