Roshini Rajkumar explains how many factors work together to create perfect communication
When it comes to communication, I hear a lot of businesspeople talk about intention – the purpose behind what you’re trying to communicate. The idea is that without clear intent, your message will be completely chaotic and you certainly won’t wow your audience. As a communication consultant, I’ve been talking about this for years; intent is one of the key components of my IAP™ Formula (Intent, Audience Analysis and Powerful Performance). But as the formula suggests, intent alone isn’t enough to get your message heard.
The “P” in the IAP™ Formula, powerful performance, has a lot to do with body language, another hot topic in business today. Everywhere you turn, consultants are singing the praises of proper posture and poise, and warning you against quirky gestures and weak stance. People like Amy Cuddy are backing up the importance of body language with real science – so this isn’t something business leaders can ignore.
But body language without intent, and intent without body language, will ensure your message falls flat. Whether you’re presenting at a high-stakes meeting, giving a keynote speech at a conference or just trying to motivate your employees, the alignment of intention and body language is key to inspiring confidence and respect. Aligning these two key factors will ensure the words you’ve carefully chosen are delivered with maximum impact.
Match Your Intent and Your Message
Before communicating, it’s always a good idea to gather your thoughts. A big part of the introspective preparation you should do before speaking is to ask yourself “What’s my intention?” On a larger scale it may be obvious: impress your audience with a perfectly delivered speech, earn the trust of shareholders, inspire your employees to greater productivity, etc. But you need to analyze your message in finer detail. Does every single word you’re planning to say support that intent? Unless you’re talking to a group of close friends, there’s no room for rambling anecdotes or anything that strays from the point. Work and rework your message until it’s laser-precise in terms of alignment with your intention.
Only after you have a strong understanding of your intent and a message that matches are you ready to pay attention to how you deliver that message.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Another important part of communication preparation is practice. And the best sort of practice is done in front of a mirror or in front of a person (or two) who will give you completely honest feedback. A highly effective alternative is to record yourself with a video camera and review. The particular benefit of this method of practice is you can re-record and fine tune until you’ve got it down.
Here’s what you’re trying to improve with all this practice, and why it’s so important to observe it. Just as your message has to be deeply aligned with your intent, your body has to support your message as well. Even the slightest deviation can distract your audience and destroy an otherwise positive impression. So when communicating well is absolutely crucial, mastering your body language is imperative.
Positive body language consists of several things, including a strong stance. Keep your body open and don’t cross your arms or legs. Next, maintain eye contact. If you’re speaking to a room full of people, look around and lock eyes with members of your audience. Finally, confidence and comfort are key. You should look like you own your body and your image and feel very comfortable with the message you’re delivering.
On the flip side, here are a few things to eliminate from your body language:
- Distracting hand gestures – keep your hands in one place and only use them when it’s very necessary to underscore a point
- Nervous fidgeting – stay still and look like you’re cool as a cucumber
- Wandering eyes – “shifty-eyed” never leaves a good impression!
- Bouncing legs – when sitting down a common nervous reflex is to subconsciously bounce one or both legs, and it’s utterly distracting
- Poor posture – whether sitting or standing, you need to hold yourself straight and well-aligned; this is part of any good “power posture”
- Quirky head movements – tilting your head may seem cute, but it can ruin your credibility
- Sticking to your prompt – it’s okay to glance at index cards or a prompter from time to time, but the bulk of your speech should naturally flow from your strong knowledge base or you’ll seem unprepared
When perfecting the physical delivery of your message, look for these negative and positive habits and practice until your negatives are gone and your positives shine. Ideally, you should feel as if you’re rehearsed enough that communicating is second nature. If you feel you’re becoming too stiff or robotic, take a break and try again when you’ve had some time off. There is such thing as looking over-rehearsed, but it’s much more rare than looking unprepared.
Hitting the Sweet Spot with Intent and Body Language
Once you’ve identified your intent, matched your message to it and mastered your delivery of that message with proper body language, you’re ready to hit the sweet spot – when everything falls into place as you speak and your audience is tuned in, engaged and awed. This is something that comes with good preparation and practice. But what happens if you feel a little “off” when you’re actually in the spotlight?
Know there are a number of contributing factors to falling short of that sweet spot. Even if you’ve prepared to perfection, on game day you may have performance anxiety. Or maybe you stepped in a huge puddle on your way to the venue and your feet are wet. Factors in and out of your control can cause you to falter. The important thing is to pick yourself up and recover with grace if you do have a blip. Remain determined that your confidence will not get shaky even if you mispronounce a word or your microphone stops working.
The best way to stay confident through any eventuality is to remember your message supports your intent, and your body language supports your message. Get back on track and pay attention to the lessons you learned when you were preparing. Listen to your body and make sure it’s behaving well. Keep those well-chosen words flowing. You’ve shown up with intention, you’re delivering and nothing can stop you!