Non-Verbal Communication
April 12, 2014 By Mette McCall


“Actions speak louder than words.” — It’s a phrase we’ve all heard time and again. But when thinking about it in terms of public speaking, it takes on a different kind of truth. Actions bring your talk to life, engage your audience, and establish your authority.
From the moment you take the stage, you are communicating with your audience. Everything from your wardrobe choice to how you stand to your posture says something about you.

Think back to a talk you attended in which the speaker reads from her notes the entire time with her head down, shoulders hunched. Or a class lecture in which the professor stands motionless and expressionless behind a podium. Not too memorable.

Remember, people make snap judgments. When a speaker fails to engage, the audience can quickly become distracted and it takes away from the speaker’s words and credibility as an authority. The speaker misses his or her opportunity to connect with the audience. So what are some non-verbal ways you can use to establish that connection? Following are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re speaking.


Social psychologist Amy Cuddy garnered 15.7 million views on her 2012 TED talk on body language. Her advice? Adopt a position of power — spread out, occupy the space, open up. People will view you as an authority. Conversely, clasping your hands in front of you (fig leaf pose), shoulders bent forward, or crossed arms indicate diminished power and confidence. Stride onto the speaking platform with purpose, poise, and a smile. And, even if you’re not quite feeling it, Cuddy says, “fake it to make it.”

Eye Contact

This is a crucial way to build rapport with your audience. A great speech can feel like a conversation when people believe that you are talking to them. Plus, it ‘s a great way to get instant feedback. You can scan across to see if the audience is listening, laughing, distracted, excited, or skeptical. Then, you can adapt or modify your talk in response. Toastmasters suggests that you select one person and speak to him or her directly. Hold that person’s eyes long enough to communicate one thought or sentence — five to 10 seconds — then shift to someone else.

Movement and Gestures

Your body language influences vocal expression, so aim for natural, spontaneous gestures and purposeful, fluid movements. Using gestures also enhances your words. You can use your hands descriptively to demonstrate size, (i.e. cupping your hands to demonstrate something small enough to fit in them, stretching arms apart to show width or length), or to show emotion (a clenched fist, a sad facial expression, or leaning forward in empathy). Be animated without being distracting. Movements often need to be exaggerated to communicate across a room. That said, you don’t want to distract the audience by pacing, rocking, touching your face or hair, or putting your hands in your pockets.

And, of course, don’t forget that you can use SpeakerScore to find out how well you’re doing and what areas need improvement! One of the questions on the evaluation asks your audience to rate your performance. The “Presentation” criteria measures your communication style, body language, and charisma. It also rates the quality of the slides and any visual aides used.

Watch your progress between talks by comparing your Presentation scores and use the results to hone your skills.
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