In the 1970’s, I read for the first time, How to Read a Person Like a Book by Gerald I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero. This book had a great effect on me then as well as now. The invaluable information has caused me to read the book a few times and research specific gestures that puzzle me.
Being made aware of the nonverbal communication signals people display has helped me to be a more sensitive communicator. Becoming observant to body language began with one-on-one conversations for me.
Later gesture watching grew to watching small group’s responses to one another’s posturing. At one advisory board meeting, I’d notice that when the president elect was uncomfortable when a negative topic was presented, he would swivel in his seat so that he gave us a side view of him. Yet, when the topic changed to his liking, he turned facing everyone and leaned forward giving us all full attention. What amazed me most were the ways different members of the board responded to the president’s nonverbal message. Two crossed their arms and clutched tight to their arms. Another pushed his chair back from the table when the president disengaged. However, arms were uncrossed and chairs scooted up when full engagement was displayed.
Then as a professional speaker, I’ve learned to adjust my presentations to respond to large audience’s reactions. I can tell when all ages are taking in information, wanting more on a topic, or growing restless. This honed skill has become vital for delivering critical information in a limited time frame. Reading the audience at mother/daughter teas is a wobbly balancing act with ages ranging from five to over fifty. When the wee ones begin to wiggle, my body language must become more animated to draw their attention back to the topic or create an activity that brings reality to information. An activity that moves the body speaks to the memory bank for easier recall. Body movement is a message to be read by a speaker in order to become an effective communicator.
Observations to consider:
These gestures shows when a speaker is holding the audience’s attention.
- Leaning forward
- Nodding head in agreement
- Taking notes
- Pointing feet towards the speaker
These gestures are clues when a speaker should change topics or close.
- Holding head in the palm of their hand
- Crossing arms in a defensive manner while twisting frequently in seat
- Bouncing crossed leg
- Pointing foot towards the door
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
What are some gestures you have found important to note or respond to when in a conversation or as a speaker?
Other indispensable books on this topic:
Body Language by Gordon R. Wainwright
People-Reading: How We Control Others, How They Control Us
by Dr. Ernst G. Beier and Evans G. Valens