Stand Out When You Speak


You have the opportunity to show your leadership skills every time you speak. You do this by projecting authority. Even if you have an accent and tend to be shy, you can project authority. How? By focusing on your non-verbal communication.

Many technical professionals, especially the foreign-born like yourself, pay little attention to what and how you communicate with your body.

Unfortunately, your body language can be misinterpreted or may even be an obstacle to listening.

For example, if you don’t maintain eye contact with your listeners, they may see you as uncertain. Direct eye contact is regarded, not as disrespectful, but as a sign of confidence in the American workplace.

If you speak softly, you risk losing your listeners’ attention because they may not be able to hear you clearly.

Five Non-Verbal Strategies

The next time you make a presentation, leave some preparation time to plan your body language.

Here are five non-verbal strategies you can use to boost confidence – your own and that of your listeners:

  1. Put one hand in an empty pocket and gesture above the waist with the other hand.

  2. Scan the room from left to right and then right to left.

  3. Project your voice beyond the last person in the room.

  4. Pause after making an important statement.

  5. Walk forward and backward, not side to side.

#1. What to Do with Hands?

Many presenters don’t know what to do with their hands. They may look nervous because they overuse gestures. Or they may look stiff because they don’t use their hands at all.

If you watch polished speakers, you will notice that they gesture above the waist. These gestures look confident and deliberate.

What you can do is to empty one of your pants pockets. Put one hand in it, so you feel and look confident. Gesture with the other hand.

Practice doing this in the mirror. You will be surprised by how smooth and comfortable you appear.

#2. How to Maintain Eye Contact?

Another common dilemma is how to appear natural when giving eye contact. Also, some people get distracted when they look at their listeners.

The best strategy is to scan the room with your head.

Move your head from the left side of the room to the other side and then back again. Aim your eyes at the eyebrow level of your listeners.

You will appear confident without losing your train of thought.

#3. How to Project?

If you have an accent, the tendency is to speak softly so the accent is not noticeable.

But you can frustrate your listeners because they may not be able to hear you.

The best strategy for any speaker is to project your voice beyond the last person in the room.

Doing this makes you sound authoritative, with or without an accent.

#4. How to Make Sure Everyone Hears an Important Idea?

After you make an important statement, pause for a few seconds.

That silence is like boldface. It emphasizes the important idea.

If you keep talking, without any pauses, then your ideas all sound like they are of equal value.

Paradoxically, silence in a presentation is a highlighter.

#5. What to Do with Nervous Energy?

All speakers have nervous energy.

You want to harness that energy to promote authority.

Try walking a few steps forward, stop and talk. Then move backwards a few steps. Stay there for a little while before moving forward again.

Walking back and forth dissipates nervous energy. At the same time, the forward movement makes you look self-assured.

Again, look in the mirror and practice walking forward and back.

Now, walk side to side. See the difference? You look restless, maybe even anxious, when walking side to side.

Practice and Get Feedback

As we always say at Moving Up in America, take incremental steps to change your behavior.

Experiment with these five non-verbal strategies one at a time. Don't try them all at once.

Be sure to practice each one of them until you feel comfortable. You may find it also helpful to ask for feedback from trusted colleagues.

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