Body Language: “They Say A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

If you saw this photograph of John Chen, CEO of Blackberry, you wouldn’t have to hear his presentation to know that he was reporting good news. His face, his smile, his posture and his gesture all scream “I’m very happy, this is good news!”

Hunt photo - blackberry CEO

This simple illustration is a good reminder of how we can all consider our stance, body language, movement gesture and facial expression to be more convincing in the delivery of our messages. This is particularly true when thanking an audience, recognizing good work or telling people you’re proud of their accomplishments. All too often the words and the visual expression are a mismatch which kills the message.

Noble Posture: Be Heard!

Noble posture is a term that describes a desired physical stature, the one in which your voice will sound its best. It is the opposite of a slouch, but neither is it a rigid at-attention stance. This is the posture of an operatic soprano who looks quite ordinary on stage, but when she opens her mouth, magically sends out an enormous sound that can be heard over the baritone and a full orchestra without any amplification.

Here’s what noble posture looks and feels like. Read through the description and then try it for yourself to get a sense of how you should be holding your body.

Feet are parallel with equal weight on each foot, giving you good support.
Knees are “soft,” meaning they are not locked or hyper-extended backward, but neither are they quite bent.
Shoulders are broad, not curled or thrust back.
Chest-the area between the collarbone and the navel- feels wide and expansive; breathing is easy, not forced or shallow.
Head should feel as if it is being lifted at the crown while the chin remains perpendicular to the chest.

When all these elements are in place, you have achieved noble posture, which gives you a sense of openness in the upper body. Once you get the hang of this posture it feels as if your upper body is floating and that the lower body is simply there as support. As you walk around a room you should feel as if you are almost walking on air.

Try it and let me know what you think.

A large part of improving your communication skills comes after you leave the podium.

A great way to improve is to get feedback on what you said and how you came across. If you are able to have someone regularly complete a General Communication Assessment then you will be able to build a tremendously helpful ongoing evaluation of your progress. Scores of 1-3 are where you want to target efforts for improvement. A free 15 minute consultation with Elizabeth Hunt is available if you’d like some help creating a plan to improve. Click HERE to sign up now.

What to do in the moments before you present!

Get Prepared to Communicate: physically, vocally and mentally prepared prior to your speaking event. Find a private place to do a few warm ups (roll shoulders, shake out the nervous tension, massage your face, bite the tip of your tongue and count, say a few mmmmm’s, do the motor boat sounds, check your alignment). Try the posture that Amy Cuddy mentioned—open arms wide above your head. Another posture she suggests is standing with legs apart and hands on your hips—do it for 2 minutes. Tell yourself this is going to be great!

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are


One of the easiest ways to do better in your next presentation is to simply smile. It will make you feel better and research shows that people will perceive you as more confident. Need proof? Watch this video:

Always think of the Listener First

They may be tired, bored, distracted. It is up to you to make them interested, engaged, understand. If they are edgy, let them jump in. If you aren’t excited or committed to what you are saying, why should they be. Keep in mind the time of day (late on a Friday). No one ever minds a short presentation or being let out early.

Using Eye Contact Well

Try to be looking at someone when you’re saying something meaningful. Look at one person while you finish a complete thought. When you’re looking down at your paper this is your opportunity to be silent to let the listener absorb what you’ve just said. DO NOT say “I think” and then turn your eyes to your notes; you’ll lose credibility.

Managing Nerves

Stage fright or speakers anxiety is a very common phobia. Stage fright is a fight or flight response to sensing danger. The body reacts in many ways including shortness or breath, blood rushing to the head, shaking, dry mouth as well as thoughts of fainting or being sick. IT is real and not at all fun to experience. There are varying degrees of speaker anxiety that may require a variety of tactics to overcome. Regardless of the level there are two important parts to work on, first the mental thoughts. IF you say, “I’m going to do a terrible job” you’re more likely to than if you said “I’m going to get through this as best as I can”. Secondly you can work to manage the physical symptoms. There are many things you can do but the most critical is to learn how to manage your breathing. Here is a quick series to help you get control of your breathing. If you have a severe anxiety you will have to become a master of breathing. For those who just have a few jitters it is worthwhile to practice breathing on a regular basis as well as in the 10 minutes before your speech. Here is an example of how to manage breathing.

