Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Body Language, a Beginner’s Guide

I am honoured that this post is mentioned in Andrew Diugan’s Six Minutes review of the week’s best public speaking articles.

Here is a great tutorial on powerful body language. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy has the good news that  you can ‘fake it till you make it’.  Start out pretending to be Wonder Woman and  (boots or no boots) you will soon be able to command space and place. It’s a fun approach to a valuable issue.

Presence, and its cousin charisma, are vague and subjective qualities which enable us to command attention, and to influence and inspire others.  People with presence seem  powerful, genuine, confident, calm, assertive, dominant, authentic, and focussed. They often have outstanding communication skills. These qualities are associated with leadership and success.

Charisma has been described as

  • High Self-Esteem – self-confidence, inner-calm, self-reliance, independence.
  • A Driving Force – purpose, personal values, principles.
  • Sensory Awareness – empathy, emotional intelligence.
  • A Vision – belief, positive attitude.
  • High Energy – passion, enthusiasm, commitment, determination.

The way you stand, sit and move around  conveys all this. Your on-stage self gives subtle clues to your audience about how powerful and confident you are, and how to respond to you. If you have presence and charisma, it will show. If you don’t, you need to build it, as it’s critical for success in leadership, presentations and public speaking.

You can start out by mimicking confidence. A solid upright position conveys authority, and it makes you feel better and stronger and more in control. A positive response  from people will reinforce this and  help you to feel genuinely impressive.

Think about:

Centring. Stand in a relaxed position, without swaying (this is a common nervous habit), feet hip width apart.  You can create the right sensation by standing still and breathing deeply and slowly a few times. You should feel balanced, stable and relaxed.

Grounding.  Drop your shoulders, and relax the torso. Plant your feet, as if your legs were trees.  Shrug your shoulders up high so they touch your ears. Now release them – down they go and here they stay.

The Spine needs to be straight. Lift your chest and head and eyes.   Now roll your shoulders back and down. Check the tilt of your pelvis. When facing the mirror, look at your belt line – it should be horizontal to the floor.

You now have a stance which conveys confidence and authority. You probably feel more powerful too. Experiment by going for a walk in a slumped, non-powerful posture with saggy shoulders and your head down. Talk to people meekly. Now adopt the powerful pose and try the same thing, it feels completely different.

When you’re in front of an audience you may feel like folding your arms, lowering your head, or putting your hands in your pockets. Don’t. You may feel better but you’ll look much worse. You have these urges as part of the fight-or-flight response we all experience  in a nerve-wracking situations. And don’t clench anything visible – teeth, shoulders, fists. You can screw your toes up inside your shoes if it helps.

At first you need to force yourself to keep the powerful open pose while the inner you feels exposed and anything but powerful. Yes, you do feel inauthentic. Yes, the appearance of confidence is a sham. But give it time. These feelings will soon subside and you will be genuinely more confident, powerful, persuasive and influential.

Or to hand it back to  WW…. “All the world is waiting for you…and the power you possess”.


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