Looking Like You Mean What You Say

How you appear may say more than all your words, so make sure you look like what you mean to say.If you have trouble being understood when you speak, it may not be what you say, but what you do.

Studies have shown audiences remember a lot more — a whole lot more — about how you look than what you say. For example, if you have wild hand gestures as you talk or speak with your arms folded, you will leave a lasting impression that may undermine or overshadow the meaning of your words.

Most people aren't born actors. But you have to perform to succeed in a speech, press conference or video. This takes coaching and practice. And discipline.

Neuroscience findings indicate people gesture without conscious thought, so it takes a studied effort to restrain distracting expressions or body movements.

People also give off nonverbal signals of their confidence levels, which can influence how your audience apprehends your words. If you look nervous or seem defensive, it may raise suspicion. If you unconsciously smirk while announcing layoffs, you may earn scorn for your lack of empathy.

Media training can be extremely useful for the novice or the pro. Nothing can be more instructive than to see yourself on tape trying to deliver a key message or fumbling with a tough question. While uncomfortable, intense media training can be a lot less embarrassing than seeing yourself flubbing on television or YouTube.

Presentation materials — if used as props, not scripts — can provide reassurance to wary speakers. But the presentation materials are subject to the same laws of visual communication — people will remember what they see more than what they hear or read. A lousy, inept presentation won't bail out a hesitant, ill-prepared speaker.

There is no substitute for the discipline of honing your message and giving a clean performance. Paint pictures with your words and have an architecture of your comments that your audience can see. Use powerful images — whether in the form of pictures, video clips, charts or quotes — that reinforce your key points. And make your body language consistent with your message.

You leave an impression when you speak and that impression usually is an image in your audience's individual brains. Make sure you look like what you mean to say.