Tip #9

Public Speaking Basics: Facial Expression and Body Language

This video provides public speaking tips about general body language and developing facial expression.

Body language is important. Whether we like it or not, people often take note of how we say things more than what we actually say. Ideally, your body should enhance your message, not weaken it.

First, let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. Body language involves mannerisms that communicate non-verbally. This includes gestures, but gestures are movements made to express ideas. For example, “Come here,” and so forth. These are intentional. By contrast, body language may or may not be intentional. Either way, it gives us clues about the speaker’s state of mind.

The most important guideline to remember is to keep your body language lively. Avoid crossing your legs, locking your knees, or putting your hands in your pockets. Locking your hands behind your back is also a no-no.

Keep your movement fluid and remember to avoid repetitive patterns. Balance your weight on both feet evenly. If you begin swaying back and forth like a palm tree, you can stop this nervous habit by placing your feet at a 45-degree angle. Shuffling or kicking your feet also indicates you’re nervous. Please minimize this by raising your awareness.

One movement you may want to add to your repertoire is what’s known as a “pause and nod.” Just as the name implies, you pause and nod after delivering a key idea. Okay?

Let’s turn our attention now to one of the most important aspects of body language: Facial Expression. Like all aspects of body language, it should be natural. In addition, however, it’s important to be sincere and friendly. If you’ve ever read Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” you understand the power of just being open and honest. I cannot teach you how to be open and honest. It’s a matter of choice, but, if you always seem guarded, the audience will reflect this back to you and be reserved. In addition, if you try to be someone you’re not, people will start filtering your message and judging you. The audience understands nervous facial expression and mannerisms. What they don’t accept is someone who doesn’t seem sincere and friendly.

There is no one proven way to develop better facial expression. Life experience helps, but just being a natural goofball like Jim Carey or Robin Williams can do the trick, too. One method anyone can use to improve facial expression is to become a “people watcher.” We do it as children, then some of us fall out of the habit of studying people’s faces. Watch lots of movies and TV. Go to a shopping mall and watch people. Some people are inscrutable, but most people reveal their true emotions when they react to what’s going on. Study the human condition, and you will find engaging facial expressions appropriate for various types of messages. Everyone has a style. Just look for role models who suit you.

In this lesson, we’ve looked at the most basic tips, but I think it’s enough to help anyone deliver a more successful speech. Remember, sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than the friendly face of a sincere person. Let your face and fluid body language enhance your message!


Last modified: August 2, 2020
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