Public Speaking: Body

Body Language

Once you have figured out what you want to present to your audience, it is time to think about the next step: your body language. Body language is just as important as the information you want to tell. You need to practice how your body will support the message you are trying to convey. 

Body language is all about balance. Practice is important, but you also do not want to look like a robot trying to remember every single step you take. But how do you practice the use of body language, whilst making it look natural? This article will teach you the basic skills that will help you master the art of body language. 

Cultural Differences

If you have decided what you want to tell your audience, it is almost time to think about your body language. There is one thing you need to think about before preparing your movements; who are the members of my audience? You want to prevent offending members of the audience due to cultural differences. You might accidentally use a gesture that is considered offensive in another culture. It is impossible to know every single member of your audience,  so just think about where you are going to give your speech. For example, if you talk to an audience in the Netherlands, you might want to lay back with hand gestures.


Once you know the cultural background of your audience, it is time to start deciding your body language. Before you start thinking about it substantively, it is important to take into account a number of basic tips for good posture. First, push your shoulders back. If you do not, you will probably look slouchy and this is an effect you want to avoid. You want to look confident, and pushing back your shoulders is the first step to achieve this. Secondly, chin up! Again, you do not want to look slouchy. When you put your chin up, you will naturally feel more confident. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, your arms. You want to make gestures whilst talking to your audience, but what do you do between using those gestures? You want to avoid your arms hanging beside your legs. There is a trick to easily stay away from this: fold your hands together against your stomach. Not tightly, try doing it casually, so you can easily make gestures. Consider this position as the base of your arms. Lastly, your legs. You want to avoid wobbling because of the nerves you might experience. Keep your legs approximately twenty centimetres apart to avoid wobbling. Make sure that you do not get tense. You will probably want to walk around a bit during your speech, so make sure your legs stand secure, but relaxed. 

Make a Plan

Now the real preparation starts; you can begin making a plan. But how do you make such a plan? Before writing down your body language ideas, make sure to speak your text out loud. By doing this, you can hear which words you want to emphasise. Make sure whilst reading your text out loud to mark them, because they will become an important part of your body language plan. After that, read your text out loud again, but this time use your body as well. Practice as if you were giving the final speech itself. If you want to go for the optimal result, try filming yourself whilst giving the practice speech. By recording yourself, you can truly see how you come across to an audience. Once you have given your practice speech, write down what you noticed about your body language. Did you feel comfortable or did you have no idea of what you were doing? If you have written down your findings, it is time to start writing your plan.

First it is important to reflect on the purpose of your speech. Do you want to propose a solution to an urgent problem, give a melancholy speech about how things were better in the past or is it a call for change? The purpose of your speech is the foundation of your plan, because the message you want to convey to your audience is partly conveyed by your body language. Say, for instance, you talk about food shortage in conflict zones and you want to propose a solution to this. If you stand with your head bent down and speak with a soft voice, your audience will probably not be inspired to think about your solution. However, if you speak loud and clear and speak with a confident demeanour, people are much more likely to consider your solution.
Have a look at our article on how to improve your voice.

Secondly, take a look at the list with the words you wanted to emphasise. Once you have done that, think about gestures that will support these words and why. Try saying these words with your gestures and consider if they fit with your message or perhaps you want to try something else. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, it is part of the process! 

Lastly, write down your steps. Do not worry, you do not have to memorise every single step you take. Remember, you want to prevent the so-called robot effect. However, it is important to realise the steps you take have an influence on your message. Looking at the example of the food shortage in conflict zones once more, you might consider taking a confident step forwards once you propose your solution. If you tell an anecdote about your country’s experiences with food shortage, you can, for example, take a step back to show vulnerability. Try to experiment, look at videos of other people giving public speaking and look at how they use their steps. 


Practice makes perfect. Once you have figured out what you want to tell your audience and the body language that goes with it, you need to start practising. Do not underestimate this part of the process. You need to make sure you can remember everything you wrote in your body language plan. The more you practice, the more control you will gain over your body. Once you have total control over your body, you will be able to relax much more. And when you relax, you will certainly prefend the robot effect.


After you have remembered your speech, practised all of your body language and are feeling confident, you can level up by practising in front of others. By practising in front of others, you will experience what it is like when you give the final speech. What can really help you move forwards is asking feedback from your audience. Beforehand, ask them to look at certain aspects. Do you feel insecure about your gestures? Ask your audience whether they want to pay attention to your gestures beforehand. This way, you will get an insight on how your message comes across to an audience, by receiving feedback.