March 8, 2012
CRITERION #2: POSTURE
What is it communicating?
Stand tall. Stand proud.
Body language. As the term implies, it speaks to us. And it speaks volumes. It’s said that world-class tennis professionals are able to get the measure of a match by the way an opponent walks back to the baseline after a point. If they detect a certain despondency, or lack of confidence, they go in for the kill.
It’s remarkable how much is communicated by the way in which you carry yourself. And it’s true that if you discipline yourself to adopt a winning posture, it puts you one step toward realizing victory. Stand tall. Stand proud. You’ll feel good about yourself; and so will your audience.
It goes without saying that good posture puts you in the right physical attitude to deliver forthright, authoritative words. The physiology of speech demands a well-grounded, upright posture with chest thrust forward and lungs full of air. Indeed, a few deep breaths is still the best medicine for stage fright, and concentrating on maintaining the right posture will encourage the right breathing.
While we are on the subject of body language, there are two other parts of the anatomy that play an important part in the delivery of a speech: the hands and the eyes.
HANDS – I’m sure you’ve met people who “talk with their hands”. When one is impassioned, the hands just seem to come into play as a way of punctuating one’s feelings. To be dispassionate about this for a moment, it plays dividends in audience appreciation to exhibit as full a range of emotion during a speech as is possible (or appropriate). One can literally pick one’s way through a written text and choose the moments when emotion should rise to the surface, and these are the moments when the hands can come into play. It’s not required to make grand, sweeping movements in the melodramatic style of an Isadora Duncan; a simple, open-handed gesture that emphasizes your point will suffice. The open-handed gesture toward the room is a telling piece of body language that embraces the audience and includes them in your delivery. So, use your hands when you feel like it. When you want to communicate a certain passion, excitement, energy. Even in a dry, factual speech, there are moments of emotion that can be gleaned. Search for them… and put them to use.
Caveat – One can err on the side of too much hand movement. There are speakers who accentuate every darned point they make, and who end up looking contrived and mechanical in their delivery. Don’t overdo it, that’s all. But do do it. It’s important.
EYES – In turning to the eyes now, it’s clear that they are not only used to read the script. Establishing eye contact with audience members is really the only means you have of making a personal connection. Eye contact will eliminate the artificial barrier created by the stage, and shrink the distance between you and your listeners.
There can be a tendency to think of the audience as one generalized, amorphous entity rather than as a collective of very specific individuals. Instead of thinking of them as an audience, start thinking of them as people – each of whom has their own, personal perspective on your presentation. And it’s your job to connect with each one individually. Make it into a game. Each time you raise your eyes from your speech, try and pick out a new face in the audience, and talk directly to that person. Sometimes, inexperienced speakers will have a friend or colleague in the audience, and they will focus most of their eye contact on that person. To do so is comfortable, yes… and usually unconscious… but be aware that it excludes the rest of the people in the room.
N.B. Reality of stage light in your eyes.