‘The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.’ ~ Peter F. Drucker
Being a successful public speaker has many aspects to it. You should have a clear and firm voice, generate a tremendous amount of confidence, wax eloquent on the concerned topic in different ways, and be able to gauge the audience’s physical response (which is mostly subconscious) for improvisation. One of the most important visual cues in public speaking is your body language, which includes your general physical appearance, eye contact, gestures, postures, facial expressions etc. Let’s deconstruct each aspect and determine how crucial a role it plays in a public speech or presentation:
Be dressed for the occasion
Visionary entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs could dress in a casual turtleneck yet deliver a mesmerizing presentation because that was the enigma of his personality. Unfortunately, not all of us are blessed geniuses like him, so we have to take cognisance of the occasion or event that we are speaking at, and dress appropriately. For instance, if you have to speak on a business topic, then being dressed in a formal business suit will lend more credibility to your speech. Or if you are raising a toast at a wedding or honouring a particular person at a party, then also you should be dressed smartly to hold the audience captive to your speech. Remember, physical appearances are an extremely important visual cue for any speech or for that matter an interview to stamp a good impression. People will take you seriously if you take yourself seriously.
Always maintain eye contact
It cannot be stressed how important is it to maintain direct eye contact while public speaking. Looking directly at a person not only establishes friendliness, sincerity, and trust, but also results in an effective and successful public speech. If you turn your gaze away from the audience, it can have a negative effective, indicating disinterest. The eyes of the speaker are a mirror for his or her true feelings; if he or she is confident and sincere, this will reflect in his eyes and if there is a lot of self-doubt then this will also show. Frequent eye contact is, thus, of key importance in a speech but ensure that you don’t keep staring at one section of an audience or a particular individual to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.
Do not be expressionless
A speaker projects his emotions through facial expressions, which can evoke interest in the audience. It should be noted that a public speech is markedly different from talking in a small group or in face-to-face communication, because there is a distance between the speaker and the audience. Thus, you need to display a broader spectrum of emotions that will instill confidence in you as well as the audience. Do not show tension, nervousness or fear, but smile warmly to show friendliness, which can trigger a corresponding positive feeling from the listening group. The situation should not be like you are saying something positive but your facial expressions are indicating something else. It will make you lose your self-confidence and also confuse the audience.
Have a firm posture, use gestures appropriately and sparingly
It goes without saying that having a slouched posture can do grave damage to your speech. You should always stand straight as an arrow and ooze confidence, as if you are commanding your troops. That brings us to gestures. How should body movement and gestures be used effectively in a speech or presentation? There are different kinds of symbolic, descriptive, and emotional gestures that one can use to convey your messages. For instance, showing a thumbs up or pointing your finger to show a position, using your hands to communicate an idea or movement, having a clenched fist to indicate an authoritative stance or anger (used to great effect by political leaders), or clasped hands to appeal emotionally to the crowd. The important thing is that gestures should come naturally to you and should be in sync with the content of your speech. If you are giving an inspirational speech, no one will feel motivated if your arms are crossed or hands are crossed in front, for that can indicate disagreement or timid behavior. Your posture and gestures should be firm and authoritative, while also not give vibes of overwhelming dominance.