As the co-founder of Talk Boutique, and an executive speaker coach, I’ve done a lot of work with Mark Bowden, one of the world’s foremost experts on body language. Mark works in evolutionary psychology, and his study of how our brains have evolved informs his own speaker coaching practice. Mark teaches and writes about how humans look at the world through the filter of our reptilian brain – to be exact, our brain stem that’s about 500 million years old, and which is responsible for our survival. And we’re in front of a roomful of those reptilian brains when we’re making a presentation, or giving a speech. So, how should that impact the way you present?
The first four things our reptilian brains want to know when they encounter someone new are ‘Can I eat it?’ ‘Can it eat me?’ ‘Can I mate with it?’ And, finally, ‘Is it part of my tribe?’ If none of the four are satisfied, our brain ignores the new presence. When we’re presenting, the fourth question is the critical one. We need to get into the “tribal category” – friends and family – in order to have an audience that is engaged and listening; body language is the quickest, easiest way to get there.
The first and most critical rule is to appear non-predatory to our audience. We need to show that we’re trustworthy and that we’re not hiding anything. When we’re nervous, that nervous behaviour can easily seem like predatory behaviour, and a few rules about how we hold our bodies can overcome that messaging:
1. Don’t Pace
A predator paces back and forth to throw off its prey, and speakers need to make sure they don’t unintentionally intimidate their audience by pacing. It’s a simple fix that changes your message from threatening to trustworthy.
2. Physically Show That You Have Nothing to Hide
As Mark would say, demonstrate that you aren’t hiding any tools or weapons. Keep your hands open or cupped, instead of in fists, and out of your pockets, showing that you aren’t concealing anything. This conveys a safety and collegiality to your audience that will encourage them to stay and listen to what you have to say.
Our reptilians brains are wired to react positively to a smile – perhaps the fastest way of signaling that you are part of the same tribe, and your face is very important to convey that message.
Talk Boutique incorporates Mark Bowden’s brilliant work in our SpeakEasy Intensive, an executive retreat designed to take you from idea to presentation, in just four days. Our powerful approach will help you to effectively build, organize, and deliver any presentation, based on science, experience, and expertise. Learn more about SpeakEasy Intensive, and apply now to join us and master the art and science of public speaking.