Hillary Clinton and the Endless Nod

Do you think public speaking has to do solely with what you do behind the podium?  Are you aware of your body language when you are onstage but not presenting?  According to Bloomberg Politics, Hillary Clinton nodded a whopping 406 times during Bernie Sanders endorsement speech, which proves a very simple public speaking truism: be aware of your body language anytime you step on stage.  Keep this in mind if you are leading a Q and A, or taking part in a roundtable.

Gesture is very important when giving a speech; using definitive hand gestures are proven to enhance our impression of a speaker.  But gesture is less important while listening to another speaker.  It can pull focus. Mrs. Clinton would have been bettered served by utilizing stillness in this context.

Four Public Speaking Tips from the Sixth Republican Debate

Well the first is…

  1. Don’t stick your tongue out like this:
Trump tongue outIt’s weird.  Trump does it at moments of high tension as if to say “Hey I’m just kidding!!”  Not a good idea.  Be aware of your non-verbal tics.  This is national television people!
2.  Know your facts cold – If you are speaking in an impromptu format (debates, q and a, etc) you need to know your facts better than if you are giving a planned speech.  Ted Cruz seems to have an encyclopedic mind for facts and figures.  He used it to great effect when he nailed the Donald on the birther issue.
3.  Don’t Rush – This means you Senator Rubio.  Rubio tends to speak very, very quickly.  It cost him when he got his facts mixed up in regard to gun violence.  Take your time and pace yourself out.
4.  Use Bold Hand Gestures – Bed carsoon
Ben Carson tends to gesture like his hands are wet rags.  Amp it up a little Ben!  Gesturing with your hands is scientifically proven to improve your impression with an audience, but it’s important to gesture confidently.

Five Presenting Tips Scientifically Proven To Enhance Your Speech

blogOne of my presentation training clients in New York City recently asked me why some TED talks gather millions of views, while others with similar content languish?  I did some research.  It turns out a human behavior consultancy called “Science of People” set out to answer this question.  They asked volunteers to rate hundreds of hours of TED talks, and here are the conclusions they came to:


  1. The volunteers rated speakers comparably whether the sound was on or not! What does this mean?  It means your non-verbal communication matters…. a lot!  How you gesture, and the tone of your voice can make or break your speech.
  2. SOP also found that there is a direct correlation between the number of times a speaker gestures and the number of views the talk gets.  This is why Italians make such great speakers! Remember to use bold gestures.
  3. Keep it loose!  People who ad-libbed in their speeches rated higher than those who stayed on script.  In addition, vocal variety boosted ratings on charisma and credibility.
  4. Did you know smiling makes you look smarter?  The more TED talkers smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence.
  5. As we all know, first impressions matter a lot.  SOP found that people largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.  So come out blazing!

Body Language and the Second Republican Debate

Last night’s Republican debate displayed a number of jarring contrasts in body language.  Let’s look at three examples:

First, Chris Christie:

Governor Christie is a strong debater.  He has a firm command of policy and he answers questions with confidence and finesse.  I think his non-verbal communication is not helping his cause, however.  He has a tendency to lean on the side of the podium as if he was saddling up to a bar.  Clearly, he is trying to play up his image as a maverick.   His casual body language is inappropriate when he speaks about such weighty issues as nuclear proliferation or abortion rights.  It reeks of arrogance.

Next, (of course) Donald Trump:

Ahh Donald.  Of course, Mr. Trump has a commanding presence.  But he can barely control his contempt for his fellow candidates.  He often rolls his eyes and smirks while other candidates speak of him.  He has terrible posture.  He scowls.  His body language suggests intense disgust for people and ideas that are foreign to him, and I predict this will eventually be his downfall.

Finally, Mark Rubio:

I like the way Senator Rubio projects himself on the stage.  He has an upright bearing, crisp diction, and a confident delivery.  He makes direct eye contact with the camera, and by extension, the home viewers.  He also manages to smile on occasion!  It seems ironic that this debate, with all its rage and righteous indignation, should take place at the Ronald Reagan Library, an institution named after a man who won debates with folksy charm.   In any case, I think Rubio’s command of basic public speaking craft will propel him forward in the polls, and bode well for his chances at the nomination.

Three Tips for Using Group Feedback to Sharpen Your Speech

brainstormSo you’ve spent one hour preparing for every minute of your speech.  You’ve got a unique, unconventional premise.  You have data to back up your main points.  You use contrasts, comparisons, quotes and analogies.  You have an attention getter, a solid discussion section, and a dynamic closing section.  Your PowerPoint is elegant, simple, and design-oriented.   Now you’re ready to knock your audience out… and it all falls flat.  Why?  Did you run the speech by a colleague or coach?  Or better yet, a group of colleagues?

Educators have long embraced using focus groups to elicit feedback.  Why not utilize this powerful tool to improve your speeches?  After gathering your group of colleagues, start with these tips:

1) Have a list of questions you’d like to ask the group.  Be sure the questions are open-ended and not too specific, as you want to allow the group to talk as freely as possible.

2) Don’t interrupt… try to talk as little as possible.  Hand the ball over to the group.  Avoid defensiveness about your speech at all costs as it will silence the group.

3) Ask probing questions if you need more clarity; “Can you explain what you mean by that?” or “Can you give an example?” are some good questions to ask.

Finally, be sure that you pick people who can offer constructive feedback, and ask that people start by mentioning what you did well with the speech.  Oftentimes, in an attempt to help us make our work better, our colleagues will leave out the moments they liked.  By reminding them to mention the good as well as the bad, you can ensure you won’t be too inundated with criticism.