How do you work to grow your nonverbal communication skills?
Simon Sinek believes he knows the secret to why some ideas flourish and other ideas die. He says powerful leaders and communicators start with why. Sinek’s “Golden Circle” explains his theory:
Why is concerned with the reason or purpose of something. How is about the manner or means by which we do something. What is detailed information really focused on specifying something. In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, he explains Apple’s why as their purpose: to think differently, to push and to challenge the status quo. How Apple does this, the means and manner by which they share their purpose with the world, is through effective design and engineering. Lastly, the what, are Apple’s specific products: the iPhone, the MacBook Pro, iTunes.
Starting with why, next focusing on how, and then getting specific with the what is an approach I take in the classroom when teaching students a new concept. When it comes to public speaking and presentation, it’s important to have an overall delivery goal, a purpose for your delivery, the why.
When it comes to delivery, I am a proponent of Garr Reynolds’ “naked presenter” philosophy which says effective delivery should be natural, authentic, and real in order to connect with an audience. Reynolds says:
Being naked involves stripping away all that is unnecessary to get at the essence of your message. The naked presenter approaches the presentation task embracing the ideas of simplicity, clarity, honesty, integrity, and passion. She presents with a certain freshness. The ideas may or may not be radical, earth shattering, or new. But there is a “newness” and freshness to her approach and to her content. (Source)
Understanding this “naked” philosophy of presenting gives us a clear idea on why to deliver a speech this way: because we can deeply connect with our audience if we are human beings and if we show that humanity to others. This fundamental why purpose, or starting place, is essential when discussing, teaching, or learning more about effective presentation delivery.
It’s much easier to explain how to do something once you’ve established that why. Take a look back at Sinek’s Golden Circle. Starting from the middle, the core, and working out gives people a clear understanding of the bigger picture before tackling the specific details. Most audience members will only connect with an idea once they know why that idea is important and why it matters to them. Only after that purpose is established will they focus on gathering more information on how to live out that purpose and what to do to move in the right direction.
Reynolds breaks down how to deliver a speech using the naked presenter philosophy in “Make Your Next Presentation Naked.” He says we can be present in the moment; avoid trying to impress others and embrace trying to help/inform/teach others; keep the lights on; ditch our script and speak naturally from an outline; come out from behind the podium; move around the stage; and simplify (Source). He has many more how tips here.
Another great article explaining how to present naturally is “10 Powerful Body Language Tips.” The article examines nonverbal communication, body language, and gives us the means and methods by which we can speak more naturally using effective body language. We can power pose, remove barriers, smile, shake hands, and mirror the body language of our audience members, for example (Source).
Again, notice that some of these how tips are still a bit conceptual. The authors let us know the means and manner by which to present “naked,” but they aren’t yet giving us definitions. Definitions come at the what level.
Unfortunately, as Simon Sinek mentions in his landmark TED Talk, many people begin with the what. Many businesses focus on what. In my discipline, many teachers’ lessons only explain the what. For example, before I learned about Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter, I used to teach delivery by breaking it apart and defining each of its pieces: hand gestures, eye contact, vocal variety. I was teaching my students the what, and it didn’t work very well for them. If you’ve ever been in a public speaking classroom with a teacher lecturing on and on with the definitions of pronunciation versus articulation versus enunciation, you know the feelings my students experienced: boredom, apathy, annoyance. The entire time I listed definitions, they were wondering, “What’s the point of this? Why does this matter?”
So only after we define why and how should we get into those definitions – the what. When it comes to speech delivery, we should understand the purpose first, the means and methods second, and the definitions last.
How do you teach or learn about delivery? Do you agree that Sinek’s Golden Circle model works as an effective tool for communicating ideas in a powerful way?
Although this infographic puts a focus on getting ahead in business, these tips can certainly be used when speaking and presenting to an audience:
For more information on body language and how you can use it to your fullest advantage when presenting, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”
What body language tips would you give a novice presenter?
After seeing Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on nonverbal communication, I’ve been obsessed with her research and studies. Today, I found a TIME video with Cuddy. Check it out below:
This definitely gives great examples of high and low power poses and summarizes her TED Talk subject a bit. Watch her TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” here. It is definitely one of my favorites, and I shared a small clip of the Talk with my Professional Communication and Presentation class as a way to combat presentation anxiety. Power posing is definitely a trick for fighting that nervousness, and I hope it helps my students not only with speeches but also in interviews in the future.
I’ve also been following Cuddy on Twitter. She is truly inspiring. It’s not often that a beautiful young woman becomes successful based solely on the power of her mind and of her ideas, and I think she is such a positive role model.
Have you fallen in love with a TED speaker lately? Which TEDster inspires you most?
In my public speaking and presentation class, we talk about how audiences perceive your body language when you are speaking. “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” is a fascinating TED Talk, and social psychologist Amy Cuddy provides many engaging examples to explain nonverbal communication. I loved her take on “power posing,” which she explains is confident nonverbal posture and communication even in those lizard brain moments, and I will definitely be able to apply this to my class in the future.
