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Use the Power of Nonverbal Communication to Connect With Your Audience: 7 Tips

by Carrie Beckstrom     Dec 16, 2021 5:00:00 AM

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"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you’re preparing to make a presentation or give a talk, it’s likely you do what most people do: focus solely on your content. While what you have to say is definitely key, how you say it—through nonverbal “language”—is a lot more important than you might think.

As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of research out there that says anywhere from 50 to 90% of the impact you have on people is a result of nonverbal communication. Your posture, gestures, facial expressions, and the tone and cadence of your voice, play a huge role not only in getting your message across to an audience, but also, in engaging them, building trust, and increasing your credibility.

So, what can you do to bring your nonverbal delivery to the next level? 

I’d like to share the following seven aspects of nonverbal communication that, if done well, will make you a more powerful presenter and communicator.

(If these pointers capture your interest and you find yourself wanting more help with presentation skills, contact us. Our global team can deliver a custom curriculum to meet your needs.)

Tip 1

Mind Your "Stance" and Move With Purpose

Your primary goal with your posture is to create a balanced, confident foundation.   

When you stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart—or sit tall in a virtual setting—you'll feel more focused and your audience will sense your confidence and authority. 

And when you do move, make sure it’s with purpose—not from nerves.

Arm-crossing, leg-crossing, pacing, or rocking in your chair are all distracting to your audience and make you look less assured and believable. Your movement should complement your message, not distract from it.  

The way you move and carry yourself conveys your personality and your intention to others. 

Your stance and posture are important, but so are your gestures.  Let’s take a look at what works . . .

Tip 2

Gesture to Clarify and Reinforce Meaning

When you gesture effectively, you paint a picture that makes your message more clear, vivid, and interesting. And in important ways, gesturing allows you to reach out and connect with your audience. 

Stay in the zone

Learn to keep your gestures in the ideal zone (hint: it’s #2).

Zone 1 - Your arms and hands are so close to your body, any gesture you make looks timid or isn’t noticed at all.

Zone 2 - This should be your happy spot: more reach and emphasis than zone 1 but less than zone 3.  Zone 2 gestures look natural, will be noticed, and help you emphasize your points and keep the audience interested.

Zone 3 - You've gone too big. Especially in a Zoom meeting where your image takes up an audience member’s whole screen, exaggerated gestures are overwhelming and often bigger than the content you're delivering. The one exception is if you’re presenting or giving a talk to a very large audience (typically on a stage). Bigger Zone 3 gestures actually can work here because of the distance between you and your audience.

Emphasize with a "chop"

If you really want to emphasize a word or phrase, when you get to it, use a gesture we call the “chop” (best to watch the above video). That single physical hand motion alerts your audience to pay attention (and remember) the point you’re trying to drive home.

Use descriptive gestures

When your gestures match or illustrate the words you're saying, you make your point more clear. You become your own visual aid. 

Hands down (pun intended), gestures make you a better speaker. Now let’s consider the power of making eye contact . . .

Tip 3

Make Eye Contact to Engage and Build Trust

The eyes are more "verbal"  than you think.

When you hold a gaze with someone in the crowd during a sentence or phrase, you make a human connection, a bond between you and the listener. If you do it in a natural and authentic way, making frequent and meaningful eye contact tells your audience you care about what you’re saying, you care about how it might affect them, and you want them to feel engaged.

Conversely, if you stare at the ceiling or your keyboard as you speak, or let your gaze bounce around the room too quickly, it communicates either nerves, insincerity, or disinterest.

Research has shown time and again that people will be more moved by and will remember what you communicate if you engage them on an emotional level. Sincere eye contact is one of the best ways to do that.

Tip 4

Be Aware of How Facial Expressions Convey Meaning

When it comes to making a connection through communication, facial expressions rank right up there with eye contact in importance.

The first thing to remember is that, to your audience, facial expressions equate to emotions and states of mind. As they listen to you, they also watch your face, and they “read” you. If your expressions don’t align with your words or intent, you will create an uncomfortable disconnect with your listeners.