Did you have them at hello?

One of the most important things you need to do as a presenter is make the listener forget they have a blackberry in their hand. You need to ‘hook’ them right at the beginning and then chances are you’ll have them for the rest of the presentation.

How many times have you heard a presentation begin with ‘good afternoon ladies and gentleman, it is a pleasure to be here. Today I’m going to talk to you about… blah blah blah.” Why not start with “Today we have a decision to make”. OR ‘After my talk today you’ll know how to build your own ….” Or you can start with a challenge. A question is another device but it can fall flat if you don’t do it correctly.

Here is a pretty good opener. The only coaching tip for Jane would be for her to take it further. I’d have encouraged her to go slower, make sure the audience was doing what she wanted them to do, be a bit more theatrical. But it was a pretty good opener. Watch and see what you think.
Julie Chen from Ted Talks.

For Fast Talkers!

One of the most common traits we see in our work with speakers is the fast talker. Being a fast talker can sometimes be a good thing because it can create a sense of urgency and passion for a topic. But like most things in life, if its over done it can be a problem.

Its not at all uncommon for us to hear things like “I do everything fast” “I’ve been a fast talker all of my life” “I can’t change it is just the way I am”. Well there is good news. Even if you CAN’T stop talking fast you CAN do something–here are four things that will help.

1. Try to add more pauses to your speech. After you finish a thought or a sentence add a 2 beat pause (silence). This simple technique will do two things. It will allow the listener to catch up and it will make you appear more thoughtful and in control.

2. Try to ‘hear’ the last sound of every word you say. For example make sure you pronounce the ‘t’ at the end of the word ‘wanT’ or ‘almosT’.

3. Try to pronounce each syllable in the word. For example say TEL e phone (not telphone) or Twen ti ith (not Twenith)

4. Record yourself and listen back. If you can’t make out every syllable and final sound you need to keep practicing.

Good luck

Warm Up Your Voice!

There was a great article in the WSJ last week entitled “Is This How You Really Talk?”


They give a few ideas on how to work on your voice but here is a really quick and easy tip.


The next time you are going to speak to a group find a private place to warm up your voice.

Simply say “mm hmm” as if you are agreeing with someone.           Repeat 3 x.

Then stretch out the final mmmmm sound.  Repeat 3 x.

Next say “mm hmmm” and then add a word such as “ mm hmmm + yes”  “mm hmmm + hello”   “mm hmmm + great”.

Finally add a short phrase such as “mm hmmm + good morning”  “mm hmmm  + how are you” “mm hmm + I’m ready”.
This simple exercise warms up the vocal chords, places the voice and gets you ready to speak with an energetic clear voice.


Try it!

Deliver Declarative Sentences

Sheryl Sandberg in her recent and very controversial book suggests among other things that women need to use ‘declarative sentences’. In my experience this is good advice for anyone trying to get a point across.
What is a declarative sentence? A declarative sentence is a sentence that forms a statement. “We will proceed with the project.” “The meeting is on Friday.” “Expansion is the best option.”

But just as important as constructing a declarative sentence, it is equally important to deliver a declaration.

If you allow the pitch of your voice to rise up at the end of the sentence (a common vocal style today also know as “upspeak”) you will sound as if you’re asking a question or asking for approval.

On the other hand if you allow your voice to drop at the end of the sentence you can sound condescending.

Deliver these sentences as if making a declaration (imagine each word goes out directly in front of you rather than dropping off or swinging up at the end of the thought)

Capitol Asset Management is the best option.

There are two very different solutions to chose from.

We need to add resources to the IT division.

We are required to submit both long and short forms.

There are no other viable candidates.

