Successful ‘public non-speaking’

Being a good public speaker is an asset for all professionals, but public non-speaking – body language, facial expressions, demeanour – can be just as telling when clients are in the spotlight.

Christine Clapp, president of Spoken with Authority, offers four specific situations where actions can speak louder than words (borrowed from

  1. When you are being introduced
    You are standing off to the side as your presentation is being introduced. Even though you are not at the lectern and speaking yet, audience members will be looking at you. The moments just before you go on stage to speak can be nerve-racking, and this anxiety can come across in your facial expressions. Make sure you don’t project nervousness; instead, convey confidence by smiling and looking at the speaker or out at the audience as you are being introduced.


  1. When you are being asked a question
    Speakers often look defensive or stern when they are put on the spot in a Q&A session, job interview or interview with a reporter. To avoid these expressions when you are searching for a good response, practice pausing, taking a sip of water, smiling, and thanking the person for the question. This will buy a few seconds to formulate your response and to come across as cool and collected when you are speaking off the cuff.


  1. When you are on a panel and someone else is speaking
    Vice President Al Gore famously rolled his eyes and sighed when his Republican opponent, George W. Bush, was speaking during their first presidential debate in 2000. Though few speakers will ever participate in a televised debate, many find themselves on panels with experts who hold contrary views. As Gore learned, looking annoyed or disdainful about someone’s contentions can make you appear unprofessional and immature. In such cases, maintain a neutral facial expression while you listen courteously; try taking notes on what the other person is saying—and writing down your counterpoints.


  1. When you are the subject of a toast or receiving an award
    Being the centre of attention can be awkward and uncomfortable for many people. Avoid looking at your feet out of embarrassment or glancing at the ceiling impatiently, so you don’t come across as rude or ungrateful for the accolades you are receiving. When someone is toasting or honouring you, look at the speaker and out into the audience with a smile that conveys appreciation and humility.