Article Category: Delivery Techniques

Toastmasters Speech 5: Your Body Speaks


Toastmasters Speech 5 - Your Body Speaks (Sometimes badly!)Is your body dead when you speak, or does your constant motion give your audience headaches?

Does your face signal fear or does it signal excitement for your topic?

Do your hands vibrate, or do they punctuate your words?

The fifth Toastmasters speech project encourages you to make every body movement enhance your speech rather than detract from it. This article of the Toastmasters Speech Series examines the primary goals of this project, provides tips and techniques, and links to numerous sample speeches.

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Why is This Speech Important?

Your aims for this speech project are to complement your message with your body during delivery. Specifically, be aware of your:

  • posture,
  • body movement,
  • facial expressions, and
  • eye contact.

If you aren’t aware of your body language, you are missing an incredible opportunity to improve your effectiveness as a speaker.

Tips and Techniques

1. Remove “Noisy” Movements

The Competent Communicator manual advice for this project is excellent, and among my favorite pieces of advice is “any movement during your speech should be purposeful.”

For many people, there is as much to be gained from removing nervous and distracting movements as there is from adding conscious gestures. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this is “addition by subtraction.”

There is as much to be gained from removing nervous and distracting movements as there is from adding conscious gestures.

Before delivering this speech, ask your mentor or a fellow club member to highlight your most distracting physical mannerism. We all have one. Mine is “wringing” of my hands. Yours might be a tendency to play with your hair. It might be playing with your keys or coins in your pocket. It might be rocking back and forth from your heel to your toe.

Whatever it is, make a goal in this project to consciously remove or reduce it in this speech project. By doing so, you can clear your physical palette, and then you’ll be ready for purpose additions of gestures to complement your message.

2. Avoid “Forcing” Gestures into Your Speech

One common mistake I see in Toastmasters who tackle this speech project is to overdo it by awkwardly forcing a hand gesture into nearly every sentence. This almost always results in a very choppy and awkward delivery.

Remember that your goal is not to provide a continuous physical interpretation of every word spoken. Instead, add gestures selectively where they add the most impact.

I find that the best way to avoid forcing hand and arms gestures is to try to strike an even balance between the other forms of physical gestures — eye contact, facial expressions, posture, or whole body movements. For example, if you convey an important emotion with your facial expression, your arms can relax to your sides because they “aren’t needed.”

Remember that your goal is not to provide a continuous physical interpretation of every word spoken.

3. Record Video of Yourself Speaking

If you have not seen yourself speaking yet, use this project as the motivation to finally do it. The best way to discover any distracting movements is to watch yourself delivering a speech with the volume turned off.

  • Is your body constantly in movement, or do you come to rest in between gestures?
  • Do your gestures alone (without the sound) convey emotions which match your message?
  • Is your face expressive or flat?
  • Are your eyes darting around the room or providing sustained contact?

What I Did for Speech 5

I decided to select a speech with a range of emotions so that I could practice having my body express the emotions. I chose to talk about a hobby that I shared with my dad — woodworking. Some examples of body language I used were:

  • eyes wide open to mimic child wonder;
  • angry face to signal frustration at a woodworking project gone wrong;
  • shaking head to signal disappointment from my dad;
  • a thrusting arm to show how wooden furniture was smashed; and
  • various arm movements to show the sizes of pieces of wood.

The title of the speech was Measure Twice, Cut Once. Years later, I rewrote a substantial portion of this speech and entered the Toastmasters International Speech Contest, eventually placing third in District 21.

Critiques of Toastmasters Speech 5 Examples

Here are a few examples of Toastmasters members delivering speech 5 on video. Each is accompanied by a few critiques which highlight positive behaviors and things to improve. In several cases, a time is given (e.g. 0:45) Clicking on this link will take you to the moment the gesture is used in the speech.

If you repeat any action too many times, your audience starts to ignore it, or be annoyed by it. Both are bad for you.

Speech Example #1

Feeling Naked by Heather Applegate

  • Gestures to Improve
    • Repetitive gesture (both arms spread out to sides), many times in a row. [0:45] If you repeat any action too many times, your audience starts to ignore it, or be annoyed by it. Both are bad for you.
    • In general, arms are quite “busy” with many “generic” gestures throughout. In her defense, this creates a relaxed, conversational style that is appropriate in for this speech topic. Still, I would like to see it toned down.
  • Effective Body Language
    • Facial gestures convey a “puzzled look” to complement the confusion of the “neighbors being around you”. [0:55] This gesture comes through strong even with the imperfect video quality.
    • It’s better to avoid notes because they tend to limit gestures as you hold on to the paper. However, if you do must have notes, this is the way to do it [1:30]: briefly look down to orient yourself, and then look back up again before speaking. (Contrast this with talking to the paper @ 5:00.)
    • Inhale, exhale to complement “Just breathe” [3:05]

Speech Example #2

Let’s have disagreement by Anonymous

  • Gestures to Improve
    • Forced gesture – The opening walk from right to left [0:02] seems forced to me. However, he recovered well with broad arm to right while saying “you’ll be one mile apart”
    • Repetitive action – Throughout the speech, two gestures are repeated over and over again. [1] two arms with palms upward; [2] two arms with thumbs up.
    • Back to the audience. [5:32] Try to avoid facing away from the audience, even when writing on a whiteboard or flip chart.
  • Effective Body Language
    • Natural smile throughout the speech.
    • Raising of right arm reinforces that he wants the audience to respond to his question. [0:57]
    • Arms mimic “building a wall” [1:45]
    • Arms mimic a complete circle to punctuate “a whole” [3:16]
    • Emphasize opposites. Notice the use of the two arms for “stupid” and “smart” [4:16]
    • Arms “hugging” to punctuate the word “embrace” [6:03]

Removing barriers between you and your audience helps them to see your body language and connect with you.

Speech Example #3

Speak Without Saying a Word by Emilie Staryak

  • Gestures to Improve
    • It’s difficult to focus naturally on gestures when talking about gestures. For this reason, I recommend choosing a topic other than gestures for this speech.
  • Effective Body Language
    • Natural smile throughout the speech.
    • Get the lectern out of the way [1:06]. Removing barriers between you and your audience helps them to see your body language and connect with you.
    • Emphasize opposites — “If we have a party that is going to start at 5 o’clock, we have to tell my Uncle Joe that it starts at 6 (arms gesturing to the right), and we have to tell my Dad that it starts at 4 (arms gesturing to the left)” [3:15]

Speech Example #4

Learning from Yourself by Anonymous

  • Gestures to Improve
    • Arms tucked behind body for the first 70 seconds of speech. Try to keep your hands and arms in front and “ready” to gesture.
    • Repetitive gesture, both arms out in front, palms up, hands going up and down. [e.g. 4:40 to 5:20, and other times]
  • Effective Body Language
    • Broad smile accompanies “I had lots of fun there” [2:20] Authenticity!
    • While saying “Projection”, arms project strongly outwards to complement words [2:48]
    • Emphasize opposites by providing opposing gestures. Arms sway to right = “too fast”; arms sway to the left = “too slow” [2:52]

More Examples of Your Body Speaks

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Here are a few more sample video speeches which may provide inspiration for you. As you watch some of these videos, ask yourself which body language is effective and which is not. Then, try to emulate the best behaviors in your own speech.

Next in the Toastmasters Speech Series

The next article in this series examines Toastmasters Speech 6: Vocal Variety.

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