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5 Body Language Mistakes Public Speakers Make

Public speaking can be a difficult skill to master but its far from insurmountable. One of the key issues we see with the 1000’s of students we have trained in our public speaking and leadership courses is a lack of awareness of body language fundamentals. Herein we’ll explore 5 body language mistakes public speakers consistent make. You’ll what you can do instead to feel more confident, speak more effectively and own the stage.

Arm Crossing

Crossing the arms is a big body language mistake for speakers and leaders. When we communicate in any capacity with our arms crossed it conveys a wide variety of potentially negative messages to our audience/listeners. Unfortunately, it sends messages such as: we are feeling insecure, we are resistant to others ideas, or even that we are feeling inadequate. No matter our intent of this body language expression, we still should not display it. If we find ourselves with arms crossed we should immediately “open up” our body language by placing our arms down at our sides. We should show a confident, upright and open stance grounded by our feet shoulder width apart. This posture and body language speaks to our what our internal state should be: calm, focused and self-assured. It is confident, open and ready to deliver a successful speech or communication.

Limited Body Language ‘Vocabulary’

Another mistake novice speakers make is that they don’t explore the full range of body language they can deliver in their speeches. For example, student may have learned to use their hands and gestures to their speeches but stand motionless and deliver without facial expressions. We should instead think of body language as a full range of expressions akin to a vocabulary that should be a part of our successful communications. We should always think about how we can add these many type of non verbals to our speeches and practice them during our speech development stage.

Not Minding Your Face

Most novice speakers forget to check in with a critical body language aspect of their delivery: their face. The face is most often the focal point of our audience when we are delivering our message. Our face and its expressions play a key role in communicating our message. We should be very mindful of what our ‘resting face’ says to the audience. Is our resting face welcoming and friendly or tired and anxious? We should be aware that this ‘face’ has the ability to change the audiences reception of us and our message. We should be aware that showing a relaxed, positive and friendly resting face will only be an advantage to us.


When we feel nervous or anxious we often express it through our non-verbal communication. Unfortunately fidgeting is another body language expression which does little to aid our speaking outcomes. These unconscious non verbal expressions often come in the form of touching the nose or ears, playing with the hair or even nail biting. All of these non verbals do a disservice to our message and its reception. Fidgeting distracts our audience from our message and has no place in our speeches.
Instead of fidgeting, we should get in a calm focused state of mind before we speak by practicing one of many scientifically proven methods we have discussed in previous posts. Additionally, we should deliver our body language with the same intention and precision that we put into developing the content of our speech. Recording and reviewing our performance practice is a prefect way to become more aware of this.

Lack of Presence

Presence is vital for successful speaking and leadership roles. For many, the non verbals they deliver don’t communicate a congruent message that they intend. In this case, you can think of presence as a holistic measure of our non verbal delivery, or the sum of our body language communication. My definition differs from the one you might assume. Presence in this case means a few things:

  • Projection of ease, poise and self-assured confidence.
  • State of being fully vested in the moment and deliver at your very best.

Convening this confidence presence is critical to connecting with an audience in several ways.
Open, relaxed body language conveys a sense of presence. Our posture or how we hold our body also ‘speaks’ to our audience. We should stand upright and confident, showing we respect ourselves and hope our audience will connect with us and our message. Smiling is part of this non-verbal message to our audience that we are projecting a powerful and positive presence. Smiling sends a positive cue to our audience, communicates our openness, and puts our audience in a positive state of mind. Lastly, our state of mind should be focus on the ‘now’. Being fully invested in the moment will dramatically improve your performance and delivery. Utilizing presence will mean that your body language is conscious, deliberate and matches your message. With presence, your message and body language will on target and your attention and focus will bring you speaking success.

So try these out and you’ll see better speaking & leadership results. While this is by no means an exhaustive list it will have you starting down the path of better body language and better speaking outcomes. If you found this post helpful, please join our newsletter. As always, please leave any comments or questions below.

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