Insights + tips

The Myth of Body Language

" If you're worried about your body language, something's already gone wrong in your communication "

“What about my body language?” “What do I do with my hands?” “Should I move more?”

I get questions like this from people working on their presentations and speeches all the time and if you’re like most people, you will have had similar questions to these as you prepare your presentations, as you deliver your presentations and especially after you’ve finished!

My answer is a simple one – you’re asking the wrong question.

Let’s think about what you’re trying to do in a presentation – nearly always you’re trying to communicate a message – you’re trying to change the way the audience thinks, or feels, and ultimately you’re probably trying to change their behaviour – to get them to believe something different, or agree to something, or to believe something.

With very few exceptions, a good presentation will mean the right message, delivered in the right way, to the right audience. This means that the focus of a good communicator should always be primarily on the audience, and the message. This is your true work as a presenter.

However, when you start thinking about your ‘body language’, you’ve taken your focus away from the audience and the message and back to yourself. You’ve stopped communicating with the audience, so instead of worrying about your body language, you should making sure that your focus is in the right place and ask: “Is my messge getting through to the audience?”

Think about most of your real, authentic communication – having a chat with a friend, praising children, or a ‘robust debate’ with a colleague – in most of your communication you hardly think about your ‘body language’ at all – you care about communicating with a specific audience.

I’ve coached hundreds of people on their presentations and nearly always when they ask about ‘body language’ it’s because something much more fundamental has already gone wrong in their communication. Often they haven’t prepared their message well enough, or they haven’t rehearsed, or they’re not genuinely connected to their audience.

If you watch a great speaker or presenter, you’ll notice that pretty much everything that they do seems natural and relaxed – because it is! They’ll have prepared well and, as good communicators, they’ll be focused on communicating with their audience, not how they look themselves.

Conversely, watch someone who’s a bad communicator (I don’t want to point fingers, but many of our prominent UK politicians fall into this category!) you’ll notice that they often look tense, with weird, stiff, and unnatural gestures. They don’t look comfortable.

Why? Because they often either don’t believe their own messages, or they’re trying to please an entire country, and they’ve fallen back on the myth of ‘bosy language’ hoping that a few well-placed gestures will solve their communciation problems and that style will cover the lack of substance.

The reaction of most of us to this kind of speaker is that we stop trusting them, we kind them awkward and shifty.

So – the next time you’re worried about your body language, or your hands, or your movement when presenting, instead takes that energy and focus it on your message and getting your message across to your audience. If you prepare with this in mind, you’ll find that you almost never need to even think about your body language – the ‘right’ gestures and movements will appear, as they should, quite naturally.

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