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How an understanding of body language transforms your public speaking

Some of my more popular blog posts in recent months have been about public speaking.

Top ten tips for incredibly successful public speaking

Presentation 201: Why public speaking is like billiards

So I wanted to offer another set of ideas for successful public speaking. I was thinking about the differences in what I do now as a professional speaker with 50 gigs a year compared to what I was doing five years ago when I speaking about once a month.

The importance of body language

The big difference in the way I present is that I am now focused on body language. I learned these important techniques from Nick Morgan, my speaking coach and the author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.

After a gig, I run through video of the presentation with Nick.

I thought it might be interesting for those of you who are honing your own speaking skills to see the clip and hear from Nick about body language too. I realize this puts me out there for analysis, both good and bad, but I'm game.

So watch this clip from the Convention Industry Council CMP Conclave 2009 and then read Nick's comments below.

Here are Nick's comments on my performance, both good and areas for improvement:

"The great thing about David as a public speaker is that he is technically good so that his passion for the subject shines through. I should know – I'm his speaking coach. Every communication is two conversations, the content and the body language. When the two are aligned, you can be a persuasive, authentic, charismatic speaker – as David is. When they're not, people believe the body language every time. We're all unconscious experts in body language, and we pick it up instantly when someone is nervous, unprepared, winging it, or not passionate about the subject.

When I first started working with David, I could see right away that he had the passion and that the goal was to make a few technical improvements in his body language so that the passion could come through unfiltered.

All speakers have adrenaline-induced energy when they get up to speak. That energy comes out in different ways. David’s tended to come out in too much pacing around the stage. Pacing is good when you move purposefully to a point in relation to the audience, stop, plant your feet, and deliver. But when you just wander, you've got ‘happy feet’ and that’s distracting for the audience.

David quickly got the idea, and one of the great things that comes through on this video is the combination of good motion and passion that he’s now – almost – mastered. His move out into the audience about half-way through is brilliantly timed – and it becomes the high point of the speech both in the room and on video. Notice how many people talk about the Air Force in relation to this presentation. David covered a number of topics, but it’s the Air Force that will be remembered, because he went into the personal space of the audience at that point.

Personal space is 4 feet to a foot and a half away from audience members. (Never go into intimate space – a foot and a half to zero – in a public setting.) Because we all crave personal connections with our speakers, celebrities, politicians, and famous criminals these days, thanks to TV, we really engage as an audience when a speaker gets into the personal space of a few of us.

David still needs to work on his motion when he’s on the stage. The goal is to move on a thought, plant your feet, and deliver to a different segment of the audience – and make it look natural. David still has a tendency to move a little too much across the stage just to get rid of adrenaline.

Remember, the point of mastering all this body language stuff is so that people will hear your message, rather than be distracted by something you’re doing. David is a great storyteller, and because he’s on the way to mastering the technical stuff, you can get his stories. He opens this clip with the Singapore Tattoo Show story, and it’s a perfect illustration of his point, that social media is a new, better way to market than spending millions on TV ads. That’s what a good speaker does: informs and entertains at the same time. There’s a reason why David is in such demand as a speaker these days."

Thanks Nick.

Thinking about body language has transformed my presentations. I hope my clip and Nick's analysis is helpful to you too.

David Meerman Scott

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