Delivering your speech: the power of nonverbal communication

Monday, June 5, 2017
by Abigail Tait

When I say “public speaking” what comes to mind? Dread? Nervousness? Excitement? “Public speaking” often brings uneasy feelings to first year students, as standing in front of a classroom ranging from first year to fourth years may seem a lot more intimidating than one full of your long-time high school classmates. You have a well-written and researched speech and you have already sought out a peer review from the Writing and Communication Centre, but the easy part is over. Delivering your speech involves more than a professional tone and a confident voice; you will convey the real impact of your message through nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is the communication we engage in that isn’t written or spoken language, but still creates meaning.

Eye contact, one of the most important nonverbal cues, keeps your audience engaged, makes you believable, and opens up communication. Looking at individual members of the audience establishes an interpersonal connection with them. While maintaining eye contact is important, gestures are useful when emphasizing certain points. Gestures are an excellent way to channel your nerves into movement, as long as you ensure they are not repetitive or taking away from your message.  Using immediacy behaviours, that is, literally or psychologically making your audience members feel closer to you, can establish more relationships as a speaker. Moving closer to your audience or smiling are simple ways to create a closer relationship between you and your listeners.

The audience sees your face before they are going to hear your voice and thus, you have the opportunity to set an emotional tone before you even start speaking. As a speaker, you can decide how your facial expression can alter the atmosphere of your speech in a meaningful way. In many instances, audience members will mimic your emotions, so if you want your audience to feel a certain emotion, its best to express that emotion yourself. Although your face and voice play a major role in communicating a specific emotion, your posture will communicate the intensity of that emotion.

You might be overwhelmed at the long list of unconscious habits to consider when delivering a speech. Delivering a hard hitting, persuasive or informative speech is not easy, but it is an important and useful skill for your post-secondary education and beyond. If you need ideas, feedback, or strategies in creating and delivering a speech, the Writing and Communication Centre is a hub for practice, development and collaboration that can work with you to help develop your individual voice in your academic work. With practice, knowledge and a bit of help, public speaking does not have to be a daunting task, but an opportunity to share your ideas and leave a memorable impression as a speaker.