Imagine you are meeting a friend for lunch. You arrive early and are seated at a table. Your friend enters the restaurant, and before she’s even said a word, you can tell she’s had a rough day. How? Because humans are naturally equipped to read body language. Body language is part of nonverbal communication, and your audience members speak it fluently. That means speakers need to be aware of what our body language is saying when we present.
One of the foremost researchers on body language, Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy tells us that we evaluate speakers based on two things: warmth and confidence. She says we ask, “Do I like this person (warmth/trustworthiness)? And do I respect this person (power/competence)?” And while many of us might concentrate on displaying power first, Cuddy says that’s not what matters most to the audience. “People … make inferences of trustworthiness and warmth before competence and power … You have to connect with people and build trust before you can influence or lead them. Trust is the conduit for influence.”
Warmth is the characteristic of displaying likeability and trustworthiness. A warm speaker is one who doesn’t seem egotistical or manipulative, but who has sincere concern for the well-being of the audience. A genuine smile can go a long way to portraying warmth. In fact, the association for psychological science notes that “some researchers now believe that genuine smiles are not transient sparks of emotion but rather clear windows into a person’s core disposition.” In other words, those speakers who smile genuinely show the audience they can be trusted. Aside from smiling, direct eye contact and visible and open hands can also help to communicate warmth.
Now that you’ve gained the audience’s trust by showing warmth, you have to display confidence if you want to influence and lead them. To do this, begin speaking with a strong posture: stand with your feet about hips’ distance apart, keep your back straight, your head up, and your shoulders back. Avoid stiff movements, hands in your pockets, looking down at the floor, and crossing your arms or your feet. The key is to demonstrate your credibility into addition to your warmth. Speakers should be careful to avoid the pitfall of many politicians who, in an attempt to portray confidence, instead portray dominance or an alpha-ego. Cuddy cautions that using “cowboy moves” and power poses while presenting can undermine the trust you need to build.
For more information on body language, watch Amy Cuddy’s full TED talk on body language below.
As speakers, we can study and practice how to portray warmth and confidence, but our most important goal should be to become speakers who are both warm and confident whenever and wherever we are communicating.
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