For Better Body Language: Put First Thing First

For Better Body Language: Put First Thing First
By Susan Berkley


In my library there’s a little book called Postures and Gestures. Written by a famous speech coach who has worked with executives at some of the largest multinational companies in the world, Postures and Gestures is filled with photos illustrating the proper body language one should use to express ideas. To show union, interlace the fingers in front of the body. To indicate separation, make a chopping motion across an upturned palm. To convey power, clench your fist and so on.

Unfortunately, such advice, if taken to heart, can make the speaker look robotic and even ridiculous. The novice speaker might mistakenly believe that if he can manage to control his body language, he will look confident and poised and no one will notice his nerves or worse yet, no one will notice that he really doesn’t have much to say. Think again.

Most people rarely focus on how they hold their body when speaking casually. Yet, put an inexperienced speaker on the platform and he immediately wonders what to do with his hands, arms, legs-how to stand, handle his props and move about the stage. Yes, body language is important. Get it wrong and your audience will focus on your movement, not your message.

But to approach public speaking from the outside in, mask over message, will only make matters worse. You’ll look phony and wooden, a caricature of yourself. I have seen some of the least polished untrained speakers give incredible presentations. Why? Because they spoke the truth and their intention was pure. And we’ve all seen well-trained politicians and executives give presentations with “perfect” technique yet look like fools. Why? Because the lesser (our gestures) must serve the greater (our message), and not the other way around.

If you’ve ever taken a public speaking class where the presentations, were videotaped you’ve probably noticed that just about everyone has habits and mannerisms about which they are unaware—hair twirling, distracting eye movements, rocking back and forth, um’s , uh’s and so forth. It can be quite shocking to see how unaware we are of ourselves and most people resist being videotaped.

Why is this so?

Psychoanalyst Dr. Norberto Keppe, author of The Origin of Illness writes “We think consciousness, the perception of our problems, is dangerous.” Yet consciousness, although we resist it the most, is our most precious asset. Awareness, even of something negative and embarrassing, is the first step to correcting our mistakes and perfecting our skills.

That being said, what makes a well-prepared speaker suddenly go wooden on stage? Stepping into the public eye is a consciousness raising experience. We are flooded with awareness of the audience and of ourselves. Accepting this awareness is vital to the speaker. We need that feedback loop to tell us if we are making contact with the audience or not and how we must adjust ourselves to get the message across.

A wooden posture and unnatural body language is an indication that the speaker is trying to hide the awareness of his imperfections behind an overly perfect delivery, a futile attempt. What we try to hide only becomes larger and everyone sees it but us.

When you have to give a talk, align yourself with goodness, truth and beauty first. Pay attention to who you are on the inside and then attend to the external details — where you put your hands, how you stand and so on. In speaking as in life, don’t give the inferior more attention than it deserves.

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Susan Berkley is a top voice over artist and founder of The Great Voice Company, a company devoted to teaching great voices around the world how to become successful voice over actors. The Great Voice Company is an international leader in voice over training and in providing top quality voice over recordings in all languages to discerning businesses and marketers. For additional information visit

Copyright 2012, The Great Voice Company. All Rights Reserved. For Better Body Language: Put First Thing First.

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