Speaking Without Words

Good speakers are like actors, artfully blending verbal and nonverbal expression to engage an audience.An audience is more likely to listen to what you say if you project confidence in how you say it.

We perhaps misleadingly refer to a talk to an audience as a "speech." In reality, the words that are uttered are just a fraction of what an audience consumes. 

Audiences watch you speak and form judgments about you based on your body language and voice intonation, as well as on your words. Some estimate an audience impression is based on 80 percent of what it sees and only 20 per cent on what it hears.

So instead of preparing a speech, prepare instead a performance.

When you give a speech or make a presentation, you may literally be on stage. Take that motif to another level and conceive of yourself as a performer on stage. Think like an actor who blends his lines with body movements and positioning.

A recent blog post by Dustin York for PR Daily suggested five keys to effective nonverbal communication for professors addressing classes. But his advice extends to all speaking opportunities:

1. Eye Contact

Make every member of your audience feel as if you are talking to them. If they sense you are talking past them — or talking to yourself — they will whip out their smartphones and check for messages. 

2. Voice fluctuation

It is monotonous to listen to someone speak in monotone. Add inflection to your speech. Mix up you cadence. Avoid speaking a lullaby that puts your audience to sleep.

3. Positioning

You don't need to be a statue. Move around and, where possible, get closer to the audience to add emphasis to a point. Blocking your speech isn't the same as pacing aimlessly around on stage. It involves purposeful, practiced movements that engage your audience in what you say.

4. Facial Expressions  

A smile or a smirk sends a subtle signal to your audience. Facial expressions are an elemental way all people communicate. Speakers should emulate actors by harnessing their facial expressions to give richer context to words and provide storytelling cues. 

5. Hand Gestures

Nothing betrays your self-confidence or lack of confidence than hand gestures. If you grip the podium while reading your speech, audience members may infer you are uncertain of your comments, or unprepared. Gestures that add force to the meaning of your words signal confidence and command of your material. They also help to command your audience's attention.

Speakers who perform like actors, artfully blending verbal and nonverbal expression, are rewarded with rave reviews and demonstrably higher audience recall of what you said.

The bottom line is we are all visual learners. We remember more of what we hear when what we hear is presented in an engaging way by a speaker who looks us in the eye, modulates his or her voice, moves around purposefully, employs effective facial expressions and gestures confidently.