The next time you step up to speak in a high-stakes situation, consider this: Are your words, language, voice, and body aiding — or impeding — the delivery and impact of your message?
Most presenters realize too late that they’re sabotaging their effectiveness by not paying an equal amount of attention to the “how” as well as the “what” when they’re speaking. I’m sure you’ve witnessed a situation where a speaker’s words were contradicted by their body language or voice. Chances are, these contradictions made you question the presenter’s credibility.
For example, I recently saw a speaker conclude his presentation by saying, “I welcome any discussion on the information I’ve shared. Does anyone have a question?” The problem was, he said this while gazing down at his shoes. Because he said one thing while his body language indicated something completely different, no one raised a hand and the presentation came to an awkward, abrupt close.
Research shows that in circumstances where spoken and non-verbal communication is in conflict, your audience will believe your unspoken message over what you’re saying aloud. But when your spoken and non-verbal messages are congruent, communication is naturally more clear and easier to understand.
What you say…and how you say it
To have any chance of engaging your listeners to take action, you have to make sure that your words, body language, and voice are all in sync, working together to help your listeners believe 100% in what you’re saying.
To avoid impeding your impact through mixed messaging, here are four areas to consider:
Nothing suggests a thorough grasp on the subject matter and establishes your authority and credibility more than powerful posture — squared, direct and erect but not rigid or tense. Avoid clenching the podium, which communicates fear, or shifting your weight from foot to foot, which conveys nervousness and can be enormously distracting to your audience.
Consciously assess your hand gestures, asking, “What are they actually communicating to my audience?” Hand movements should be spontaneous and purposeful in complementing and punctuating your message, not half-hearted and weak. Remember: extraordinary presenters use more gestures that the average speaker.
Widened eyes, a furrowed brow, a frown or a smile are all important signals about how you feel about your own message. Unfortunately, under the pressure of delivering a presentation, many speakers don’t pay enough attention to their facial expressions. The effort of concentrating on your delivery can often come across as grim.
What’s the solution? As with gestures, consciously align your facial expressions with your message. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, try practicing in front of a mirror. Better yet, record and review your rehearsal.
The tone of voice should reinforce your words while helping you emotionally connect with your audience. For example, anger or joy tends to bring out a louder voice, while sadness or fear calls for toned-down volume. Varying your rate, pitch and volume when expressing yourself will engage your audience and elevate the impact of your message to a sure-fire home run.
To build enthusiasm and support for your vision, always remember that how you say something carries just as much importance — and may influence your audience more —than what you say.
By aligning and using every resource at your disposal, you’ll more easily move your audience in the right direction every time you step up to speak