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Public Speaking - Let's Get Physical

Aug 1, 2008
Passion

Although developing proper eye-contact technique and learning how and when to pause are absolutely essential to acquiring "The Skills" - you're not finished yet. The last element involves adding the emotional to the mechanical. What we're referring to here is the element that works to lock in your audience once you've successfully engaged them with your eye-contact and person-to-person approach. What we're talking about is passion.

The truth is, you can break almost all the 'rules' about proper delivery if, in the end, you deliver your message with true passion. There are even some great speakers out there whom you'll notice will occasionally break some of the rules, but they get away it because they wrap you up so tightly in their passion that you don't notice.

With the easy availability of information today, there are many people who know a great deal. But knowledge matters very little if you can't convey what you know with a level of passion that drives people to sit up and listen.

After all, it's not likely that anybody in the audience is going to care more about your topic than you do, so to ensure that audiences come away interested and motivated to learn more, it's incumbent upon you, the speaker, to stretch to the point of almost going over the top with passion and enthusiasm for their topic.

So how exactly do you convey passion?

Gestures

One way to let your audience know how you feel is to demonstrate it physically. In our on-site classes we have a lot of fun with the gestures module. What you need to know about gestures is that in keeping with Rule #2, when you incorporate meaningful body movement into your presentation, it provides a win-win for all.

The presenter wins, because every time you move the muscles in your upper body it burns some of the excess energy running through your body. In a modern world one-against-many environment, it's not healthy for your career or your freedom if you choose to either fight your audience or flee the scene. So what do you do with that excess energy? You move your arms and hands in concert with the words coming out your mouth. You paint pictures of the words or the action you're describing. We say in concert because, unfortunately, most of the body motions we see presenters use tend to distract from the message rather than add to it:

If you're not guilty of any of the above, you probably err on the other side - in fact, most people don't gesture at all. Or their gestures are so reserved that they fail to either burn off energy or signal enthusiasm. What you want to do is put enough energy into your gestures that you both burn calories and let the audiences know that you care enough about your topic to actually get physical about it.

So far, we've talked a lot about what not to do. Now its time to examine (and practice) the type of physical skills that will project your professionalism. As easy as it is to define distracting gestures and nuances, it is also fairly easy to adopt the practices that can define you as a professional presenter. In this lesson, we'll work on the basics of maximizing your impact on the audience.

The first thing is to adopt a stance that both appears balanced and also allows you to keep from needing or wanting to rock or pace back and forth.

The Neutral Position

Then, figure out exactly what you are going to do with your hands and learn to gesture from the shoulders, not the elbows. Use your hands to describe and emphasize. Drop your hands down gently to your side (known as the neutral position) when you're starting your speech or when you're finished gesturing.

When you gesture from the neutral position, your gestures become more emphatic. If everything comes from the middle magnet position it looks like you are stuck in a phone booth. Dropping your hands down to your side is of course extremely difficult to do. With most people the hands immediately come back together like magnets or start grabbing things like clothing, various body parts like your face, or they jump back into your pockets.

So when you're talking about an increase in sales, show us your hand up in the air. To demonstrate lowering costs, extend your other hand down below it. And here you might mention that the space in between represents profit, which is a good thing, because that's where profit sharing comes from!

Studies have shown that gesturing lightens the cognitive load while speaking and actually helps you think. This may be why its not unusal to watch someone become very physically animated while talking on the phone, even though the person on the other end can't see them.

For maximum impact, then, balance your stance, feet shoulder width apart. You want to use your hands, but you want to use them appropriately. You want to use them in a way that helps to further your message. And then you want to increase your volume, increase your inflection as much as possible to show how strongly you believe in the words you have to say.

Passion is the driver.
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.
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