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We Trust What We See! Improve Your Speaking and Your Speakers With Winning Body Language

We Trust What We See! Improve Your Speaking and Your Speakers With Winning Body Language

Today’s executives need to do more than simply succeed: they need to stand out. Communications expert Mark Bowden explains how to use persuasive communication skills to set yourself apart, win trust, and generate profit. His trademark techniques are used by top leaders and political players around the world who want to gain an advantage—beyond words—when they speak. Below, Mark shares presentation and speaking tips for the event professionals who find themselves having to take the stage along with the speakers they book:

As an event professional, chances are you have to present to an audience now and again sometimes
under extreme pressure! You may be speaking to kick off an event you have organised, pitching for business, getting your new ideas heard by your organisation, or perhaps keeping an event buoyant while your assistant runs off to find the speaker that’s gone AWOL!

Undoubtedly you have had to coach the odd speaker yourself who is new to taking the stage or has a touch of the jitters about talking to a crowd.

I’ve coached thousands of speakers, even some of the world’s best. And I regularly speak internationally to all kinds of audiences big and small. So here for you now, and for anyone you have to help, are my top ten body language tips to win trust immediately when you find yourself speaking in front of any audience, any time. By learning and using these techniques, you and the speakers that you need to help will shine — and how well you or your speakers perform is ultimately one of the most visible and memorable indicators to an organisation of your great value to them.

When speaking, have a lavaliere or handheld mic and step away from the podium. If sitting, pull your chair back from the table — in short, display more of your body . Your audience’s instinctual ‘reptilian’ brain and emotional ‘limbic’ brain need to see your body to decide what they think your intentions and feelings are towards them. The less you show, the more they make those feelings and intentions up, and tend to default towards the negative.

Place your hands in what I have trademarked the TruthPlane, the horizontal plane that extends 180 degrees out of your navel area, to allow your audience to sense that you can be trusted. Bringing the audience’s unconscious attention to this vulnerable area of your body makes them feel that you have nothing to hide, are open to them, and are very confident. By assuming this physicality, you will feel open and confident too.

Show your palms open with nothing in your hands to show others know that you mean no harm and are speaking for their benefit. This is a universally recognised ‘friendly’ gesture.

When someone else is speaking, for example in the Q&A session, keep your hands in the TruthPlane to show you are open to what they say. By making small and subtle “inviting” gestures with your hands in towards you, you convey the feeling that you want to know more from them. This gesture makes presenter and audience alike feel good about what is being said, producing the stress-relieving
chemical oxytocin in the brain.

Show your audience you are excited by your subject matter by raising your hands to chest level, aka the PassionPlane. When you gesture with your hands in this plane, your own heart rate goes up, and your audience will mirror this physical reaction by getting excited about what you are saying along with you.

Avoid dangling your hands by your side when giving important messages. When you are still with your hands hanging down by your side, your brain gets the message to slow down your breathing and heart rate, and your voice will take on a depressing or sleepy downward intonation. Again, your audience will mirror this action — and that’s how to put them to sleep!

Keep your gestures symmetrical. The brain understands symmetry in the body more easily than asymmetry, and we find it more attractive. In nature, symmetry is seen as an indicator of a healthy gene pool.

Avoid having your hands at mouth level when speaking, for example when sitting at a table with your chin in your hands. We lip read more than we think, and when the picture of the words is taken away it becomes harder to verify the language. The audience will perceive or create negative feelings about the speaker’s intentions — in the absence of information, we ‘make it up’ and always lean towards the negative to prepare for the worst.

When giving a complex message, avoid complex movements… so no fiddling with your pen! It is hard for the brain to decode complex verbal language when it is concentrating on complex nonverbal behaviour. Your audience will stop listening while they try to understand what you are doing and what it means.

Don’t try to read other people’s body language consciously. Generally, most of us stand little more than a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Instead, concentrate on influencing your audience to mirror your simple and positive nonverbal behaviour, and they will be extremely likely to trust and engage with you every time you communicate.

Mark Bowden/May, 2015