3 Body Language Laws for Public Speakers

If you’re speaking in public it’s important to get the basics right. Body language is something that comes naturally to us as children, but often becomes more difficult as we get older. This article will help you master the basics of body language that speakers often get wrong.

When I was 9 years old, I was chosen to host the school’s end of year variety show. Dressed up in a miniature tuxedo, it was my job to compére the evening’s entertainment. Introducing each act to the audience of proud parents and teachers.

Each time I’d spring on to the stage with a big smile, wave my arms around enthusiastically and generally have as much fun as you’d expect a 9 year old to have in such a scenario. At no point did I announce to the audience, “I’m having a brilliant time up here”, but it would have been obvious for everyone to see that I was.

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How important is body language when speaking?

It’s often said that 70% of our communication comes from body-language. This statistic is actually a misrepresentation of the original study and the 70% figure shouldn’t be taken literally; but it sounded smart in presentations so people kept repeating it. 

Our body language has a greater or lesser degree of importance depending on the situation. You’re going to communicate more through body-language while giving an inspirational speech full of story-telling, and less delivering a technical presentation from behind a lectern.

But regardless of the circumstance, there are certain body-language laws we should follow whenever speaking in public. Here are three body-language laws to follow when public speaking, get them right or risk ruining your non-verbal communication.

Body Language Law for Public Speakers #1 – Face your audience (even if you’re nervous).

Ideally, just like nine year old me in my tuxedo, you want to stride onto the stage and greet your audience with a huge smile and eager expression, establishing an immediate positive connection with everyone in the room.

But the reality for most people is that public speaking is a stressful experience. We’re more likely to walk onto the stage feeling tense and nervous which then can result in us displaying negative body-language.

People will often try to hide this by looking down at their feet, or staring intensely at their notes. Looking away from your audience in this way tells them not only that you’re nervous, but that you’re too afraid to face what you fear. It’s perceived as weakness and will quickly lose you respect as a speaker. 

So no matter how anxious you feel, hold your head high and look back at your audience. Give them your attention, and your eye contact, even if your legs start to shake.

Rather than being seen as weak and afraid, your body language is now telling the room that you’re someone with courage and self-control despite being nervous. That’s something most people will respect and appreciate. An audience will forgive you for being nervous, but only if you face them with courage. Here’s some tips on building confidence when speaking.

Body Language Law for Public Speakers #2 – Let your hands do the talking.

Thousands of years before the invention of the spoken word, humans were communicating with each other using hand signals. Infact, this practise is so hard-wired into us that we use our hands when speaking without consciously thinking about it. 

But some time after the invention of the spoken word, came the invention of the trouser pocket, and humans began tucking their hands away while speaking. Eventually hands began to feel awkward and out of place, “what am I supposed to do with them while I speak”?

The answer is, you don’t have to do anything. Our hands already know how to communicate, they’ve been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years. Once you stop thinking about how to move your hands and focus on what you’re saying, they’ll instinctively begin to gesture in a way that matches your speech. 

The next time you’re public speaking, bend your arms at the elbow at a 90 degree angle in front of you, then do your best to completely stop thinking about them. You’ll find yourself automatically gesturing as you begin to speak. Focus on your words, and let your hands do the talking.

Body Language Law for Public Speakers #3 – If you have the space, USE it.

I believe you should try to incorporate stage movement wherever possible – but in the world of public speaking this is a hotly debated issue, so let me start with the following caveats of when not to use stage movement: 

      • When speaking at a press conference.
      • When speaking directly to a camera.
      • When speaking on a tiny stage that you could fall off. 

Besides these exceptions, if you have the space, use it – and if you don’t have the space, try to find a bigger room.

Don’t be a static speaker.

Give yourself the freedom to move around with enthusiasm while speaking. Remember that people tune-out what stays the same and pay attention to what changes, so the more mundane the speech the more it will benefit from stage movement. 

You might be thinking “why are you so bothered about this, Ed?” – Well apart from being an actor that’s used to prancing around stages, it’s because public speaking is a visual performance as well as an auditory one, and the most engaging speakers delight the ears AND eyes of their audience.

If you want to become a great speaker – or just want to avoid being terrible – start by getting these three body language laws right. Face your audience, let your hands do the talking, and if you have the space – use it. Fail to follow these laws, and you risk sending the wrong signals to
your audience – but get them right, and you’ll already be light-years
ahead of most people when public speaking.

In our public speaking courses we go deep into the detais of body language, teaching you to understand and emulate the non-verbal communication of the best speakers in the world. In order to maximise your credibility and confidence when speaking.

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Body Language Laws for Public Speakers

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A professional actor since 2015. Edward has performed to thousands of people in hundreds of theatres throughout the UK, and off-Broadway, as well as starring in award-winning films. After developing a keen interest in public speaking in 2014, he quickly realised the overlap of both skillsets and began exploring how to synthesize his theatrical training with oratorical techniques to develop fresh and innovative ways to coach people to express themselves confidently. In 2018 Edward worked as a public speaking coach for the NCS Challenge, alongside delivering private workshops, motivational speeches and continues to perform professionally on stage and screen.
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