Public Speaking Body Language Part Two: Tone

This is the second article in an eight-part series covering the most important elements of body language for public speaking. Click here to read the entire series.

When you deliver a speech, you should own the room. No, that won’t make you look arrogant or controlling. Audiences want you to take charge.

Just think about the last meeting you attended that had either no discernible leader or a weak one. The meeting probably went on too long, the conversation surely meandered without purpose, and no one likely stepped up to reign in a dominant personality.

There are many ways to appear in control, and using the body language elements described in this series will go a long way toward helping you own the room.

Here are a few other ways to maintain control:

  1. Avoid looking defensive. If people challenge something you’ve said, you will be more likely to win over the audience by reacting with a calm, open tone.
  2. Change your monologue. If something goes wrong, change your interior monologue from, “Oh, no, this is becoming a disaster,” to “I’m a competent speaker and will regain control of the room momentarily.” You can then regain control by saying something such as, “This is a valuable discussion, and because it’s so important, I’m going to leave some room at the end of the session to continue the conversation. But in order to more fully inform that discussion, I’m going to move ahead and discuss two other points first….”
  3. Be the most dominant person. You can rein in dominant personalities by telling them you’d like to continue your discussion with them during a break, walking slowly into their personal space and turning your body away from them, or asking other people to comment.
  4. Be a good time cop. Susan Weinschenk, a psychologist and author of 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, writes that speakers can demonstrate their ownership of a room by taking breaks at prescribed times, starting their presentations on time after breaks, and pacing their presentations so they don’t appear to be rushing toward the end.

Being in control doesn’t mean you have to look like a control freak. Oftentimes, a warm and easygoing presence will do more to establish your authority than a strident and overbearing one.

Smiling, for example, can help you win over an audience since humans subconsciously imitate the expressions and actions we observe. Some neuroscientists credit that human instinct to “mirror neurons,” an emerging subject of considerable interest and intense debate.

Understanding mirror neurons can be a huge boon for you as a speaker. Allan and Barbara Pease, co-authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, report that members of your audience are more likely to accept your ideas if they are nodding and/or smiling.

So try nodding and smiling as you make a critical point. You’ll likely see many members of your audience responding in kind. When they do, you’ll be that much closer to achieving your goals – and will be demonstrating your ownership of the room.

Click here to read the entire series, which covers energy, tone, eye contact, gestures, posture, where to stand, how to interact with PowerPoint, and voice.

My new book, 101 Ways to Open a Speech, is now available at Amazon. You can read more about the book here