When Darth Vader speaks, everybody listens. The audience clings to each syllable as if they are afraid to let go. Well, afraid is probably not the type of response you nor I would want from our audience, but still. You have to admit the guy commands your attention. Whether we are pitching a new idea to a client, interviewing for a job, speaking in front of a group, or talking to another individual one-on-one, we can only hope to gain and keep a fraction of the attention that Vader can muster. So, let’s take some lessons from the master himself.
Have you ever noticed it’s not even what Vader says that matters; rather, it’s his mere presence that manages to capture and keep our attention? The man is the master of nonverbal visual communication. He makes it very clear that he is the one in charge, and he doesn’t even have to utter a single syllable to get others to understand it. Here are just 3 steps you can take to transform your meager human presence to that of a commanding Sith Lord:
1. Body Posture – Darth Vader is no slouch. Even when he just stands still, he emits nothing but pure power. How is it possible that someone can exude so much power while covered in drapes? It’s all in the posture. Have you ever caught Vader leaning against a wall, or standing with one hand on a hip, or uncomfortably swaying back and forth, or sitting like he just can’t wait to take a nap? Me neither. There’s a reason for that. The straighter you sit, the taller you stand, and the more confident you will appear. Did you notice that Vader seems to always be the most confident person in the room? It’s because he stands like he’s the most confident person in the room. Whether you are speaking to a large audience of 5,000, or a smaller audience of 50, or an even smaller audience of one, sit or stand like you are the most confident person in the room. But what if you don’t feel confident? That’s easy. Make yourself sit and stand straight anyway. Research shows that yes, you can actually “trick” yourself into feeling more confident (or not) through your body posture.
2. Body Movement – Whenever Vader walks, you can tell he’s going somewhere important. He’s got a purpose. In public speaking, we too should walk like we have a purpose. Can you imagine how ridiculous Vader would look pacing aimlessly about, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, like some nervous Nelly? And did you ever hear of him shuffling his feet while taking a lazy stroll around the Death Star? Ah, no. There is nothing less intimidating than a person who walks while shuffling his or her feet. Just watch an episode of The Walking Dead. Yes, the dead are pretty disgusting and gross to look at, but they aren't even scary anymore. Why? Because they are aimlessly shuffling about going nowhere fast and without a purpose. Whenever you are speaking in front of an audience, move with purpose. Choose a section to stand near, walk there, address that part of the audience for a bit, then walk to another section of the audience to address them for a while. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. And when you’re standing there addressing a particular section of the audience, refer back to #1 on this list.
3. Hand Gestures – Just as with walking, Vader doesn't waste time with random hand movements. You really don’t even notice what he’s doing with his hands until he raises them to use them for a purpose (just like the walking). Take for instance, whenever Vader decides to use the Force to choke someone. You know it’s coming because he raises his arm and uses a hand gesture just before it happens. And when it’s time to employ the Jedi mind trick, a wave of the hand helps to persuade another person to change his or her mind. Could Vader be equally effective in choking and persuading others without the use of his hands (and let’s not focus on the fact that they’re fake hands okay)? I’m willing to bet my next paycheck that the answer is yes. But using his hands does seem to help him channel and focus all that dark energy into a certain direction. It’s no different for you and me when it comes to public speaking. Actually, we shouldn't even think about hand gestures while speaking, unless we are using them purposefully (think Jedi mind trick and pretend you’re using the Force). When not thinking about hand gestures while speaking, you’ll allow them to move naturally – just like you do when having an everyday conversation. Just let them flow. When it comes time to make a point though, think about the impact you want to make and what kind of hand gesture you could use to complement and complete the message.
These are just 3 steps you can begin practicing now in order to improve your visual nonverbal communication skills. Next time, we'll take a look at why how Vader speaks is equally as important.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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