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Body language can speak volumes

When it comes to giving a presentation, aligning body language with speech is integral to deliver the full impact of the message, according to Jane Cameron.

The district executive member at Toastmasters, an educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills, said that body language that does not match up to what is said could lead to confusion among members of the audience.

Ms Cameron outlines key pointers for effective body language.

The first is to walk tall, with positive enthusiasm towards the speaking area, to take a few seconds to pause before speaking and look round at the audience to establish eye contact and to engage with them as well as smiling and/or give a slight nod to acknowledge their presence.

The second involves the centred speaking posture.

Ms Cameron said: “You will appear, and feel, more confident when you stand tall with shoulders back, chest open, head up and arms straight, slightly out from your sides with palms open to the front.

“This posture helps open the lungs and diaphragm, allowing your breath to flow easily, your balance is stable, your voice is projected forward and you are displaying ‘open’ confidence to the audience.”

Thirdly, natural and confident movement will help dissipate nervous energy, but also adds impact and variety to the message and can improve engagement with the audience, Ms Cameron said.

“Stillness can also be a very effective communication tool; it can be a signpost to an important point or a transition, it can provide a literal pause and it can add variety to the overall speech delivery.”

The next tip is to use hand and body gestures to aid the structure of talk. Descriptive gestures can add depth to anecdotes or explanations and can emphasise the portrayal of emotion and sentiment, thus enhancing the content and delivery of the speech, Ms Cameron said.

Conversely, repeated hand clasping or lack of eye-contact can reveal anxiety and can distract the audience from the message, she added.

The fifth tip is to express yourself.

“A smile will provide a warm connection with the audience; eye-contact establishes rapport, it engages the audience and portrays confidence; raised eyebrows can communicate surprise, disbelief or questioning; a knowing sideways look with wide eyes or even a nod and a wink towards the audience can elicit a significant meaning,” she said.

Finally, the key to the effective use of gestures is to ensure they are appropriate to the content and context of the talk and are matched to the personality of the speaker and their message.

“Fake, overdone or unnatural movements could compromise your sincerity and lessen the impact of your message; they could also make you feel distracted and uncomfortable and therefore defeat their intended purpose.”

Adviser view

Justin Bunker, director at Bunker Riley Independent Financial Planners, based in London, said: “You could lose business on a bad speech – especially if a company is competing with others. If the audience is unable to follow a presentation they will switch off.”