Ever watched a presenter deliver really bad news while smiling? Or maybe listened to someone tout the benefits of a product with a stone-cold expression (not convincing, right?). Then you’ve experienced that audience disconnect.

Better to deliver your content with expressions that align. And don’t be shy about being expressive.  Your audience can’t share your enthusiasm if you don’t show it! Or if what you need to do is express concern to make a point, make sure that intent is clear with an authentic facial expression.

Speaking of facial expressions as communication, remember that it goes both ways. During your talk, notice your audience's facial expressions. Do they look confused? Bored? Are they nodding in agreement? Disagreement? Paying attention to their expressions will alert you to how your presentation is going, and to places where you might need to pause and recalibrate.

Tip 5

Use Your Voice to Carry Your Message

The tone of your voice—its volume, inflection, and pitch—communicates meaning, big time.

Think of a time when your friend, spouse, or family member said,

"It's not what you said; it's how you said it."

It’s true: Changing your tone of voice can change the meaning of a sentence. Consider these examples of the power of inflection . . .

I didn’t say they made the best decision.”

“I didn’t say they made the best decision.”

“I didn’t say they made the best decision.”

“I didn’t say they made the best decision.”

Tone of voice doesn’t just convey meaning; it also creates interest and keeps people’s attention.  Nothing will put an audience to sleep faster than a speaker whose voice is a droning, dreary, monotone.

Watch how to avoid the dreaded monotone and instead, create energy and interest . . .


source: Great Speech Writing, "How to Avoid Speaking in a Monotone," via YouTube

Tip 6

Pause for Emphasis and to Pique Interest

Think of a time when you’d been listening to a speaker (maybe not so attentively), then suddenly, they went silent. Made you look up, didn’t it?  

One of the most effective ways to hold or re-engage people’s attention is to create pattern disruption—a fancy term for mixing it up, varying the tempo, changing direction; anything you can do to avoid monotony.  

The power of the pause is one of those devices.

A pause, done right, can highlight a key point, give clarity to a sentence, indicate a topic change, and so much more.

And finally . . . 

Tip 7

Stay Calm: It Conveys Confidence

Whether it's your first time in front of a large audience or your 21st time, public speaking is no easy feat for most people. Some level of fear when presenting or speaking in public is natural. 

When you’re calm, even if there are tough audience questions or interruptions, you convey confidence and credibility. 

That said, moments of nervousness will happen. Take deep breaths and regroup as necessary, and remember that as long as you’re authentic, it’s easier to make sure your nonverbal communication aligns with what you’re trying to say. 

And of course, nothing can make you better at public speaking and staying calm than practice. Consider this . . .

"Brain researcher, Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor, rehearsed her TED Talk not once or twice, or even ten times. She practiced it 200 times. Her "Stroke of Insight" has been viewed more than 22 million times and is ranked as one of the most popular TED talks of all time." [Inc. magazine]

Now, you probably don’t have to practice a presentation 200 times, but rehearsing, especially in front of a mirror so you can see your body language, is absolutely a proven way to deliver a calm, confident talk.

Closing Thoughts

Presenters who deliver the most successful talks are those who know when to stand still, move with purpose, and engage the audience with eye interaction, gestures, vocal variety, facial animation, and thoughtful pauses.

I hope these tips have inspired you for your next speaking engagement. 

Which tip was your favorite?

Do you have a suggestion that I didn't cover?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

P.s. - Storytelling is an incredible way to connect with your audience.

Have you ever wanted to learn how to become a more engaging, compelling storyteller in a business environment? Learn to use stories to inform, inspire, and motivate people to action . . . 

Join Us in Conversation . . .


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About the Author

Carrie Beckstrom

Chief Executive Officer, PowerSpeaking, Inc.

Carrie is passionate about leading the PowerSpeaking, Inc. team in helping organizations—at corporations like Genentech, eBay, Autodesk, and Gilead Sciences—develop powerful communication skills that inspire people and get results. “Our purpose is to make great people even greater at what they do every day. That includes becoming effective global communicators who build positive relationships and drive business forward.”

Prior to joining PowerSpeaking, Carrie enjoyed more than 30 years’ experience in the learning and development industry, where she led award-winning teams.

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