Nobody likes public speaking, but if you′re in business, it will be one of your most important tasks. From setting up a business by making the crucial pitch to investors and bank managers, to interviewing people to find the right members for your team, to reporting on company results for your shareholders, the importance of how you present yourself cannot be underestimated.
So how can we improve our public speaking style? Communication specialist Louise Mahler says it could be as simple as making your body language more “open”.
Ms Mahler spoke recently with the Australian Financial Review on finding your public speaking style, and we bring you her top tips and traps for being a persuasive speaker.
In Western societies, we tend to model our expectations of what public speaking should look like on Americans and their large, showy gestures. However, we know that the meaning of non-verbal communication and body language differs from culture to culture. Australians typically have a more laid-back approach and this should extend into our body language when we′re given a business pitch or presentation, as well.
Why it′s important
Research conducted from the 1970s onwards has shown us that body language and other non-verbal communication makes up the majority of the message we convey to others. And as we know from research by Paul Ekman in the 1990s, our facial expressions are also a big part of it.
Ms Mahler says people need “embracing”. Our arms don′t need to be lifted too high, but we can make people feel welcomed and included into our conversation by simply opening our arms. Extend your elbows away from your body, so that you have created a larger and more welcoming space for the listener.
The number one trap that affects us all is repetitive gestures, which can be a major distraction for our audience. Fixing this can be as simple as recording yourself doing a 20-minute speech, and making a list of gestures you made as you watch the recording. Selecting your shortlist of “repeat offenders”, you can then look for alternative movements that have the same effect and substitute these alternatives every second or third time you want to use that gesture.
Then there are the “animal” traps that Ms Mahler says many Australians fall into:
- The Penguin: Getting stuck with your hands in your pockets or arms trapped against your sides, and only breaking out occasionally for limited “flapping” gestures. This speaker may appear bored.
- The Tyrannosaurus Rex: Hands held together near the chest, making very small movements. This speaker may appear nervous.
- The Seal: Arms are extended in gestures but the elbows are locked against the sides, so that even large movements look strained and awkward. This speaker may appear uncomfortable or even untrustworthy.
- Tailor your style to the people you′ll be dealing with. If you′re pitching a loan to a bank, you are probably speaking to someone with quite a conservative outlook. You want to seem trustworthy, dependable, a quietly successful businessperson.
Watch the video interview from the Australian Financial Review to see Ms Mahler in action and the examples she provides from noted figures such as President Obama and former Prime Minister Abbott.
For more information on what body language means in daily life and how to make your body language work for you, watch this influential TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. It will be particularly useful for those who are new to business, as it describes how to build self-confidence and “fake it till you make it”.
If you′ve prepped for that business pitch and now you′re ready to get a loan and get moving, it′s time to get your finances in order.