Body Language Italian-Style

I just spent two weeks traveling through Italy (pure bliss) and noticed how important body language is, no matter what the setting. While on vacation, the people-watching was spectacular in Rome, Florence and Montepulciano. But it’s particularly fascinating when you don’t speak the language of the people you’re observing.

My media training and presentation coaching job at Edelman typically finds me in a board room consulting with executives on how to deliver their messages most effectively. But what surprised me in Italy was how I could quickly tell what train-riders, shopkeepers, waiters and waitresses were communicating by watching and listening to three things: their faces, their hands and the inflection of their voices.

My vacation experience reinforced what I’m constantly telling my clients: Your slides and/or speech won’t matter if you don’t project strong, confident body language. Here are my top three tips to consider before standing up in front of a crowd, getting on a conference call or leading a meeting:

  1. Open up. Chris Anderson, the CEO of TED Talks, has a ringside seat to some of the most inspirational and shared speeches in the world. He has analyzed the most popular TED Talks and found the common element to the best-received presentations is more open body language (feet planted, shoulders back and leaning slightly forward) coupled with a SMILE on your face.
  2. Embrace the Italian hands. One of the most common questions I get is: “What should I do with my hands?” My answer is, “USE THEM!” You can help sell your ideas with some animated hand movement. Not too much windmill action, but use your hands as naturally as possible when in front of a crowd.
  3. Power pause. Most people speak too quickly, flying through their slides mainly because they want to get off the “stage.” There is proven power to slowing down and giving a pause before you make an important point. A little silence adds to the aura of confidence. Most people are afraid of it. I say embrace the pause and add some variety in your tone to help differentiate what’s important.

Your non-verbal communication is imperative, and will always help you convey your messages. But our TED Talks guru is the first to say you have to start with a great idea, supported by inspiring messages. As Chris Anderson reminds us, you need to ask yourself some important questions about your content. Does your presentation have one major theme? Do you have metaphors and examples so the audience has an a-ha moment? And most importantly, do you make it clear why your audience should care?

I guarantee if you couple strong body language with your compelling content, you will be a much more confident communicator. Ciao!

Mary Gannon is executive vice president, Media Training, Edelman Chicago.