Look the Part, Act the Role

Former President Bill Clinton is known as a great speaker. One reason is his studied ability to create connections with his audience through relaxed, confident body language.Whether press conference or presentation, people watch better than they listen. You need to look the part and act your role, paying as much attention to your body language as your words.

From the first time we open our eyes as babies, people learn by seeing. We take cues, form judgments and sense emotions by watching the movements of people.

Studies show body language conveys even more emotional information than facial expressions. Together, they speak volumes. 

If you fidget at a podium or garble your words, your audience will sense a lack of confidence and may discount what you say, regardless how persuasive or profound your point.

So, in addition to carefully crafting your words, the effective speaker and presenter meticulously practices his or her delivery — exactly like an actor.

In fact, you should think of a media interview, press conference or presentation in the same way as a stage play. You have a role to play and you need to look the part and act the role.

Here are a few tips:

Avoid weak postures

You tip off your audience that you are nervous or unsure of yourself by slumping, sticking your hands in your pockets or clasping your hands behind your back. These are seen as weak as opposed to power postures. Leaning forward at a podium or a table signals confidence and a desire to connect with your audience.

If you answer questions following a speech or press conference, don't cross your arms, which is a sign of defensiveness.

The key is to be mindful of your movements, especially your hands. They can underscore your meaning or confound and distract an audience if out of sync with your message.

Start Strong

Great speakers don't begin with apologies or lame jokes. They lean into their topic and form bonds with their audiences.

Start with a strong first line — an intriguing question, a startling admission or a thought-provoking statement. 

Physically lean into your audience as well. Depending on the physical arrangements, move closer to the crowd, step in front of a podium or lean forward on a podium. Let your audience know you want to make a connection.

Maintain eye contact

Many speakers avert their glance, often looking up at the ceiling. This is an audience turn-off. Look at them — all of them

If you are speaking in a large auditorium, move your eyes around to connect with everyone, including those in the back row or balcony. In a small venue, create an eye-to-eye connection with each audience member. 

Relax, don't freeze

Speakers sometimes channel their nervous energy into an icy grip on a podium or desk. Concentrate on relaxing, which is easier if you practice your speech or presentation so you are confident. 

If you realize you are freezing up during your talk, shift your posture into a more natural position. Take a deep breath, then resume. Your audience will relax when it sees you relax.

Flash a smile

Nothing draws people to you like a smile. Not every subject has a happy context, so your smiles need to be at appropriate places and times in your presentation. But a winning smile can build rapport and sustain interest.

Most important, smiling will have a positive effect on your own disposition and posture. When you are happy or satisfied, your body shows it. 

Modulate your Voice

The sound of your words often offers more cues than the meaning of your words. If your voice is loud and screechy, audiences instinctively tune you out, much like a home smoke detector alert.

Making good sound takes practice and technique. Coordinate your speech and breathing. Speak from your diaphragm, not your front molars, so you project your words. And find your voice's most resonant tone, the one you use when conversing casually with a good friend. 

Watch out for ticks

Tapping on a table, fidgeting with keys and crinkling your face are nervous ticks that distract and sometimes disturb your audience.

Most people have some kind of tick when they speak, so get in front of a mirror or record yourself on your iPhone and look for yours — then work to get rid of it.

Pay attention to your feet 

You will be where your feet are, unless you are tipping over. Think about where you place your feet, just as actors follow blocking marks on stage or a movie set. Plant your feet so you don't wander around aimlessly and nervously. Set them so you are comfortable and confident. Avoid shuffling your feet as you speak.

Power postures contribute to effective speeches, press briefings and presentations. Spend time on the words you will say, then spend just as much or more time on how you will deliver those words with confidence.