Write your own sentences and practise saying them with authority. If you can record and listen back to your delivery you will quickly be able to determine when you sound assertive and confident rather than tentative or aggressive.  Try it! It will make a difference.

Say it in Five

Be prepared to deliver a presentation in less time. If you’ve been given 20 minutes to walk through your plan ask yourself if you could deliver it in 5 minutes. To do this you need to layout your entire presentation (if you’re using PPT print 9 per page and circle the ones that are critical to get to the main point). Once you know the main points you need to practice saying them out loud.

Create a catchy opening

When you start a meeting or presentation the first thing you have to do is stop the listener from thinking about what is on their mind and pay attention to what is on your mind. The first words of many presentations are all to often something like this “It is a pleasure to be here, thank you for taking the time to listen to me. Today I’m going to talk to you about …blah blah blah”. What about starting with something catchy. Consider these:

  • Today I’m going to convince you that spending $5 million on a new process will pay off in 3 years.
  • At the end of my presentation we are going to make a decision.
  • There are three things you will learn from this meeting.

Energize your voice

Speaking is an act that can sound boring and dull or energetic and lively. By simply warming up the voice before you make a presentation or participate in a conference call you can sound more energetic and keep your listeners listening. Try this quick series of exercises to warm up your voice.

Energize your Body

When you are on stage you’re actually performing. You have a captive audience and it is your job to keep them interested and listening. Besides the content and your vocal delivery you can enhance the audience experience by getting physically prepared to perform. Try these quick exercises to get yourself energized.

Speak UP

Have you ever been in a meeting when you noticed people leaning forward towards you or they are cupping their ear to try to hear you better? It isn’t uncommon in our work environments that are noisy because of open concepts, poor acoustics, or the hum from the PPT projector or air conditioner. It is important when speaking to a group of people to use a voice volume (loudness) that is slightly louder than your normal conversational voice. Of course if you’re speaking to more than about 25 people most people would benefit from an amplification system. Try these exercises to learn the difference between a 1 person, 5 persons or 10 person speaking situation.

Keep your audience listening

It is quite common for a listener to take a little mental vacation when you are speaking. In order to keep an audience listening you should try to add a few “attention getting phrases”. Try some of these in your next communication:

…this may surprise you…
… something you will find interesting…
…the most important…
….it’s worth keeping in mind…
Let me put it in simple terms
Let me explain
You might ask why I say that
I believe/feel/think…

End with a Bang

People tend to remember the first and last things you say. Unfortunately most people never think of the precise last words they are going to use. This results in many presentations ending with throw away lines such as:

  • “so that’s it”
  • “so that’s all I have”
  • “I think that’s about it”
  • “any questions”

Why not think of a powerful last thought that you can leave with your audience, something that will be memorable and perhaps result in your desired outcome. Try one of these:

  • “I’ve given you the reasons to act, now its your turn to take action”.
  • “If there is one thing you take away from this talk today…”
  • “The next time I see you I hope you’ll ask me…”

Finding Middle C

Have you ever noticed that when a violinist is preparing for a concert they will play a few notes on their instrument? They are finding middle c. We can do the same thing with our voice so that when we begin speaking we sill start with a strong well focused perfectly pitched voice for our first words. Too many people use the first 5 minutes of speaking to get warmed up. There is an easy way to warm up by finding your ‘middle c’.

When to start your thought with “I”

Sherly Sandberg has been the topic of many conversations and debate as a result of her recent book “Lean In”.

One of her suggestions for women is to use the “I” rather than the “We” to start a sentence.

I think for both men and women it is worth consideration on when and how to start a sentence with “I”.

It is very useful and often powerful to hear someone say “I believe” “I think” “I know” “I want to thank you” “In my opinion”. We tend to perk up when someone is drawing a line in the sand and a sentence with “I” can do just that. Its equally important that when you use an “I” sentence that you deliver with conviction. If you believe, think or know something you shouldn’t have to read it from your notes. Too often I see a speaker looking down to see what they believe. This is in fact counter productive.