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Nonverbal Delivery

How should I deliver my speech?

In delivering any style of speech, you want to practice effective, intentional use of voice, nonverbal communication, and visual aids.

With nonverbal communication, you want to pay attention to the following:

Eye Contact

It is essential to maintain eye contact with your audience as you speak. Locking eyes with another person makes you feel nonverbal immediacy, or emotional closeness, with them. Do not detach yourself from your audience; treat the situation as though you are having a conversation with a new friend.

  • Intermittently through your speech, shift your gaze from person to person and occasionally sweep the room (as though you are looking for someone). The goal is equal eye contact with every audience member.
  • If you have notes or a presentation, design it in such a way that you are only rarely looking away from your audience.
  • Eye contact is also used for emphasis. Whenever you say a punchline or make a declarative statement, do not fail to look into the eyes of your audience.

Hand Gestures

Do your best to move your hands and arms comfortably and deliberately. Practice standing up and gesturing (or not gesturing: resting your hands) in a way that shows calm confidence.

  • You neither want to be too still nor too active. Hand movements are usually best not attracting too much attention to themselves.
  • DON’T speak with your hands behind your back, in your pockets, or hanging limply at your sides.
  • If you must emphasize using gestures, do so in a way that clarifies or organizes your speech (e.g. counting on fingers, showing layers or height) and is not too repetitive.
  • Do your best to avoid carrying a distracting, loose object in your hands (such as a flimsy piece of paper).

Bodily Action

With the rest of your body, many of the same principles apply as with hand gestures: Move in a way that shows calm confidence without distracting the audience from your speech.

  • Practice speaking with your posture straight and your feet planted, only moving when you want to adjust which part of the audience you’re facing.
  • If you need to move more for the sake of demonstration, make sure your focus is still on the audience.
  • Do your best to stop yourself from randomly swaying, hopping, balancing on one foot, kicking, etc. If you know you tend to have hyperactive legs, try stretching when you are on your own before the speaking engagement.
  • If you are using presentation slides, don’t allow yourself to turn away from your audience too much. Keep your attention directed on them as much as possible.

Facial Expression

Quite often, our fear of the speaking situation creeps through to our facial expressions. When you are speaking, do your best to look as though you are comfortable in the situation. When you practice with friends or teachers, work on showing the enthusiasm, joy, anger, snark, etc. that works with the content of the speech.

Personal Appearance

Dress according to audience expectations for the speaking occasion. Normally, that means somewhat formal dress. For the purposes of public speaking courses at UT, this means “business casual” attire. For men: collared shirts, slacks, and non-athletic shoes. For women: outfits with sleeves, slacks or dresses with modest hemlines, and non-athletic shoes. Generally unacceptable: athletic wear, jeans, clothing with holes, sandals/flip flops, and shorts.

Your appearance is key to your initial credibility as a speaker. It will influence your audience’s impression of you from the outset. What kind of impression do you want to make?

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