An important aspect of getting your body language to reinforce your message in public speaking is to strike the right balance between stillness and energy. Stillness is powerful and lends you gravitas but too much of it can sap the life out of your talk. Conversely, energy conveys enthusiasm and creates a buzz, but overdo it and you risk the audience not taking you seriously.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you rehearse your talk:
Head – Keeping your head still will enhance your gravitas. Of course, don’t be stiff and unnatural but be aware that too much head movement has the effect of reducing your perceived status.
Feet and legs – Stand with your feet far enough apart to feel comfortable and keep your weight evenly distributed across both legs. Leaning on to one hip, swaying, pacing and other fidgeting undermine your authority and telegraph nerves. Unless you’re deliberately going over there (for example, to get a better angle on that section of the audience), stay still.
Hands and arms – Be open and generous with your gestures. With your head and lower body conveying strength through stillness, what you want your hands and arms to do is demonstrate controlled energy. Keeping them too close to your body gives a feeling of tension and insecurity, so relax and use your arms and hands to reinforce your message with confident, positive movements.
If you don’t really know what your body is doing when you’re making a speech or presentation, the chances are you’re at least distracting from – if not outright contradicting – what your mouth is saying. Eliminate mannerisms and any other action that doesn’t support the message. A bold statement about the future, delivered as the speaker takes an unconscious step backwards, sends out conflicting signals.
Practise speaking your content aloud until you don’t have to spend all your brainpower on finding the words. Then tune in to what your body is saying and keep rehearsing until body and voice are communicating with the audience in harmony.