"What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying."

“What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying” was noted by Ralph Waldo Emerson and it is still true today. How you hold your body says so much about you, it is often the only thing that people see. As a voice teacher and public speaking coach who works with singers and business professionals every day, I find myself saying the same things over and over again as the issue of body posture fundamentally either reinforces or undermines your presentation.

When someone stands in front of us, we are noticing several things simultaneously: 1) are they standing up straight or are they slouching? 2) are they making eye contact with the people they’re speaking to or is their gaze fixed into space? 3) are they using their hands effectively to make gestures or are they fidgeting with themselves nervously? 4) are they frozen in one place or do they move comfortably and fully use the space they’ve been given?

The judgments we make combine to create an overall image which either tells us that this person has knowledge and confidence or they don’t. From these first few observations which happen in the span of less than 10 seconds, we make the determination either to give this person some or all of our attention. With my voice students, I first have them stand in front of a big mirror and observe themselves. Next, we might video tape a minute of them speaking or singing and we review it together. The things they notice about themselves are often extremely accurate and are in line with the judgments others will make about them. Awareness is the first step and with adjustments they can make the changes necessary to effectively communicate their message or song without negative distractions. With enough practice and direction, most of these behaviours will become second nature and they won’t have to think about them again – freeing them to move on to working on their vocal delivery and text.