How many of you have that one friend who talks excessively with their hands? For me, it was my mother. For example, when I was a teenager, we were a few days away from leaving for a trip when my mom managed to shut the car door with her hand still in it, resulting in her having a broken middle finger that required a splint. A few days later, we arrived at the airport, and I sat with our things while my mom and grandma went to the restroom. A few minutes went by, and suddenly, I heard a few people around me chuckling. I looked up to see what the laughter was all about. As my mom and grandma made their way back to me, I realized my mom must have been telling a great story because her hands were talking away, and because of the splint on her middle finger, it looked like she was flipping everyone off as she passed by them.
Much like my mother, I, too, talk with my hands. Imagine that you are a hand talker, but it doesn't end there because you are also really good at communicating everything you're thinking with your face. Not only would that probably make you a lousy poker player, but when delivering a speech, it might also overwhelm your audience. There is such thing as too much body language. Finding the right balance is a delicate endeavor.
Virtual meetings add another dimension to using body language to communicate effectively. Your desk becomes your stage, and your audience resembles the game show Hollywood Squares or the intro to The Brady Bunch tv show. We can all agree that meeting online presents new challenges that weren't an issue when meeting in person. There is one thing that didn't change, the importance of using effective body language. Let's start with posture. Sitting up straight will impact your level of confidence. How you carry yourself matters. I recently got a brand new chair for my desk in my home office, and until now, I hadn't realized how important it is to have a comfortable chair that is easy to sit in with good posture.
Since preparing for my first Toastmasters speech, I have recorded myself while watching it back and looking for improvement areas. One of the first things I noticed was that I unintentionally roll my eyes quite often. I also overuse my hand gestures, and I sway back and forth while not making eye contact with the camera. Boy, that was a lot to unpack! I subscribe to the philosophy that knowing is half the battle. If you know you do something, you can consciously decide whether or not you want to continue doing it.
How many of you have watched a news broadcast where the anchor's facial expressions or camera positioning didn't match the content they were delivering? Those are great examples of ineffective use of body language. It is important to use body language effectively so that the message you are sending is the message your audience is receiving. You've heard the phrase, "perception is reality," and body language plays a significant role in whether you are perceived the way you intended or not.
Now that we've got that covered, you might be wondering how you can improve your use of body language. If you have a habit of moving your hands too much, you risk distracting your audience. If you grip something tight, it might come across as discomfort. I recently gave a speech, and I didn't notice until I watched it back that I held my hands gripped in front of me nearly the entire time. I know that my audience would have been distracted because even I was distracted. So I printed out the speech and made notes exactly where I thought hand gestures would be most effective and then practiced it that way. If facial expressions are a concern for you, something you can do is practice them in the mirror.
I haven't mastered the eye-rolling issue yet, so I would love to hear if anyone has ideas. The common theme is knowing the area you can improve in, deciding your approach to implementing said improvements, and practice, practice, practice.