5 ways to improve your body language
With 55% of communication originating from body language, you’d think we’d all be experts in conveying the right message. According to Bonnie Ellis, PhD, speech therapist and instructor in the University of Phoenix College of Humanities, humans read and interpret nonverbal cues all the time, whether in one-on-one meetings or watching group presentations.
“Most people think about what they’re saying — not what they’re showing,” she says. “Once they’re aware of the nonverbal signs, they can eliminate them.”
According to Ellis, common miscues that convey nervousness are fidgeting and looking at the floor; some people read “dishonesty” if you’re touching your face or not looking at them.
Ellis points out that most people want to be perceived as experts, whether they’re in an interview or speaking to an audience. “I don’t care if you’re scared to death — just don’t show the audience. With practice, speakers can feel more confident and in control.”
Ellis suggests following these five tips to change how the world reads your nonverbal cues:
“When I work with public-speaking students, the first thing I do is videotape them,” Ellis explains. She asks students to speak for 90 seconds, and then watch and critique their performance. “Communication problems exist because you don’t know what you’re doing. Knowing is the first step to eliminate unnecessary movements,” she explains.
Start with a routine.
Ellis suggests that, when planning for public speaking, you train yourself to “stand with weight equally on both feet, keep hands at your sides, take a breath, look at the audience, take another breath — and then speak.”
Plan and practice how you move.
“Set up how you place your hands and lean your body,” Ellis explains. “Crossing your arms and leaning away from the audience shows defensiveness, so let your arms and hands move naturally. And lean slightly toward the audience to show confidence and engagement.”
Make eye contact.
“Whether you’re in front of an audience or just one person, you want to look at them as if you’re having a conversation,” Ellis says. “Your voice will take on a much more relaxed, natural tone, which conveys confidence.”
Break down barriers.
Standing behind something or crossing your arms, hands and legs creates a barrier between you and your audience. “The goal,” Ellis explains, “is to engage your audience.”