January 16, 2015

Storytelling Skills – Body Language Speaks

Joel had been chosen by his team to be the one to give a presentation in front of a small review committee. His would be one of ten 30-minute presentations that day. A lot was riding on his presentation so he had to nail it. His team was depending on him.

As I watched him tell the story I helped him identify and create, it was as if his head and body were not connected. He kept stepping forward and stepping back in a way that signaled discomfort and nervousness. What he didn’t realize was that the forward / backward movement looked weak. Not only did it communicate discomfort, he was unconsciously stepping backward whenever he attempted to make an important point.

Body Language is Language

Whether you realize it or not, your body language speaks. It’s often more powerful than the words you say. You can be going through your slides and covering your well thought out presentation, but if you keep wandering around and stepping forward and backward, your negative body language negates everything you’re saying. All people can see is your discomfort and nervousness.

Do you step forward and backward when you speak? Perhaps you don’t know the answer to that questions. Perhaps you’re unaware of what your body language is communicating while words are coming out of your mouth.

A good percentage of the speakers that attend my storytelling workshops and breakout sessions focus so heavily on their content that they forget to get grounded physically when they speak. From the waist up they’re doing fine, but from the waist down they’re moving around with no awareness of what their legs are doing.

Movement Flows from Intention

When you’re nervous, it often manifests physically. Either you’re frozen in place and don’t move enough, or you wander aimlessly back and forth and side to side without any sense of purpose.

Intentional movement begins with your base. You’ve got to feel the floor beneath you. The shoes you wear can make a huge difference. If you’re rocking back and forth or standing one one foot with the other foot partially touching the ground behind you, you’ll look weak.

Here are a few of the exercises we work on in my storytelling workshops and customized training programs.

Place Your Feet Shoulder Width Apart

Without a strong base, you’ll be off-balance. You’ll lean to one side or the other and your hip will stick out. While you have no intention of standing off-balance with one foot behind or one hip out to the side, your posture takes on unintended meaning.

When you take your place at the front of the room, take a strong stance. Place your feet shoulder width apart and feel the floor beneath you. Get grounded. Look out at your audience and start speaking. Make eye contact with one person and begin strong.

Turn Your Hips and Walk

If you want to move, do so with intention. Move purposely forward or to the side. Rather than crossing one leg over the other to move from one side to the other, turn your hips and walk. I’ve never seen anyone do the cross over side step other than in front of an audience. It’s a sign of discomfort.

If you’ve moved forward and want to move back to your notes, turn around and walk back. Don’t back up! It looks weak.

An easy rule to remember is to always walk forward. That’s what you do all day. Pay attention to any strange movement habits that only happen in front of an audience. Observe how you walk around all day and then do the same in front of your audience.

Your Body Language Speaks

Don’t let your body language betray you. Feel your legs and feet beneath you. Move with confidence and purpose. Movement should always flow from an intention to connect with someone in your audience or to support what you are saying. Whether you are aware of it or not, your body language and movement are either communicating confidence and poise, or just the opposite.


Doug Stevenson, CSP, works with individuals and organizations to help them identify and tell inspiring stories that make a point, teach a lesson or sell a product or service. He is the president of Story Theater International, a Tucson, Arizona based consultancy. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method and the Next Level Video eLearning Series.

His has delivered keynote speeches, workshops and training courses on storytelling and story selling for clients in 16 countries including Aetna, Abbott Labs, Amgen, Caterpillar, Con Agra Foods, Deloitte, Google, Genentech, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Oracle, Volkswagen, Verizon, The Nickelodeon Channel, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

To inquire about Doug’s availability email: [email protected]

Doug can be reached at 1-719-310-8586. Learn more about how Doug can help you tell your story, attend a Story Theater Retreat, purchase the book, eBook or Story Theater audio six pack, and sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at: www.storytelling-in-business.com.


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