If horoscopes, personality profiles, and the like haven’t tipped you off, we humans like to analyze most things for meaning. When we step on stage, we can expect the same behavior from our audience. They’ll be wondering about everything: can the speaker see me? Does he/she like me? What makes him/her such a big shot?
I promise you this: it’ll be more than three questions. It’ll be a running list, and it won’t stop till you’re off stage and the analysis finds a new focus. And since you won’t be providing verbal answers to the searching questions, they’ll be getting their fix elsewhere–namely, from every other characteristic and clue about you, i.e. “non-verbal communication”.
It entails everything about you except for the words that spill out of your mouth. It even includes the way those words come out of your mouth, to an extent. In fact, this “non-verbal communication” covers so much ground that, if I’m being honest, there is nothing you can do about it. Almost.
With extensive practice and training, individuals can change the fundamentals of behavior that might cause problems in presentation scenarios–things like stuttering, awkward and uncomfortable hand gestures, choking on water, etc. But while anything is possible, not everything is beneficial.
What I mean is this: you have a personality. You have an array of experience from childhood to education to business that defines you and your value to the audience. You’ve been asked to speak, so before you go changing everything about yourself to become what you think other people expect you to be, it’s worth considering the value of your own quirks and human qualities on stage.
Presentations always come back to this idea of balance. With non-verbal communication, it’s no different: gloss yourself up too much and people will struggle to experience a real, human connection to your personality. Fail to smooth the roughest edges and you’ll be an absolute train wreck on stage. Finding the middle ground is the key, but what is “middle ground”.
Simply put, middle ground is a place where you feel calm, cool, and collected. You’re relaxed and ready to add value to the audience’s experience. If nerves make you cautious, it’s not middle ground. If you don’t recognize your own voice because you’re trying to project a different image, it’s not middle ground. Balance in non-verbal communication is all about being the same person on stage that you are at dinner with friends.
Striking that balance is actually pretty easy: just get comfortable with the stage. That means practicing your material enough to not think about it, and getting on stage enough to not feel like a fish out of water. Do those things and you’ll say all the right things without saying anything.