The mind is a very strange thing and sadly it doesn’t always respond in the way we would like it to. Here is simple example. Close you eyes and do NOT think about pink elephants. It’s like that with body language.The more a presenter thinks about body language, the worse their body language becomes. And as sure as elephants are pink, trying not to think about your body language is like the pink elephants currently dancing dancing through your consciousness in a scene from Fantasia.
There is an idea that circulates the presentation community that the majority of meaning from a presentation is derived from body language and only 7% comes from speech. The Mehrabian myth simply isn’t true. Except in very, very specific situations. Of course delivery is important but it is not a mime show, it’s the product of the story, media and delivery. Words really are the most important part of our presentation. Body language has an effect but not 93%.
A defensive stance, huddled behind the lectern, holding on for grim death and staring intently at the monitor tells the audience only of fear and devalues the message. Similarly the presenter who moves constantly around the stage like a caged animal will negatively affect their reception. Trump hands, choppers and mixers are unaware of what to do with one’s hands and can even become hypnotising in their own right. It is important to be in control of the message our body is sending.
Yet the challenge to simply “be natural” on stage is effectively the pink elephant problem; the harder one tries to be natural the more wooden one becomes; simple strides across the stage can appear as complicated as Japanese Kabuki and even trying to stand still may overwhelm the already busy mind of many a presenter. Being natural appears entirely unnatural. This is where effective practise is successful. Practise is not simply recitation but purposeful, recorded, reflective rehearsal with review. A smart phone or a helpful friend will advise but change requires positive steps and further rehearsal not simply trying ignore the elephant. Presentation is a performance, not a reading and effective practise will dramatically improve it.