Cuddy’s TED Talk is particularly interesting with the dissection of nonverbal communication in the current presidential debates. She says that when someone is being really powerful nonverbally that we don’t actually mirror them, we do the opposite of them (Source). Do you think that was the case in the first presidential debate?
Now that I’ve seen this amazing TED Talk and understand how to teach powerful nonverbal communication, I’m going to add onto my “Lizard Brain” and public speaking anxiety lecture. I can’t wait to share these messages with my students when I get back in the classroom in December!
What did you learn about body language and nonverbal communication from Cuddy’s TED Talk?
Some people might give you the advice to wear what you’re most comfortable in when presenting a speech. For me, that would be a pair of sweatpants, a soft Chi Omega t-shirt from my college years, and a pair of worn, hole-y gray socks with my dad let me borrow in 10th grade. I can only imagine what that comfortable outfit would be for you… No matter what you define as “comfortable,” don’t listen to the advice that you should look comfy and cozy when you present. This is a presentation. This isn’t your couch.
So why is it important to dress up? And what in the world should you wear?
Well, first, you are not a famous celebrity. You’re not Martin Luther King, Jr. or Oprah. If your audience doesn’t come from all corners of the globe to worship at your feet while you present, please dress in a way that will impress them. Why? Because Aristotle tells us a persuasive speech is comprised of ethos, pathos, and logos. If you’re going to convince an audience to listen to you (much less do what you say), you must pay attention to your ethos: your character and credibility as a presenter. Part of that ethos is, as much as we hate to admit it, the way we look.
We must make a strong first impression on our audience within about 6 to 7 seconds. Since a few seconds isn’t enough time to prove you are credible by presenting unbiased information, how does your audience determine your ethos? They look at what you’re wearing. You must look like you’re reliable and like you know what you’re talking about.
Some might argue that dressing too professionally makes you look uncomfortable because you feel uncomfortable. I completely agree, and this is why I wouldn’t suggest one standard, universal professional outfit for all presenters. Instead, consider what works best for you in your specific presentation venue. Is this a pair of nice jeans and a blazer? Is it a full suit? Is it a dress? Whatever you wear, a great rule of thumb is that you should appear a little more dressed up than your audience.
Looking the part goes a long way in persuading your audience that you are worthy of listening to. Learn more by reading the “clothing” section in “First Impressions: Nonverbal Communication Tips.”
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?
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.
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?
We discussed the importance of nonverbal communication in a presentation two weeks ago in “First Impressions: Nonverbal Communication Tips.” What happens when your commonly used American hand gesture offends your multicultural audience? Audience analysis and nonverbal communication are hugely important, and the folks at Daily Infographic explain why in “Hand Jive,” below.
Within the first six seconds of meeting you and shaking your hand for the very first time, John Smith has already formed an opinion of you. Similarly, when you begin delivering a presentation, your audience takes that six seconds to size you up and develop their first impressions. Often, before you even speak your first word, the audience has already made up their minds about you.
Since your nonverbal communication (your face and body signals) are so important to making a first impression, let’s examine them. There are five simple ways to ensure you make a positive first impression: posture, facial expressions, clothing, gestures, and engagement.
Posture indicates confidence or signals nervousness. Posture can be open or closed. Posture conveys feelings and attitudes. If you speak the words, “I’m so excited to be here this morning to speak with you about your company’s business plan,” but your posture is closed and slouchy, your audience will pay attention to what your nonverbal communication says over what your words say. Studies show that people trust nonverbal communication over verbal communication.
Common closed posture stances include crossing the arms in a bear hug or crossing one arm over the chest and grasping the bicep of the other arm. Your stance should be natural and as open as possible; arms and legs should not be crossed.
Slouching indicates laziness, apathy, and disrespect among other negative attitudes. Never lazily lean on a podium or drape your body across a platform when presenting. Stand up as straight as possible to project confidence, poise, and excitement. DeFinis argues, “The most effective standing position for speakers is one with a straight spine and erect head” (Source). Think about a male peacock displaying his beautiful feathers to attract a mate. His posture is strong and self-confident. Even if you are nervous, you must project feelings of strength and self-confidence to your audience through your posture.
Facial expressions are the second way to create a positive first impression. Facial expressions signal your emotions to people, so remember that your face and your feelings go hand-and-hand for your audience.
Focus on your eyes and your mouth to ensure your facial expressions are received favorably by your audience. A happy, friendly face has smiling eyes and a smiling mouth. Those wrinkle lines on the sides of your eyes and the corners of your mouth are what indicate a natural, true smile. Remember that your audience can tell the difference between a real and a fake smile, so try your best to give an authentic smile instead of to force a phony smile.
You may not want to convey joy and happiness to your audience. The most commonly identifiable facial expressions are anger, disgust, contempt, fear, sadness, joy, and surprise. Since facial expressions are such a complex study, learn more from “Facial Expression Analysis” by Tian, Kanade, and Cohn here. It all boils down to this: your audience wants to see a true, identifiable emotion through your facial expressions. If they do, and if your content then supports that emotion, your audience will mirror that expression back to you. This will allow your message to resonate.
