Body Language

A Little Taste of Abraham on the Stump: Substance and style from a master communicator

By on February 21, 2017

William Henry Herndon was a law partner and biographer of President Abraham Lincoln.  They were a study in contrasts, opposites in temperament. Despite a poetic streak, Lincoln’s mind was logical, and he longed for the day when “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason,” would rule the world. Herndon was intuitive; he fancied that he could ‘see […]

Political Gesture du Jour

By on August 23, 2016

There was the “Clinton thumb”–which most likely originated with John F. Kennedy. Nixon’s “V for victory” at the helicopter door. Although he used it a few times before 1974. And the “Dole pen”–a prop he carried in his right hand. His arm sustained an injury in WWII. Now, there’s a new political gesture du jour. […]

On playing possum and peacock preening

By on November 3, 2015

When a possum is threatened, he contracts into a ball, while bears do the opposite.  They stand on their hind legs to make themselves look bigger. Chameleons change color and remain perfectly still, while peacocks expand their tail-feathers to assert their dominance. It happens in the animal kingdom, and it happens to us when we get anxious, […]

Stand still when you speak

By on February 5, 2014

I just met a client, a young woman new to the work force and recently hired by a consulting firm, who had studied oratory and debating in high school. I don’t think I’ve ever had a client with similar experience in my 20 years working with speakers. She had a remarkable ability to be still […]

Communication skill includes words, voice, and body language

By on July 25, 2012

Here are two excerpts from an article in The New Yorker.  The article is entitled Words on Trial,  and its author is Jack Hitt.  It appears in the June 23rd, 2012 issue. The key idea is that words, by themselves, are necessary but not sufficient to create meaning.  The listener creates meaning through hearing the […]

What do I do with my hands when I present?

By on July 20, 2012

Mike Blechar of Gartner is a powerful speaker.  He recently sent me this note after he read one of our Presentation Pointers on the subject of how to point to data on slides. It seems he has programmed his arm and hand to gesture to slides, which is something that he and I debated years […]

Communication Skills: Consider your voice the thunder

By on November 18, 2011

A few years back The New York Giants won the Super Bowl with two running backs nicknamed Thunder and Lightning.  Thunder was Brandon Jacobs and Lightning was Ahmad Bradshaw. In the first half, Jacobs (aka Thunder, 6’ 4” ; 264) would wear down the opposition, and then, when they were tired and bruised, Bradshaw,  ( […]

Gesture is one of the languages of high-stakes presenting

By on May 13, 2011

Ninety percent of emotional communication is nonverbal.  Gestures are an unconscious language that we use to express not only our feelings but to generate them as well.  By making a gesture, we help produce an internal state. Amy Cuddy, a faculty member at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has conducted an experiment with […]

Cam Newton’s body language

By on January 13, 2011

In case you missed the BCS Championship Game on Monday night, or you don’t follow college football, or any sports for that matter, but you do take an interest in performance under pressure, please watch Mr. Cam Newton in action. I had never seen him play before last night, when I watched the National Championship […]

Stillness: A very cool presentation skill

By on November 22, 2010

I want to sing the praises of stillness.  I used to love, and aspire to, extravagant energy and zeal.  Arms waving, voice elevated, eyes wide open and shining with conviction. Now I enjoy stillness, a sense of calmness in a speaker.  Of course, I don’t want him or her to be calm all the time—the […]

Getting permission to coach

By on November 16, 2010

A very thoughtful client, and subscriber to our Presentation Pointers, sent me this email: I have a question – Can you offer me 1-2 tips for giving presentation feedback for senior and mid-level managers?  Examples of areas where feedback is needed – reading the slides or notes, talking too softly and refusing to use a […]

3 Ways to Avoid Communication Failure

By on November 8, 2010

Within less than a second, using your facial expressions, people make what are called spontaneous trait inferences about you.  Warmth and competence are the two critical variables that other people use to assess your character and intentions. According to Amy Cuddy, a Professor and researcher at the Harvard Business School, these two categories account for […]

Scientific research on communication

By on July 12, 2010

I was steered to a web video the other day by an e-mail from a friend, and found myself in a garden of presentation skills coaches (also on video), many of whom quoted research done by Dr. Albert Mehrabian of Stanford University. You may be familiar with the data, which suggests that voice and body language […]

Forever young and distrusted: The five languages young professionals need to know

By on April 28, 2010

You may be familiar with the prayer-like song that Bob Dylan wrote in which he wishes that someone, or all of us, can “stay forever young.” May you always be courageous Stand upright and be strong And may you stay… Forever young. It turns out that, while a youthful spirit can enrich our lives, young […]

