5 Ways Body Language Improves Your Public Speaking

Posted By Mandi Lindner on Apr 16, 2014 | 0 comments

Did you know that body language accounts for 55-65% of our communication?

Ursula Body Language


Public speaking may seem a bit off-topic for a storytelling blog, but I think it’s spot on. That’s because you can’t be a good public speaker without sharing stories. I’d even argue that telling stories helps you become a better speaker because even though you may not have the best handle on the information you’re presenting (a blog post for another time), you KNOW your stories so well that they help you connect the main points, give you confidence, and keep your audience interested.

Your body language is a major factor in whether or not your speech is well received, because it adds visual aids and conveys meaning to your stories where words cannot. Here are 5 reasons why you should pre-plan and practice adding gestures when you speak:

1. Gestures increase retention and understanding of your message.

Many people are visual learners. You may have a presentation to help clarify and graphically represent your main story points, but gestures can also help provide a visual for your audience to remember. This is especially relevant for those times when the Internet isn’t working, the room is not equipped as you had imagined, or your presentation file isn’t working properly…circumstances that every speaker is familiar with. Having practiced gestures with your speech you will be ready for every eventuality.

2. Gestures help you say more in less time.

There are some actions that require no explanation. For example, you can describe how something made you feel or you can simply roll your eyes. In the same way that a picture is worth a thousand words, if you have limited speaking time, body language can help you get a point across quickly.

3. Body language can show what you mean without having to resort to visuals.

I would say that body language can show what you mean in the event that you do not have the luxury of visuals. Sometimes you are asked to speak last minute, as I was at a conference I attended just last week. Sometimes, as aforementioned, you may be speaking in a low tech area and you still need to find a way to convey what you are saying visually. Body language, in particular gestures, can help you do that.

4. Body language can signal your confidence and conviction.

Something as simple as standing upright versus leaning over  on a podium can be a signal to the audience. The first is seen as confidence and knowledge in your subject area. The second is viewed as hiding from scrutiny. Judges bang a gavel to gain control of a courtroom. In the same way you can bang your hand on the table to give everyone a start when making an important point (or maybe to wake a lagging audience up before making an important point). If you write your gestures into your speech and practice them beforehand they will make the impact you want while giving you an air of confidence.

5. Gestures can add texture and dimension to your speech.

Nothing is more boring than watching someone deliver a speech while they stand in one position and speak in a rapid, monotone voice. As someone who used to teach public speaking I’ve listened to my fair share of nervous students recite their speeches off of note cards in this way. Usually this was the norm at the beginning of the semester but by the end of term they were veritable public speaking pros. Not just because of my teaching skills, but mainly because of practice. Body language gives your audience something to look at, and when planned correctly, can be incredibly impactful in making your points.

Though these five points related mainly to preparing and presenting speeches, they are true in any capacity when you have the floor. If you are a lawyer giving closing arguments, a doctor presenting a case, an account executive presenting a bid, or a job seeker during an interview – all are situations where body language and simple gestures add conviction and flavor to your statement. If you’re like me you’ll find yourself gesticulating no matter who you’re talking to or what you’re saying, but in cases where you need to prepare what you say, consider also preparing how you’ll say it with your movements.

Here’s a handy, entertainingly-nostalgic video on speech functions and gestures:
The problem with George is he isn’t interesting!




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