Delivery Lesson Two: Open Versus Closed Posture

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When presenting in front of an audience, maintaining an open posture is essential.  While we may not realize it, our nonverbal communication speaks loudly.  If a presenter says one thing, but his body says the opposite, audiences always trust nonverbal communication signals over the words coming out of the speaker’s mouth.  You may say to an audience, “Hi, everyone! I’m really excited to be here with you today,” but if your body is closed off and slumped over, you are telling your audience you’re tired, disengaged, or nervous.

Audiences trust nonverbal communication above your words and your speech content, so ensure you are sending open, positive signals.  But how?

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Crossed arms are the most obvious example of closed posture.  Crossed arms can send negative signals to an audience.  You’re bored.  You’re annoyed.  You’re pouting.  You’re better than your audience.  But other less-obvious nonverbal communication signals speak just as loudly as crossed arms.

For example, consider a podium.  Most speakers naturally gravitate toward speaking behind a podium.  It’s the place to stand if you’re delivering a speech!

A podium is also closing the speaker off from the audience.  With a podium’s tall, wide shape, the speaker’s body is almost completely blocked from the audience’s view.  This creates a disconnect, and whether the speaker means to or not, the podium sends a powerful nonverbal signal.  In my class, the students who most frequently run and hide behind the podium are the students who are the most terrified to speak.

Other podium-loving presenters in my classes include people who want to lean.  You know the type.  They’re either too cool for upright posture or too lazy to be bothered to stand up straight.  Either way, the nonverbal signals are not good in an audience’s eyes.  Audiences want a speaker who cares about them, the poor audience who must sit through yet another presentation.  Audiences want to look to someone who is confident in his or her material so that the audience can, in turn, be confident in that material.

So how in the world should you stand?

The Presenters’ Blog advises that hands avoid three areas when speaking: your chest, your hips, and each other (Source).  Hands are important, but your shoulders are, too.  Stand up straight with your head held high.  Don’t look down and read your notes, as this makes you look hunched or slumped.  Your goal is to appear confident and comfortable, as if every movement is controlled (Source).

Consider Steve Jobs’ open posture in the image below.

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Jobs looks like he knows exactly what he’s doing.  He appears trustworthy.  His posture is confident yet easy, as if he were talking to an old friend.  His head is up, his shoulders are back, he stands tall, and his hands are open.  He invites the audience to listen to him with his body.

Who else can we look to for an example of positive, open posture?