A tense, nervous face is tight and often expressionless. Before you stand up to speak, loosen up your face by doing a few exercises. Shake off your scared face. Smile as big as you can until you laugh out loud. Close and widen your eyes. Move your lips; open your mouth and close it; wiggle your tongue around. These warm-up exercises will help you convey ANY emotion through your facial expressions.
Clothing is often the first thing people notice when forming a first impression. What you wear signals certain personality traits, characteristics, and cultural attributes to your audience. Appropriate clothing choices are key; you never want to be too overdressed or more underdressed than your audience. Remember that you can always take off a jacket and roll up sleeves to appear more informal, but there isn’t much you can do if you’re wearing torn jeans and a concert tee-shirt if everyone in the room is wearing a three-piece suit.
As a rule, the presenter should be a little more dressed up than the audience, as this can signal authority and help establish ethos. Above all else, you should appear clean and professional. Your audience should believe that you showered, thought about your attire, and double-checked yourself in a mirror before presenting. DeFinis Tweets, “The physical image that you present to your audience can essentially make or break your presentation” (Source). So what can you do to ensure your clothing makes your presentation instead of breaks it? Find out the appropriate attire before you present. Analyze your audience, and dress accordingly. Meet or exceed expectations. Your audience wants you to lead them with your presentation, so dress like a leader.
Remember these no-nos: no flip flops; no shorts; no hats. Flip-flops and shorts indicate a lazy summer spent lounging by the pool or the beach; shorts just aren’t formal enough for a professional speech. Wearing a hat indoors can be disrespectful to some audiences, but more importantly than that, hats can shadow or cover your eyes and make you appear untrustworthy.
Gestures include motions and movements made with the hand and body. There are three common nervous, annoying gestures: The Lady Macbeth, Happy Pockets, and The Rocker. Performing any of these gestures within the first few seconds of your presentation will solidify a negative impression.
“The Lady Macbeth” involves wringing your hands together. The Lady Macbeth movement takes the focus off of the presenter’s content because the audience is busy looking at the distracting repeated motions.
For people who store their belongings in pockets, “Happy Pockets” is the second distracting gesture. With keys and loose change in a pocket, moving around can cause you to jingle and jangle; the noise is annoying and makes the audience lose focus on your message. This becomes an even louder problem if you store your hands in you pockets and play with the loud items yourself. My suggestion? Take everything out of your pockets before you present.
“The Rocker” is the third and final distracting gesture. The Rocker isn’t a rockstar motion; this occurs when the presenter rocks back and forth (or side to side). The speaker has a lot of nervous energy, but the repeated motion looks like a pendulum or the long, swinging hand of a grandfather clock. The audience will feel that nervous energy and tension the presenter is emitting.
Move with a purpose. Walk to both sides of the room with a plan to connect with everyone in the audience. Use hand gestures to emphasize important points. The only way to help your gestures improve is to film yourself presenting and to watch how you release your nervous energy. Knowing your bad habits is the first step to correcting them.
Engagement is the most complex part of nonverbal communication and creating a grand first impression, but it is the portion that will make your next presentation truly remarkable, memorable, and fascinating. Engagement includes eye contact, proxemics, and overcoming barriers.
TED Commandment #9 says, “Thou shalt not read thy speech” (Source). One of the primary reasons behind this commandment is because eye contact is essential to engaging an audience. Eye contact should be steady. A presenter should never look down and read entire sentences from notes; this breaks the eye contact bond between persenter and audience and severs engagement. DeFinis suggests, “For sustained and powerful eye contact, look at one person for a full 3-5 seconds. Complete an entire thought and then move to the next person” (Source).
A presentation’s proxemics refers to the proximity between a presenter and his or her audience. Proxemics as a whole is the study of the physical space around people and how they use that space to communicate with others. Being too far away will cause the audience to detach; being too close will cause the audience to feel uneasy. Think about the “public space” distance compared with the “intimate space” distance. While it’s okay to be close enough to kiss your significant other or your parents, you cannot be that close to an audience member; he or she will feel like you are not intruding on their personal space bubble. Engaging your audience means knowing when to step forward, to learn in, to capture or re-capture attention by moving your body closer.
Lastly, overcoming barriers is a must. The most common barrier is the lectern. You don’t want to stand behind a podium because this is a physical barrier between you and your audience. The physical barrier is also a mental and emotional barrier, and it causes disconnect. Engaging your audience means moving out from behind your safe place (the “security blanket” of the podium) and using movement and proxemics to connect with your audience. Notecards can also be a barrier.
“Sight makes up 83% of the impact on the brain of information from the senses during a visual presentation. Taste makes up 1%, hearing makes up 11%, smell 3% and touch 2%” (Source). Make certain your audience sees a confident, strong, excited presenter so that within the first six seconds, your next presentation leaves a favorable impression.