Source | FastCompany : By David Hoffeld
What makes someone a great presenter? Why do some speakers seem to effortlessly captivate their audiences, while others struggle just to keep them awake? It turns out that scientists have answers to some of those questions—many of them based in habit. And like any habit, those communication skills can be learned, practiced, and perfected. Here are four that the most powerful speakers have mastered.
One of the leading experts on gestures is the University of Chicago’s Dr. David McNeil. He has shown that the way gestures interact with spoken words combine to produce meaning in the minds of audience members. The very act of gesturing, he’s found, boosts the brain’s ability to process information and formulate thoughts.
But not just any gesture will do. Great presenters know that gestures need to seem natural—they need to show intentionality. Gestures should visually illustrate your words. A common trap many presenters fall into is using the same gesture over and over again, which can quickly become a monotonous distraction.
Many speaking coaches recommend recording yourself delivering a presentation in order to get a handle on how you gesture. But don’t just watch the video back once. Review it three times. The first time, study your verbal and nonverbal signals to see whether they match up: Are they in sync, or do your gestures contradict your words? At the second viewing, turn the sound off and focus on what your body movements convey.
Finally, watch your performance for a third time with the video sped up to 1.5x or 2x the normal speed. This will exaggerate your gestures and help you notice any awkward movements, body language, or gestures you might have missed.
Certain movements, researchers like Dr. Amy Cuddy have found, don’t just create the illusion of power; they can actually subtly alter our body and brain chemistry in order to enhance performance. Studies have shown, for instance, that striking what Cuddy calls a “power pose,” like placing your hands on your hips, can trigger an increase in testosterone, which typically amplifies feelings of confidence.
We’re used to thinking of body language as a reflection of inner emotions, and that’s largely true. But we now have reason to believe that it cuts both ways: If you’re feeling one way and you purposefully adjust your movement and posture in order to project a different emotion, your mental state will actually catch up with what your body is representing.