93 percent of a first impression comes from nonverbal communication.
That's right, when it comes to what people think of you, what you say doesn't really matter! According to a classic 1968 study by A. Mehrabian in Psychology Today, only 7 percent of an initial impression is based on what's said. 38 percent is based on style of speech and 55 percent on body language. The same study and others suggest that nonverbal cues are more important to understanding and believing communication than the words themselves. In fact, there's an entire language form based on this phenomena - sarcasm!
So question: how much time have you spent preparing the unspoken? Nonverbal communication is crucial to speaking success, so let's set aside our growling stomachs and other unpleasant noises and focus on real body language (in One Month, One Week, or One Minute).
Oh, and don't forget to review Basic Principles of Body Language, no matter how much time you have.
Remember middle school? The popular kid says something dumb and everyone laughs; the nerd says it and he's ridiculed. Guess what? It's not like that anymore. Well, maybe it is, but not for you, because right here we've got the best preparation around. If you've got a month...
1. Fix Up Your Life. The single most important factor in nonverbal communication is how you feel about yourself (it shows through). Closet skeletons, family feuds, ticked-off friends, they'll all effect your communication. So fix them. Make a phone call, apologize, get that worry off your chest. It'll make your speaking better.
2. Socialize. Party! No, seriously – just don't do anything that cheapens you as a person (see point #1). Visit museums, hang out with friends, go to a ball game, have a girls-night-out... and pay attention to the nonverbal interplay (just don't make it awkward). Even if you're not paying attention, socializing is essentially an exercise in communication skills. Enjoy it!
3. Memorize. Though it's not technically a nonverbal skill, memorizing your speech outline so well that you know it inside out and could give it on the metro instills confidence and knowledge that will shine when you're on stage, whether you say anything or not.
4. Block. No, not football. Your speech. Go through it and plot it out, nonverbal communication and all. Decide when (and why) you will move, when you will stop. Pretend it's a piece of music, with the expression written in. Find the excitement, find the tears. Show the passion. Make it real.
5. Practice in a Mirror. Once you're done, practice in a mirror like a teenager rehearsing for a date. Watch your expressions, your posture, your bearing, yourself. What would you think if you were in the audience? Be hard on yourself. It hurts, but it'll make you better.
Videotaping works as well. Mirrors are great for practice with real-time feedback, video is best for in-depth analysis. Don't get so caught up it effects your confidence, however.
Now it's a bit different. There's not enough time to make everything real and natural after you plan and memorize it. Luckily though, many of the same techniques still apply! Here's how to master your nonverbals in a week.
1. Posture. Stand tall (but natural). The best way to stand tall is to lie down! Lie down on a flat floor with nice carpet, relax, and notice how everything is in line. The floor is better than the wall, because you're not tensed up trying to be straight. If posture is a challenge for you, practice your speech on the floor a few times until it feels right. Breathe deep, and relish the alignment. Then get up and keep that posture wherever you go. Not only will it help your speech, but people will act more favorably towards you as you communicate confidence, assurance, and strength.
2. Service. Improve yourself! If you're focused inward, it will show. During the week before the speech (actually, during always – the impending speech is just a great motivator for change), find ways to help other people. Pick a person in your family and make their life better – then move to someone else! Sometimes it takes planning, sometimes it doesn't. Give of yourself intentionally and spontaneously, and your speech plus everything else in your life will get better in return.
3. Practice in a Mirror. While there's not time for the intense mirror-practicing that there would have been a month ago, there's still time to get better. Notice big things – do you seem nervous? Are your movements too fast? Often, once you notice a problem it will go away. But overall, don't obsess! If practicing in a mirror makes you more self-conscious, or if it makes you worry, then with just a week left focus on other things. Then get back to it as soon as you can: other people will see you, so be sure you see yourself!
4. Eat Right. There's no easier way to feel (and perform) awfully during a speech than to eat at McDonald's the night before. Exercise, eat light but good – it'll come across in your performance, verbal and nonverbal communication alike.
5. Love! That's right, love. Be sure you care about what you're speaking on, be sure you care about your audience. They can see it, and they'll like you. They want you to succeed. They're not noticing every little problem. Remember that and no matter when Speech Time is, you'll do great.
2. Visualize. For the next 30 seconds, visualize the speech. Visualize yourself. Visualize the audience. Make everything perfect in your head. If you think it, in some way it will always happen.
3. Breathe. As you walk into the room, breathe slowly and deeply. It not only makes you look and sound confident, but it makes you feel that way, too.
If you feel good, you'll communicate well. Don't make the feelings false (it'll show), make them real. Study the principles, learn the techniques, then just let it happen. Nonverbal communication is 93 percent of what we communicate – but it's 100 percent of who we are.