Open body language

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No one tries to look dishonest. So it is a big surprise that many new speakers adopt a pose that is down right deceitful.


They don’t do it deliberately but one of the most natural reactions to being asked to speak is to wrap your arms around yourself as a kind of defence mechanism cum hug. All very comforting but few audience members see it that way.


The people listening just think you’ve got something to hide.


The answer is wide flowing gestures that open your body up to the audience. The kind of movements that show you’re not concealing something, that make you look as honest as Buddha.


There’s more to it, honest


The best thing about open body language is not that it makes you look honest, it’s deeper than that. The audience’s positive view of you increases your connection with them. Building that connection in turn builds your confidence.


What could be better than standing in front of people and feeling that link grow? Ultimately, if you know your speech is going well then you relax, and your confidence grows.


Open your body language, connect with the audience and increase your confidence. What’s not to like?


Why do people use closed body language?


So why isn’t everyone strutting across the stage with great, open body language?


It is simple, speaking in public is scary. It combines all the worst bits of embarrassing ourselves and a group of people we don’t know. Its not surprising that many people rate it as their number one fear.


The upshot is that they do everything they can to reassure themselves while they are speaking. Sure, they do it subconsciously, but they are basically giving themselves a hug. Which makes a lot of sense, hugging, even if you are hugging yourself, produces reassuring and relaxing brain chemicals.


But while it might make you feel better the audience feels left out. After all, they want to feel the love too. That’s why you need to open up your body language and share the hug. So here are a few tips and tricks for widening your gestures so you embrace the audience instead of yourself.


Techniques for opening your body language


Don’t stand behind the lectern


If you hide behind the lectern then it doesn’t really matter how open your body language is. No one will see. Worse than that nervous people tend to clasp lecterns with super human strength. This doesn’t look great and probably damages the stand too.


Come out to where people can see you. By far the easiest way to increase your connection with the audience is to cast off the wooden safety blanket and stand in front of them.


If there is a microphone hold it


It is hard to cross your arms when you are speaking into a mic. It forces you to keep one hand pretty much static leaving the other one free for gestures. Your body language will not be completely open, but it will be more welcoming than if you had your hands clasped in front of you.


What if there is no mic?


You could also hold your notes. Just make sure they are on something smart like an index card rather than a scrappy piece of A4. The clicker that controls your projector also works but be careful as these are small and you can still fold your arms while holding one.


What if there is nothing at all to hold?


Try rehearsing while holding two heavy books. That way you cannot clasp your hands or fold your arms. You will feel stupid when you’re doing it but if you practise enough you will get used to holding your hands at your side. When you come to speak be conscious of what your arms are doing and keep them by your side unless you are making an open gesture.


Script your gestures


A lot of people spend time trying to work out what they intend to say but for some reason give no thought to what they are going to do. Communications experts will tell you that the way you say something is far more important than what you actually say. However you put it, speaking is about much more than words.


To make sure you get your gestures right, you should plan them while you develop your speech. Leave a blank column at the side of your notes and add your gestures there. If you script them then they will all be open and they will all be purposeful.


When you are practising you could start by learning what you intend to say. After you’ve done that you could concentrate on the way you are going to say it. Then why not have an extra couple of run-throughs to get your body language right?


Open for business


It is amazing the difference that open body language can make, it can transform you from a nervous wreck that is trying to hide something to a confident and honest person. We both know that you are confident and honest, but you need to show the audience that.


Next time you make a speech consider the following:

  • Get out from behind the lectern
  • Hold something to stop yourself hugging yourself
  • Practise holding your hands by your side (it’s harder than you think)
  • Script your gestures
  • Rehearse for body language


Open up your body language. It will open up a world of possibilities.

Duncan Bhaskaran BrownOpen body language

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