Could your body language be more expressive? Do you inhibit your natural body language when you're speaking in public because of your self-consciousness?
Maybe you've been told (by a well-meaning but misguided person) that you wave your arms around too much. As a result you have shut down your natural gestures and have become stiff and boring.
The secret to curing boring body language in public speaking is to replicate the state you're in when you're in an animated one-on-one conversation. When you're in that state your gestures unconsciously complement what you're saying and give your message energy and persuasive power. You'll look and feel more confident. There's even evidence that natural gesturing makes you more fluent.
Here's what to do to develop natural, expressive body language when you're speaking:
1. Empty your hands.
Put down anything you're holding, whether it be a pen, the remote, or your notes. (Once you're gesturing naturally you can hold your notes or the remote, but for the moment they just make freeing up your gestures more difficult.)
2. Keep your hands free.
Holding your hands together, putting them in your pockets, or hanging onto the lectern will stop you from gesturing.
So where should you put your hands? For the moment just let them hang loosely at your sides. (This is a default position—not where your hands will stay.) I know this feels awkward; you probably feel a bit like a gorilla. Not to worry; you'll look relaxed, and nothing more.
Your hands will probably creep together without your noticing. When that happens, immediately separate them again.
OK. We've gotten rid of the barriers to expressive body language. Now what?
3. Talk to one person at a time.
When you're in a one-on-one animated conversation, your hands naturally gesture. So kick-start your hands into gesturing by replicating that animated state. Do this by looking at one person and feeling in that moment that you're talking to them and to nobody else. At the end of a phrase or short sentence, talk to someone else in the audience. Always be talking to someone. (For more tips like this, see 8 presentation tips to make your eye contact more powerful).
4. Move your feet.
To enlarge your body language, move your feet. You could, for example, move toward the person you're talking to. The larger body movement will free up your body and encourage you to make larger gestures. For more ideas on moving while you're speaking in public, check out 9 ways to use space in your presentation.
5. Vary your gestures.
Once you've opened up your body language, check that you're not making repetitive gestures. Ask someone to give you feedback, or video yourself. In my early public speaking days, I watched a video and saw that my most common gesture was moving my right arm from the elbow outward—as though I were constantly opening and closing a door. Once I was aware of it, I changed what I was doing.
Remove distracting and repetitive gestures, but don't choreograph what you're saying with specific gestures. It will look forced and unnatural.
Follow these five steps, and you'll develop natural body language that will add energy, engagement, and persuasive power to your presentations.
Have a minute? That's all you need to cure verbal tics. Take a look:
Olivia Mitchell is a senior trainer for Effective Speaking, and is based in Wellington, New Zealand. She blogs at Speaking about Presenting, where this article originally ran.