"Smile - You're on Camera"

The power of body language in leadership communication

Have you noticed how little you take in at the very beginning of a talk or presentation? Ever wondered why that is?

During the first 60 seconds you are subconsciously judging the speaker, weighing them up, deciding how credible, how authentic, how competent they are - and you do that by assessing their body language.

Body language includes eye contact, posture, gesture, movement, facial expression. Does the speaker: smile, frown or look anxious; gesture appropriately or have arms hanging motionless by their sides; look at the audience or look away; have a defined, confident posture or a hunched, closed one; move purposefully or in an uncontrolled manner? Even how much a person opens their mouth when they are speaking is an indication of their level of comfort with speaking in public and their situation.

Body language tells the audience how the speaker feels about him/herself and how s/he feels about their message. When it goes wrong the secondary messages being conveyed are:

"I don't want to be here speaking now."

"I don't believe what I'm saying."

"Don't buy-in to my message."

Communication through body language is a skill which many executives find difficult. Many people are physically inhibited. They have simply never learnt to communicate with their body. They can become caught up by the cerebral side of their message: the information, the slides, trying to remember what they want to say. The pressure of the situation can make them 'forget' how to stand, breathe and use their hands - whether they're talking to hundreds of people at a conference, a camera or to an individual.

The idea that we communicate with our whole bodies - not just our heads - might be new. A skill which has to be learnt. And if you haven't learnt this naturally from a parent skilled in public speaking, then you need to learn it later in life. As most parents are not orators by trade, it tends to be a feature of leadership communication which is under-developed.

So what steps can you take?

There are several things you can do to enhance your awareness of body language as well as how well as learn how to use it in your own leadership communications:

1. Watch a TED talk or presentation with the sound turned down. Ask yourself what messages you are getting from the speaker. Does the speaker engage with you? How do they do that? Can you tell whether they are they delivering a positive or negative message?

2. Try saying something to a colleague or partner without words (this is an exercise we sometimes use). How hard did you find this on a scale of 1-10?

3. Work with an experienced coach to get a professional assessment of your body language.

As well finding out how effective your body language is, this will also highlight any mannerisms which you many be unaware of, such as fiddling with a ring, rocking on heels, repeatedly pulling at a piece of clothing and so on.

Great speakers know how to underpin their messages with body language - and how to use it to gain credibility, connect with their audiences and win them over.

Body language contributes to how your audiences perceive you. It influences emotions and helps to create the right mood in the room. It's a skill that you can't afford to ignore.

To find out more about the Speaking as a Leader program being delivered to business leaders and managers around the world, please contact Simon Cannon, a director at Professional Voice, on:

+44 (0)208 579 6662