55, 38 and 7.
According to Albert Mehrabian’s research in the 1960s, these numbers represent the percentages of how a message is interpreted by somebody else when one is communicating emotions and attitudes.
Fifty-five per cent relates to body language; thirty-eight per cent relates to vocal tone and seven per cent relates to the actual words someone says.
Over the years, this 55-38-7 formula has been decontextualized as an umbrella concept to describe how all communication is interpreted. Whether or not body language represents exactly 55 per cent of the way a message is communicated, it’s clear our non-verbal actions play an incredibly important roll when speaking.
As an example, think about the sentence: “I’m so ex
cited to be writing this column.”
First, imagine me saying that sentence with a big smile on my face, an excited tone in my voice and lifting my hands as I speak while maintaining eye contact.
Next, imagine me saying that sentence with my arms crossed, rolling my eyes, mumbling my words, while looking down at the floor.
Although I said the exact same words in both examples, the two interpretations of my intended meaning are completely different.
When it comes to public speaking, body language is one of the most important tools for captivating an audience.
In this month’s column, I share four tips to help you improve your body language the next time you speak in front of a group of people.
Tip 1 – Ditch the Lectern
In situations where you find yourself being asked to give a speech — such as a wedding — there is often a lectern at the front of the room. The average speaker will stand directly behind the lectern, grip both sides of it tightly, then look down to read his/her notes.
Even if there is not a lectern in the room, many novice speakers will hang on to something — perhaps a table or a chair — out of habit when they speak. If you don’t believe me, watch closely the next time you’re at an event where several different people are speaking. I guarantee many of them will hold on to some object while they talk.
While lecterns offer comfort, the problem is that they eliminate the possibility of using effective body language.
If possible, step away from the lectern and face your audience. Keep your arms at your sides and bring them up for emphasis when necessary.
If you need notes, my first piece of advice would be to not write your speech out word-for-word; instead, write down a couple words that will jog your memory and remind you what to speak about. With those minimal words written down, you can still step away from the lectern, face your audience, then casually move back to reference your notes periodically throughout the speech.
Tip 2 – Make Purposeful Movements
While movement can help enhance a speech, it can also be distracting if the speaker is constantly walking around.
Effective body language should focus on purposeful movements that help the audience visualize what you are talking about.
For example, if you’re telling a story about the time you hit your first home run playing baseball, this is a perfect opportunity to implement body language.
As you tell the story of holding the bat waiting for the pitch, you should pretend like you’re actually holding an imaginary bat, swaying it back and forth while staring straight ahead as though you’re waiting for a pitch. Actions like these will help your audience not only understand the words you are saying, but will help them visualize the experience and connect with your story on a deeper level.
Tip 3 – Avoid "The Invisible Table"
I’ve been a member of Kelowna AM Toastmasters for the past six years, and one of the most common mistakes I see among both new and advanced speakers is something we as a club have coined: The Invisible Table.
This term refers to an imaginary barrier that seems to prevent many speakers from simply allowing their arms to rest at their sides while speaking. These speakers are very good at using their hands to help illustrate points that compliment their speech, but then their arms seem to be stuck at a 90-degree angle — often while clasping their hands — throughout the entire speech.
If you’re having trouble understanding what I’m referring to in this written article, check out the YouTube video at the top of this page (starting at 9:05).
Tip 4 – Don’t Block Your Audience
My final tip for maximizing body language while speaking is to be aware of your surroundings and do your best not to block your audience.
Business meetings often have tables configured in a horseshoe or U-shaped set-up. One thing to be mindful of if you’re walking into middle of this area and turning to face your audience, is that you will be simultaneously turning your back to the other side of the room.
While I’m sure you have a great backside, your audience will feel more included in your speech if you do your best to stand in an area where they can see the front of you throughout the majority of the speech.
If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication in general, subscribe to my YouTube channel.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.