Movement or Words?

Comments ( 0 )

Do you focus exclusively on the words you utter and not at all on your movements? Are you connecting with your listeners?

“Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than to language….and I’m sure this was how people, human beings, first bonded, maybe chanting or dancing around the bonfire when there wasn’t much in the way of language,” says Dr. Oliver Sachs, the writer and neurologist known for his books “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and “Awakenings.” He was interviewed with choreographer Bill T. Jones for an article in the New York Times entitled “The Man Who Took His Life as a Dance” about the piece Mr. Jones had choreographed based on some of Dr. Sachs’ unusual case studies.

In the interview Dr. Sachs describes one woman who relied exclusively on non-verbal cues. Aphasic after a stroke, she had lost all ability to speak. However, she became an expert at reading people’s movements and expressions and communicating with them through gestures and mime. Dr. Sachs admits that he is “a verbal person and [lives] largely in a world of words.” He also acknowledges that he needs to “become more aware of more elemental forms of communication with the body and with movement.”

Unlike the cavemen, today we focus on language as our main form of communication, as well we should. Yet it is crucial to consider what we communincate non-verbally via body language, movement…even the vibe we give off physically.

As the frequently cited studies by psychologist Albert Mehrabian and colleagues indicate, when a communication of feelings or attitudes is ambiguous, (i.e. when a person’s words don’t match their tone of voice or behaviors) listeners will most often turn to the speaker’s physical cues for information. And a communicator’s behavior accounts for the majority of why we like him or her. Voice comes in a close second and words a distant third.

I am not implying that non-verbal communication gives the listener the bulk of the information. Nor is it the only way to connect with your audience. Words count enormously and choice of verbal content in a communication can make the audience feel either connected with and understood by the speaker, or turned off by him or her.

Nonetheless, when you are expressing an opinion, talking about something you care about, or trying to convince an audience to take an action or adopt a point of view you feel strongly about, your physical presence, facial expression and movements can make the difference between a connected, supportive audience, and an audience who is either checking their emails or waiting to ask you a hostile question during Q and A.

So respect your natural inclination to express yourself physically. Allow yourself to smile, to laugh, to move about, to gesture…all in keeping with the words you utter. You’ll enhance the meaning of your words and your feelings about them. You’ll touch your audience on a human level — the level on which we were all born to operate.

Until the next time…


If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it!
Icon Icon Icon


  • "As someone who presents opinion pieces and data to large crowds, Kayla was instrumental in helping me focus and deliver the optimal speech and flow. I appreciate her time and intensity on helping me better relay my key points both in context and delivery." Sean Finnegan
  • "Kayla has a real knack for getting to the heart of a message and helping express it both rationally and emotionally for maximum effectiveness. She knows how to put a speaker at ease and get them ready to speak in high-stress situations. An hour with Kayla will make you a ‘Great Communicator." Lisa Merriam, President, Merriam Associates
  • "Kayla was an excellent presentation coach. She not only helped me discoverhow to turn a long, dry presentation into a story that is interactive andinteresting, but also helped me understand what it was that triggered mynervousness and gave me great suggestions on how to control it. Kayla isvery unique and invests all of her energy into your success." Christine Zambrana, Associate Director, Oncology Marketing

Newsletter Signup

All we need is your email: