Body Language – Breaking The Rules!

What Body Language Rules Should You Keep  & Which Should You Break?

Most Toastmasters members will be given the same body language recommendations, but are these always appropriate and why do so many of the professional speakers break them?

I'll look a highly successful professional speaker who doesn't always follow the tried and tested rules of body language when giving a speech. Why is he able to do this? Read today's blog and find out!


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Dr. Srikumar Rao

According to Wikipedia, Srikumar S. Rao is a speaker, author, former business school professor and creator of Creativity and Personal Mastery, a course designed to effect personal transformation.

I have seen a lot of educational videos on Mindvalley.com and most recently I been watching a few Dr Srikumar Rao videos.  He has been a highly successful teacher at a number of business schools.  However, if you measure his speaking ability based on traditional Toastmasters body language recommendations, he breaks most of the rules.

Let's look at one of these videos and I'll show you how he breaks them but is still able to captivate his audiences.

What body language recommendations do most Toastmasters receive when they are first starting out as a speaker?
  • Begin by standing in the centre of the stage, breathe, pause and connect with your audience before you speak. Pausing like this builds the anticipation in the public's mind about what you are going to say.
  • Start with a well-crafted opening statement. People remember the opening and ending of your speech more than any other part of your address.
  • Don't lean on anything as you speak. Leaning on something can be interpreted as you requiring a crutch to lean on, reducing the level of confidence that the audience believes you have.
  • Never have both hands in your pockets.  The audience starts to wonder what you are doing with them. 
  • Don't clasp your hands in front of you as you speak. Holding your hands can be interpreted as begging for approval from the audience, or praying for success. It certainly doesn't look confident.
  • Use the stage with purpose.  There are a number of acceptable ways of using the stage.  These include:
    • Using the stage as a timeline
    • Using the stage to represent different stories
    • Using the stage to represent different characters
How and where does Dr Srikumar Rao break these body language recommendations?
  • He starts with his hands in his pockets
  • He starts with the word "Alright."
  • He moves straight over to a chair and leans on it
  • He leaves the seat and has both hands in his pockets (52 seconds)
  • He has his hands clasped together in front of him (2 mins 25 seconds)
  • He wanders from the centre of the stage to stage right for no other reason than to lean on a chair.
What speech techniques does Dr Srikumar Rao utilise?
  • Powerful vocal variety
    • Tone
    • Volume
    • Pace
    • Use of pause
  • Use of stories and metaphors to make his key points
  • Use of sensory language
  • Interaction with the audience
Is there something else going on?  Why is Dr Srikumar Rao able to break the body language rules and still deliver a speech with impact?

The reason that new Toastmasters members are offered the body language recommendations when starting out is to help them establish three key elements all great speakers require:

  • Confidence
  • Certainty
  • Credibility

Most new speakers are very nervous, and an audience can pick up on speakers fear. If the orator reflects this concern in their body language, then this is very distracting to an audience as they are focusing on how nervous the speaker is, rather than the content.

​Dr Srikumar Roa breaks the body language rules, but there is no sense of fear emanating from him in any way. If anything, he looks very relaxed, calm and confident as he breaks the rules.

When you are starting out as a speaker, it is important to find ways to help you look as confident and precise as you can on stage, while building your credibility. The body language recommendations most Toastmasters receive are an excellent way of helping the speaker establish this credibility and confidence. However, they aren't essential to become a great speaker.


As a speaker becomes more advanced and experienced, they learn to develop their style. Many different styles work. When developing your speaking style, ask yourself "Do you look confident, certain and credible?" If not, learn the rules!

As a speaker, do you look confident, certain and credible?  If not, learn the rules!

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What speaking style have you developed and have you benefited from any body language recommendations?

How confident, certain and credible do you look as a speaker?

Please comment below!

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Martin J O'Connor
 

In 2015, Martin was the District 17 Toastmasters Table Topics Champion and came third in 2014. He was in the District 17 final of the Humorous competition in 2015 and is in the District 17 final of the Evaluation competition in 2017. He is very proud to be a founding member of Competitive Speakers Perth Toastmasters club.