Some speaker coaches would have us believe that one set of pre-specified behaviors is always appropriate and effective for and in any presentation. They think unilaterally—preordained gestures, identically choreographed movements, particular expressions. The truth is that the most effective speakers are those that capitalize on their own Best Natural Style℠.
One-size-fits-all ensures that the fit won't be good for most. When it comes to effective oral communication, one-size-fits-all curbs the creativity and potential effect of the speaker. Routinized, mechanical movement and expression interfere with communication, leaving an inflexible shell that has the impact of a wind-up toy.
A few basics provide a playbook of physical and vocal characteristics important for speaker effectiveness. These guidelines are always appropriate but provide flexibility for you to bring your own personality and style to bear.
Gestures reinforce and emphasize specific points. They're applied as needed, not based on a specific pattern. Observe these gesture basics whether you are standing or sitting but don't limit yourself to them.
- Larger audiences require bigger and slower-moving gestures.
- Gestures need to be above the waist; the movement starts in the shoulder, not in the elbow.
- Gestures should be visible above the top edge of a lectern.
- Avoid single finger gestures, such as pointing or shaking a finger.
- Use full, open-hand gestures.
- When you're not gesturing, rest your arms at your sides, your hands relaxed.
Everyone develops a personal repertoire of gestures. As a speaker, you will feel more comfortable and appear more credible when you apply to public speaking situations the same movements you use in one-on-one conversations.
PUT YOUR WALKING SHOES ON
Should you move when you are presenting? Yes, within limitations. Moving helps you release energy and keep the audience engaged. However, pacing or wandering aimlessly makes it difficult for listeners to focus on you and your message. A few basics will give you catwalk grace, increase audience attention, and help your tone and meaning ring through.
- Be still (anchored) at the opening and closing of your presentation as well as when you emphasize a point.
- Move deliberately to get someplace, rather than wandering around, and then settle down for a bit before you move again.
- Avoid turning your back on listeners.
- Be conscious of personal space—don't get too close to individual audience members.
Move as you wish within these confines, striding to the left or right, returning to center. Approach the screen or don't. Time your movement to the pace of your voice for emphasis or clarity if you wish. Move as only you can.
Vocal variety and facial expressions contribute to listeners' understanding in the moment and their willingness to continue listening. By satisfying the audience with appropriate volume, tonal variety, and changes in vocal pace and rhythm you entice them to listen forward—to be engaged, curious about what is coming next.
- Your voice needs to be loud enough for the entire audience to hear you, even when you speak at low volume.
- Tone and facial expressions should align with your message.
- Vary pitch, rhythm, and pace to avoid hypnotizing or boring your listeners.
Use your voice in all its manifestations—or in most of them, anyway. Show your enthusiasm, concern, puzzlement. Use facial expressions, too. Scrunch your face, break into a smile, raise your eyebrows in surprise. Represent.
Within these basics, you can fashion your perfect fit. Your custom-designed, one-size-fits-one combination of gestures, movement, and voice will ensure that you stand out from the crowd, shining in your own spotlight.