Increase the impact of your messages with non-verbal communication

contributed by Debora Schmitz-Rohmer

Did you know that body language and tone of voice contribute more than 90 per cent to the impact of a message?1 This ultimately means that an audience will believe the non-verbal message if it contradicts the verbal one. To make things even more challenging, controlling body language is undoubtedly more difficult than choosing words.

AnLo Piquet, communication coach and actress, spoke on the paramount importance of non-verbal communication at the April event hosted by the HBA Europe chapter in Basel. At numerous occasions throughout her highly interactive talk, she insisted on the uniqueness of each and everyone’s non-verbal capabilities. According to her, applying generic speaking styles regardless of the speaker’s personality came at the cost of losing authenticity. Knowing one’s own potential, however, was a source of genuine confidence.

In the main part of her talk, AnLo presented the audience with a six step approach to speaking up with confidence in public. As for professional actors or musicians, thorough preparation is essential. Wherever possible, one should familiarize with the speaker’s stand or stage prior to talking. In addition to identifying potential obstacles – such as cables or misarranged furniture – knowing one’s space greatly helped to feel at ease during the talk. Next, AnLo introduced abdominal breathing as a simple but efficient tool to calm down physical symptoms of nervousness. She also suggested stretching and other warm-up exercises to physically prepare for a talk. Moving to the next step, she demonstrated the importance of a proper non-verbal introduction. One should enter calmly and take a brief moment of silence to make eye contact, thus setting the stage for a true dialogue with the audience. A warm verbal welcome, underlined with open gestures, should follow. Immediately after the talk and before leaving the stage, one should introduce a similar moment of silence to acknowledge the audience and underline the importance of the conveyed message. Genuine emotions and modulated facial expressions in line with the verbal content of a message can and should be used to engage listeners. Straight posture, preferably with both feet firmly grounded, provides both physical and emotional stability – a substantial asset to answer rather than react to critical or hostile comments from the audience. Moreover, it frees arms and hands for intentional movements and gestures.

As stated in the introduction, tone of voice has a strong influence on the impact of any verbal message. Therefore, AnLo provided three simple exercises to prepare the voice for public speaking. While abdominal breathing helps to keep the voice at a pleasant normal pitch, reading a few lines of text out loud with a pencil in one’s mouth significantly improves pronunciation. The third exercise consists of driving the voice through three extremes, namely 1) reading a text on a single note – just like a robot, 2) singing the text and finally 3) reading it again with grossly over-exaggerated voice modulation. Four volunteers went through the respective exercises and both they and the audience were amazed by the immediate positive impact on their intonation. In her final point, AnLo addressed the power of silence as an essential tool for public speaking. Not only does it allow the speaker to observe and adjust, it also “makes people exist” and lets them be part of the dialogue. Importantly, it gives the audience the opportunity to reflect on what has been said. To help develop the proper use of pauses, AnLo asked a volunteer to read a text out loud including punctuation marks. While pronouncing the punctuation marks, AnLo instructed the volunteer to make eye contact with somebody from the audience for three seconds. In a second reading, the volunteer had to name somebody from the audience and establish eye contact with that person at every punctuation mark. When the volunteer re-read the text after the exercise, her reading had progressed from a rushed monologue to a true dialogue with the audience.

In summary, AnLo presented a range of practical impulses and exercises to help everybody develop his or her unique public speaking potential further. AnLo Piquet designs and leads public speaking and team-building workshops particularly tailored to the life-science industries. You can contact her at anlopiquet@gmail.com.  

1 According to Albert Mehrabian, Professor emeritus of Psychology, the actual words of a message account for only seven per cent of its impact, while tone of voice and non-verbal behaviour generate 38 and 55 per cent, respectively. For further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Mehrabian

 

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