Corporate Training: People don’t want to be sold

By on December 11, 2009

A sales exec I know was up for a plum gig—a rotation assignment in headquarters that would groom her for a promotion to Regional Director.  She was confident that she’d get the job, and went to the interview thinking that she was by far the best candidate. They chose someone with less experience and less […]

Public Speaking: Dress for Success

By on July 18, 2008

Girls of a certain age expose their stomachs, and boys expose their underwear.  Those of us who are too old to seek this kind of social status based on sex appeal are more concerned about dressing to project power, authority, and stability. We select our clothes even more carefully when we are going to present.  […]

Fear and Loathing of Public Speaking

By on May 28, 2008

No one likes to be pulled from a warm bed and thrust into a cold shower.  And many people I’ve met feel the same about being plucked from the blanket of everyday life to stand alone on a stage with a thousand pairs of eyes on them.   And so, when they find themselves on stage, […]

Public Speaking Tips: A Really Useful Speaker Evaluation Form

By on May 5, 2008

I recently sat down to interview myself on the subject of speaker evaluation forms. Here’s the transcript of the interview. What’s the use of a speaker evaluation form? First of all, I prefer the term assessment to evaluation. It sounds to me less clinical–less distant. Sorry. What’s the purpose of a speaker assessment form? To […]

Speaking Anxiety: Stage Fright

By on April 5, 2008

In the Jobs section of the New York Times, on Sunday March 30th, Phyllis Korkki has written an article entitled The Adroit Speaker Doesn’t Wing It. That’s true and not true. I believe wholeheartedly in preparing, rehearsing, getting feedback, even scripting a speech or presentation. But then, once I have internalized the content, I boil […]

Effective Presentation Skills: Hang ‘Em in the Bat Cave

By on April 3, 2008

“What do I do with my hands?” is one of the most frequent questions I get from people striving to improve their public speaking skills. The answer is more complicated than you’d think. First of all, why is it important? It’s important because your hands speak quite loudly to the emotional radar of the audience. […]

Speaking Anxiety: The Mind/Body Toggle

By on January 2, 2008

Recently, a client of mine, who is also a childhood friend, left me a voice mail saying that he did not think my short article on the power of gesture to create emotion was appropriate for the market I serve. Essentially, the short piece tried to make the point that speakers can alter their inner […]

Public Speaking Skills: Mind Maps of Gesture

By on December 9, 2007

Science, like the rest of us, advances through trial and error, better known as dumb luck. One summer day in 1991, neuroscientists in a lab at Parma University wired up a monkey’s brain for a simple experiment. They wanted to see which neruons fired during the series of movements involved in the everyday act of […]

Communication Skills: E-mail vs. Presentations

By on November 20, 2007

About two years ago, I attended a free webinar on marketing and liked what the presenter had to say.  I also liked his voice.  So I called him and chatted about my marketing issues, and eventually I hired him. He lives in New Hampshire; I live in New Jersey.  We worked by phone, Go-To-Meeting, and […]

Presentation Skills: Doing it in the road

By on September 14, 2007

I believe one of the best models for presenting skills is the act of giving directions to someone who has stopped her car, leaned out the window, and said, “How do I get to Bloomfield Avenue?” If you’re standing in front of your house, and you know how to get to the desired location (your own version of Bloomfield Avenue) you immediately […]

Speaking Anxiety: A Loss of Confidence

By on September 10, 2007

A friend of mine, who is a very successful consultant, told me that she has lost her confidence as a speaker. For twenty years she has been speaking to large groups of clients and potential clients with success.  Now she feels very unsure of herself. She reports to me that she’s terrified of going blank.  While she used to […]

Speaking Anxiety: Gestures Help you Think

By on August 23, 2007

Trying to master a mental task? Acting it out can help.  In a study reported in Cognition, when kids were told to use gestures as they learned to do a type of math problem, the lesson stuck.  Embodiment gives you–literally–another way to grasp an idea. Actors use gesture in a similar way–to grasp the feeling […]

Voice Projection: The Power of Voice Tone

By on August 18, 2007

Many of us are familiar with the work of Dr. Albert Mehrabian of Stanford University, who demonstrated in his research that 85% of emotion is communicated through voice tone and body language. Many of us have read Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, who reported the work of Nalini Ambady of Tufts University, who discovered that some doctors who make […]

Public Speaking Tips: Persuasive Posture

By on July 15, 2007

Body language talks, or BLT for short. Something in the way we stand speaks volumes.  Good posture is not only good health, it looks good.  Why? Good posture communicates self-confidence and belief in what you have to say.  It indicates that you are willing to assert yourself and overcome the resistance of those who might […]

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