Hesperia by Frank Bernard Dicksee
Psychology professor Albert Meyerabian’s famous 7%-38%-55% rule states that people convey only 7% of their information in words. Another 38% is through intonation, and the remaining 55% is through body language.
The statement above has never been a secret to experienced speakers. We know that special attention was paid to gestures, postures and facial expressions when teaching oratory in Ancient Greece and ancient Rome. None of this is surprising. Body language is much older than spoken language. Even with the advent of articulate speech, body language continued to improve and develop. For example, with primitive hunters, who in order not to frighten off their prey, were often forced to communicate without words.
Why don’t we use it to its full extent today? By this, we do not mean specialized sign language. Surely, each of us can easily remember examples from their life when information had to be transmitted without spoken words or written text, for example, during lessons or lectures.
So, whether we like it or not, as a presenter, we inevitably broadcast a great deal of information using body language. If you do not do it well, if you have not learned to control it, this process will take place at the subconscious level. In this case, you will surely “tell” the audience something additional.
For example, you may show your excitement or insecurity. Or take a defensive stance when you are asked a tricky question. Of course, everything could be fine, but some gestures associated with these emotional states are close to those used by people who want to hide something or simply wish to deceive the interlocutor.
The fact that most viewers will perceive this information unconsciously does not change anything. Distrust of the speaker, and therefore of the information presented by them, which has arisen subconsciously, is no better and maybe even worse than situations when a potential client has rational motives to refuse the offered product or service.
At best, the mechanical reproduction of learned gestures and grimaces will make you laugh; at worst, it will alienate the audience. Remember the moment in James Cameron’s movie where John Connor teaches the Terminator to smile? In that case, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is an excellent example of how not to act in front of an audience. Whatever “words” in body language you reproduce, learn to do it so that they fit organically into your image. Then, feel free to rehearse in front of a mirror or record your actions on camera.
Your posture should indicate that you are confident and ready to communicate. Straighten your shoulders, do not lean to one side, but do not sit as if you have swallowed a stick. A good chair with an adjustable back will help you to have and maintain a free, relaxed posture.
Our breath is another telling marker of our mood. Breathing too fast may indicate fear and a desire to run away. Uneven breathing, with yawns and heavy sighs can indicate fatigue, boredom, or the desire to hide something. Even, calm breathing is a good demonstration of confidence and is also one of the best ways to gain that confidence.
Unlike recording a live performance in front of a hall, a standing speaker is an exception for online events. For viewers, this can cause a variety of associations – with a university professor, a stand-up comic, an entertainer or a boss. At the same time, the probability that these associations will be met with an “emotional minus sign” is relatively high. Therefore, it is better to avoid them, justifying the performance on your feet by the circumstances.
For example, standing is a logical decision if the presentation is related to a large object. A car, an apartment, large household appliances or furniture, a tourist attraction, a hotel room or art in a gallery – it is logical to talk about these and similar objects while standing and/or on the go.
However, it’s common for speakers to be comfortable giving presentations standing up, no matter the context. This makes them feel confident and comfortable. If you are in this category, try actively working with a magnetic writing board, pictures and markers. And no pointers – only hand gestures. The pointer is a harsh reference to the times of study, which, as already mentioned, evoke negative emotions and associations for many.
Faced with the need to control their gestures and facial expressions, many aspiring speakers decide to forego body language altogether. Instead, they freeze in one pose, like a statue, fix their glassy, unseeing gaze at one point and read the text with a stony expression in a droning monotone. A terrible sight! If you ever think about doing this, immediately throw the idea out of your head. Better yet, don’t be lazy and record a text in this style on video for multiple uses. We assure you that one such experiment will be enough.
In most cases, an online event host must see their audience. In this situation, it is common to forget that the audience sees you perfectly and subconsciously reacts when you look at them, almost the same way as if you were physically next to them.
Therefore, you need to behave as if the audience were sitting in front of you, looking not at a specific viewer but the entire audience at the same time. To do this, learn the change the direction of your gaze every few seconds, doing it smoothly and calmly to take in everyone.
If this point is the camera lens or the approximate center of the screen, the viewer may feel that you are looking directly at them, which is one of the most obvious forms of aggressive behavior.
If your gaze is fixed in such a way that you seem to be deliberately looking away from the audience – for example, at one of the corners of the screen – the audience may get the impression that you simply do not want to look at them. This, in turn, can be perceived as a sign of arrogance and/or contempt.
You demonstrate uncertainty by shifting your gaze from side to side and up and down. Often such behavior is perceived as a desire to lie or one who is actively lying.
Such behavior is one of the clear signs of guilt, subordination and insecurity. In addition, the audience becomes annoyed when the speaker is consistently looking somewhere off screen. At maximum you can sneak a glimpse of the keyboard. But it’s better not to do this and master blind typing if you need to work with the keyboard.
A smile, eyes opened slightly wider, slightly raised eyebrows, a slight, smooth nod of the head – these simple gestures will help to emphasize the importance of the moment. For example, at the beginning and end of the presentation as a whole or its sections.
Your hands can say a lot. Having them folded on your chest signals that you have assumed a defensive pose, clenching your fists demonstrates readiness for an attack. Scratching your nose, constantly adjusting your glasses, pinching your earlobes, ruffling your hair, grabbing the edge of a table or armrests – these actions show insecurity and provoke distrust. Of course, all of the above is best avoided.
If you need help enhancing your presentation’s positive impact with gestures, it’s best to keep your hands occupied with something utilitarian. For example, put your right hand on your computer mouse, and keep your left hand next to the keyboard. Of course, an old-school option from the pre-digital era – a pen and notepad – is also good. But to tell the truth, this is a temporary solution. First and foremost, a good speaker must learn to “speak” with their hands.
The smoother it is, the better. A sudden movement is perceived as a direct threat. But make sure to distinguish smoothness from slowness.
Broad gestures speak of a lack of restraint. In addition, in the case of an online presentation, a broad gesture makes the presenter’s hands fly out of the frame. To avoid this, imagine that your hands are placed in a box with sides the size of a fifteen-inch computer screen. All your gestures must be contained within this imaginary box.
As with a poorly constructed phrase or an inaccurate term, a wrong gesture can distort the meaning of the message you would like to convey. Your gestures should be meaningful actions, not instinctive hand movements.
Enumeration – numbering with fingers.
Growth – a horizontally open palm, rising from the bottom.
Small or decreasing – connected or slightly separated thumb and forefinger.
Victory – index and middle fingers forming the letter ‘V’. The palm should be turned towards the audience.
You (or ‘you’ in the sense of the audience as a whole) – palm facing the audience with fingers extended. It is important to remember that directly pointing at a person or an audience with one finger is impolite and aggressive. Even if you want to emphasize the word “I” or “me” with a gesture, it is better to do this with the whole palm.
In stages – a horizontally open palm raised upward in a series of movements, as if walking up the stairs.
Weigh everything well – two palms forming handfuls as if swaying relative to each other.
Stop – open palm facing the audience.
When preparing a presentation, body language should be given as much attention as the text since you convey information non-verbally as much as with words and intonation. The examples in this article are intended to show the importance of body language for presenters and give a general idea of its richness. Professional speakers must study it and improve in it all their lives.
Good luck to everyone and high income! And remember to use ROI4Presenter – the most advanced service for presentations, webinars and other online events.
This article is a part of our e-book “Psychology of presentation”