When we prepare any presentation or performance, we tend to spend the bulk of our time on what we are going to say. However, our words may play only a small role in how well the meaning of our message is understood.
According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a research pioneer in nonverbal communication, 55 percent of the meaning of our spoken message is translated nonverbally. Our tone of voice carries an additional 38 percent, while our actual words only convey a paltry 7 percent of the meaning!
Knowing what our body language is saying is crucial, especially if it might be at odds with our oratory. On camera, our bodies speak loud and clear, often without our even realizing it, and that’s why it is imperative to understand how to keep our nonverbal communication in sync with our verbal.
Inner Tube Arms
While conducting one of my first on-camera performance training workshops, I observed a universal trait of all of my participants that confused me. Everybody kept their arms glued to their sides throughout their entire presentations, as if someone had taken an inner tube and pulled it down over their heads and shoulders, stopping just short of their wrists. Their only gesture that was detectable or even seemed possible was a flick of the hands.
During the group analysis of their performances, I commented about the unusual body movement, or lack thereof. I was told they had all taken presentation training and were told that keeping their arms at their sides was a best practice. While I am hopeful they were not instructed to keep their arms there for the entire presentation, I can’t be sure. What I can say is when they tried to apply that principle to their on-camera performances, their arms were super-glued for the duration.
If 55 percent of the meaning of our spoken message is translated nonverbally, as Dr. Mehrabian attests, then what is this body movement telling their audiences? I dare not guess.
Do What Comes Naturally
The camera is not your captor. It is not forcing you to stay still—or even to stay planted in one spot. And you don’t have to. I told people in this particular class (and subsequent ones) to unglue their arms and instead follow this simple rule: “Gesture the way you would when you are not on camera.”
In other words, if you like to talk with your hands, then do so. If you aren’t a big gesticulator, don’t feel like you have to create gestures purely for the camera’s sake. Do what comes naturally. If you focus on the message you are conveying, your body will respond in a way that will complement the content.
Learn More: On-Camera Coach
If you found this information valuable, check out my book, On-Camera Coach: Tools and Techniques for Business Professionals in a Video-Driven World, now available from Wiley Publishing. On-Camera Coach aims to take the mystery out of communicating through the camera and provides specific tips and techniques that can make your message sing—and you, the messenger, feel confident in a job well done.