All across the world people laugh when they are happy, cry when they are sad and shiver when they are cold. Much of human body language is universal. Research into how we communicate with one another suggests that less than 10% of our message is contained in the words we use. Much is contained in our tone of voice, but more than half of what we communicate is transmitted through our bodies.
Now if you also accept the finding that 24 – 48 hours after a presentation an audience only remembers 5% of what was actually said, our body language suddenly becomes even more important. Therefore, our body language is crucial. People may quickly forget what you said, but they will remember how you looked and how you made them feel.
All the more reason to look and sound confident, because 2 days later you hope people will be saying; ‘I cannot quite remember what was said, but they certainly gave an impression of being on top of their subject’.
However it goes deeper than that. Much of what we transmit through our bodies is unconscious and equally much of what a listener picks up is also unconscious. Therefore if our posture and attitude do not match our words, members of the audience may appreciate and agree with the words being said yet ‘on some level’, feel uneasy about the whole message.
It goes even deeper than that! Body language is a universal language, but it does not have a very wide vocabulary. Body language experts will emphasise the need to take body language signs in clusters and in context. A person standing with arms and legs folded, may be displaying a closed defensive attitude. On the other hand they may be cold or need to go to the toilet!
The problem we have in public speaking is that often the body language we display because we are nervous; hands in pockets or behind the back; arms folded; poor eye contact; shifting around or hands over our mouths (never ideal for public speaking) are the same signs that you would see from someone who was being evasive or even dishonest.
So! Two days after your best, however slightly nervous presentation on what you or your business can offer the assembled potential clients, your audience has already forgotten 95% of what you actually said, but the subliminal messages they picked up and retained from your body language suggest to them that on ‘mature consideration’ maybe taking advantage of your products or services may not be such a good idea after all!
What is my point? Simply this. The message you deliver in how you deliver your message is often more important than the message itself.
Article courtesy of College of Public Speaking & Presentation Skills – London