My Mouth's Tellin' You No, But My Body, My Booodddddy's Tellin' You Yessss: A Lesson in Body Language

Body language is a hell of a thing. You could be telling me that you're a boss like Jacqueline Broyer in Boomerang or that you're the next Barack Obama, but if you're out here walking around like Shy Ronnie...


...I'm less than inclined to believe you.

Let me reiterate: body language is a hell of a thing. You may be saying one thing verbally, but your body language will basically defecate all over your words if you aren't confident or sincere. People are very perceptive to physical cues, and your body language may be giving the wrong message, or portraying the message that you're trying to conceal.

This past Monday, I went to a Community Election Forum hosted by a number of organizations (Black Health Alliance, the Jamaican Canadian Association, First Fridays, and Operation Vote Canada). While it was an eye-opening experience for someone who has only recently become interested in Canadian politics, it was also a clear study in what to do and what NOT to do in public speaking.

Public speaking is a major fear for most people. And while the average Joe or Jane might not be regularly speaking in front of a crowd of thousands, there are lessons to be learned. These lessons can be applied to a number of situations: job interviews, board meetings, networking events, and any other instance where you are speaking in front of people, be it 1 or 1000.

If you find yourself in a public speaking situation:


...tightly cross your arms across your body. A clear sign of defensive resistance, or some false sense of security when you have NO CLUE what you're talking about. Even worse if you cross your arms over your genitals. You might as well say, "please don't respect me, I'm insignificant."

...have convulsive ankles. What does this mean? When you see someone (usually with legs crossed), swinging and twisting their ankle at a psychotically rapid pace. If your feet are in view, it is extremely distracting and shines a neon light on your nervousness.

...pull a Tommy Strawn. Who is Tommy Strawn? Remember the TV sitcom Martin? Tommy was the tall, bald brother who had no job. Anytime Tommy was faced with a question he either didn't know the answer to, or was quickly formulating a lie for, he would scratch his ear, head or neck and say "Errrr, uhhh..." Now, even without the verbal cue - if you take time out to scratch yourself before answering if your political party will promise to lower taxes, I'll take whatever comes out of your mouth next with a grain of salt. See below from 5:30-6:40 for reference:


All of this to say, "we don't believe you - you need more people."

Now, here's what you should DO:

...have your hands open and visible. How are you a grown somebody, answering tough questions from your audience of community supporters, and have your hands under the table and between your legs like a child hiding candy? Keeping your hands open and in clear sight is a sign of trust. Anything less is uncivilized.

...directly face the person/people you're speaking to. Keeping your body aligned with the person(s) you're speaking with means you're engaged, interested, and above all, sincere. Twisting your body away, or even worse, walking away from someone while talking to them is a slap in the face. You could be asking me how my sick grandmother is doing...but if you're half-facing me for no good reason or walking away? I'm going to assume you practiced some obeah on her to make her sick in the first place. I. Don't. Trust. You.

...maintain good posture. It's a simple concept, but needs some attention. Whether sitting or standing, make sure that you have strong posture - no slouching or leaning. Having your back straight and shoulders down and back shows confidence and power. One of the MPP hopefuls maintained the best posture while handling a rebuttal, and it made all the difference in the strength of delivery of their message. Use this to your advantage!

When I reviewed my notes from the Community Election Forum, I realized that I had just as many notes on body language as I did on what the candidates actually had to say. It just goes to show that while most people are concerned about what is coming out of their mouths, they also need to be cognizant of what their hands, feet, and shoulders are saying too.

Bonus: Even though this is more of a verbal tick than a body language issue, it is vital to note: please do not venture into public speaking or politics if you have not learned how to remove "umm" and "like" from your speech. Drives me INSANE.

No soul searching questions here - but does body language play a major part in how YOU accept someone's verbal message? Do you pick up on cues, or do you find that you don't even notice? Maybe it's just me...

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