(It’s not what you think!)
We’ve all been there. Presenting to an audience can be nerve-wrecking as it is, so the last thing you want to worry about is positioning your arms properly and gesticulating, right? We get nervous and focus too much on our delivery that we miss the point of getting our message across.
Body language can be very important to interpersonal communication. There are often critical ideas and emotions that remain unspoken but which are intimated through body language. Body language can also be instrumental to gauge the power dynamic between individuals engaged in dialogue.
But in performance, for example, when presenting to a group at a meeting or conference, we have less subconscious and sub-textual concerns. Because the presentation is just not about the speaker – it’s about the information that an audience needs to receive, to learn and make decisions. Our voice and body are the primary tools we use to communicate that information.
And as presenters, we’re not only judged by what we say but by our appearance too. It’s our natural instinct to judge what we see. As much as you want the audience to like you for your mind and not your appearance, their first impression is going to be based on how you look. They will mentally categorize you in just a few seconds, and then decide whether or not you’re a person they can connect with.
What you need to realize is that you have the power to shape and control the first impression that people use as a basis for judging you. By learning some of the principal ways that your own appearance, posture, gestures, facial expression and even tone of voice affect your mind, you will become more aware of the factors influencing your mood, and give yourself an edge in presentations and negotiations.
Here are some body language tips to keep your audience engaged throughout your stage time:
- Appearance: What you say is of course more important than what people see. However, your appearance is an important aspect of your presentation skills. You want your audience to listen to what you have to say. Dress the part. Your presentation begins the moment someone recognizes you as the speaker.
- Posture: Keep a good posture, stand straight with shoulders back, relaxed and feet shoulder width apart. Don’t cross your arms, put your hands in your pocket or slouch. Face the audience as much as possible and keep your body open.
- Eye contact: Eye contact is crucial when speaking. It genuinely connects you with your audience. And because you’re talking to people as if you’re in a one-on-one conversation, you’ll come across as conversational. That makes you easy to listen to and engaging.
- Gestures: Hand and arm movements are an important part of our visual picture when speaking in public. Not only are they a non-verbal representation of how we feel, they reinforce our message, and help us appear confident and relaxed. When using visual aids, point and look at the relevant data. The audience will automatically follow your hands and eyes.
- Breathe right: Relaxed and deep breaths ensure that your voice holds power and can project. Use slow and measured breathing to pace your speech, and pause to emphasize key points.
- Connect: Don’t hide behind a podium, your laptop, the mike or the screen. Orientate yourself towards the audience. They need to see your face, to know that you are attentive to their interests and available to meet their needs.
- Move with purpose: When you move (and you should!) have a specific destination in mind. For example, you can re-position yourself to address a specific audience to the left. Step forward to respond to a question. Walk around and towards people. Ever notice people tend to participate more if they have close proximity to a presenter?
- Smile: To make your audience feel comfortable, all you have to do is just smile! Smiling helps you feel more comfortable and reduces your tension – and because it’s contagious, it attracts a positive atmosphere that allows for an engaging discussion.
The importance of good body language cannot be underestimated. It’s incredibly important not only to audience engagement, but to how your overall message is received. No matter how good your speech, if you are motionless, expressionless and dull, your audience will lose interest within minutes.
Bonus tip: Ask a friend to record a short video of you presenting using a smartphone, and then give you feedback on your gestures. Use the list of common gesturing mistakes in this post as a checklist to improve your use of effective gestures.
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia
In Shelagh Stephenson’s Olivier-award winning dark comedy, The Memory of Water, three sisters reunite to bid farewell to their recently departed mother. As adults, it is evident that their present lives have not lived up to expectations. That’s how life goes. But these girls can’t even agree on their shared past. And that’s how memory goes.
A common estimate used by psychologists suggests that a single ‘moment’ can last up to 3 seconds. So we experience about 20,000 separate moments each day, and about 500 million of them if we live to be age 70. Professor Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist suggests that the vast majority of these moments simply vanish: poof – gone. And the memories we are left with can be very different from our experiences!
He distinguishes between what he calls the Experiencing Self and the Remembering Self. One of his favourite illustrations of this dichotomy is a story about a music lover, listening to a rare vinyl recording of a symphony. For 20 minutes, he got to experience some of the most sublime music of his life. Then, right near the end, there was a scratch on the record, a loud squeak, and he angrily declared: “It spoilt the whole thing!” But did it? He had enjoyed 20 minutes of lovely music, many moments. But that single negative moment coloured his memory of the entire thing. That’s what he committed to memory. What a shame.
What we now know is that, of the very many moments we experience in life, we are selective about which ones we commit to memory. And, for significant moments, we never simply record the facts. There’s always an emotional component – a feeling – that gets attached to the memory of that moment, and the two parts are not easily separated.
We all know people who lean towards a ‘glass is half empty’ philosophy of life. So is this merely a phenomenon that affects the pessimists among us? Probably not. Scientists believe that we are hard-wired to actively seek out, and remember, the negative. It is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that enhances our ability to survive. Which I imagine was very useful in the jungle (“Yikes! A tiger, big teeth, scary, avoid in future!”) but occasionally frustrating for us in the modern world. For how does a ‘ruined’ memory of music impact the survival of the species? It doesn’t. But our hard-wired cognitive processes can’t automatically distinguish between the two.
Naturally, we also store and recall good memories. Things that nurture us, or feel pleasurable, are worth repeating if we get the chance, for they can also help our survival. For example, last week I was offered a piece of soda bread in a restaurant. It looked and tasted exactly like my granny’s bread, and I vividly remembered a warm kitchen and the smell of her apron as she hugged me close, more than 40 years ago.
That the girls in our play recall their shared experiences quite differently should come as no surprise. The emotional component of those moments was quite different for each of them, as our audience discovers along the way. One of the key reasons that the practice of mindfulness is so popular today, is the discovery that we can ‘hack’ our minds. By consciously marrying a neutral, or less negative, emotion to an immediate unpleasant experience we can influence our future mental states. Literally, we can write happier endings. It’s fascinating stuff.
In the 1960s Ellie Greenwich was a prolific songwriter, responsible for dozens of classic hits from The Girl Group era. Vi, the girls’ mother in our play, would certainly have sung along to these tunes as she got ‘dolled up’ to go out to the dance hall. One of Ellie’s lesser-known songs laments the heartache of having loved, and lost. The aching end lyric goes like this: “I wish I never saw the sun shine. I wish I’d never saw the sun shine. Cos if I never saw sunshine baby then…maybe… I wouldn’t mind the rain.”
As theatre makers it’s our job to know the breadth of human possibilities, and the depths of our individual character’s possibilities. We work with what the author gives us, and we can’t rewrite the ending. But by holding up a mirror to life, we believe that great theatre can help an audience to rewrite their own script, and maybe learn to love a little rain.
Written by Sean Worrall, an Ensemble Member of Wag the Dog Theatre.
The Memory of Water will play at Drama Centre Black Box, 100 Victoria Street, Singapore from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets are $35, available at SISTIC.