Good communication is definitely the foundation of any successful workshop. How we deliver our workshop is somewhat based solely around what we say, but as important as that is how we say it. Most of us are maybe familiar and understand the term verbal communication, however, non-verbal is something that is scarcely mentioned or fully understood.
Non-verbal communication is basically the collection of our facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, posture, body language and much more. The ability to recognise and practice non-verbal communication is a powerful tool for workshop leaders to help establish authority, gain trust and develop friendship/relationship with participants. It can help with things like de escalating a touchy or fired up situations but also to inspire and motivate learners.
To set the tone for the rest of the article, let’s think about the following scenarios
- Closed Posture; A workshop leader trying to deliver a dance workshop whilst her arms are folded or hands in her pocket
- Lack of eye contact; A workshop leader is trying to deliver a tech workshop; whilst making no eye contact at all and giving instructions behind the screen
- Minimal facial reactions; A workshop leader is delivering an arts and craft workshop with young people with down syndrome. However, there is no sign of smiling, no raising of the eyebrows, minimal reaction to questions and answers
What if I told you that these scenarios are real and that I have experienced them myself? Although the workshop leaders were great at what they did, and had some very useful and educational information to communicate and teach. However, the thing that made their workshop from good to bad (as said on feedback) that the workshop leaders did not seem enthusiastic to teach, people were not sure if they should ask questions or even what they should learn. All this was said because there was no communication between what is said and what is understood. Research shows that when verbal communication fails to connect with non-verbal communication, people tend to ignore what has been said and focus instead on unspoken expressions of moods, thoughts, and emotions.
So the next time you want to encourage, motivate and inspire your participants using non verbal communication techniques, try the following
When standing in front of your workshop group, try keeping an open posture instead of crossed arms or legs, the way you portray your posture will pass a non-verbal message of interest or not. Based on the scenario above, a closed posture conveys a message of lack of interest, something that reduces the connection between two parties communicating. When keeping an open posture, try utilising your hands and moving them more freely. Not only will it help strengthen the points you are trying to make, but will also help participants understand your points further. To have an open posture simply stand straight trying not to clasp your hands together, or hugging your body, or locking your hands behind your back. At the same time pay attention to the position of your elbows. If they hang stiffly at your sides, your gestures will look shortened and artificial. This means you should stand up straight with your shoulders back and face the crowd. You want to refrain from slouchy lazy posture as your participants may feed from this energy and get bored.
Visual sense is very dominant for many people and most situations we come across on a day-to-day basis. The use of appropriate eye contact is really important when it comes to non-verbal communication. This is because your participants will usually look at our eye contact for visual cues of emotions, intentions, trustworthiness and attachment. When talking to your group, make sure that you look, blink and maintain a suitable level of eye contact. This will help play a part in what you are saying or trying to say. As a workshop leader, sustaining a suitable level of eye contact with your participants can help communicate confidence and belief in your points. Likewise, when your participants notice eye contact, they feel as though they are being invited to engage with you and feel encouraged to make an indication of their feelings for the topic – with nods, frowns, smiles etc. Another reason eye contact is very important is because it will help with maintaining the flow of the conversation and is also good when assessing the participant’s response. For e.g. by eye contact you can see what their response is.
When delivering your next workshop, establish eye contact with the audience by looking at each participant for a brief moment, looking left to right, sometimes looking away and then back. This will tell them that you are confident in what you saying and give them the comfort needed to communicate with you in return. That does not mean staring fixedly into someone’s eyes. Some communication experts recommend intervals of eye contact lasting four to five seconds. Avoid the need to fire your eyes around the room or to sweep the room with your eyes. Instead, try to hold eye contact with a single person for a moment, this maybe for a phrase or a sentence, whilst anticipating an answer or response.
For me personally facial expressions are accountable for a huge percentage of non-verbal communications. This is because the human face is exceptionally communicative and is able to express limitless emotions without saying a word. Let’s think through how much information can actually be conveyed with a simple smile or a frown, how we communicate with babies, animals and people who do not share the same language to us! Moreover, unlike most other non-verbal communication methods, facial expressions are universal which means that they are a lot easier to read and can actually be very useful for a workshop leader.
You as a workshop leader can make full use of facial expressions by utilising them in the right context to further strengthen the points you are making. Smiling whilst talking to your participants should help you notice how it creates an atmosphere of friendliness, allowing them to feel comfortable and open to dialogue and discussions. At the same time try to make every facial expression, appropriate, and consistent both with what you are saying and in line with your own personality.
Body language is the control of appearance, posture, gesture, touch, expression, eye contact, tone variability and pretty much everything said so far plus much more. Ultimately, it is the one thing that is an amalgamation of everything where most people respond to it all at once.
Moving around purposefully and having a good posture helps to engage participants as it keeps their level of interests high. Good posture while seated or standing shows professionalism and also adds to the impression of your sense of authority. Additionally, the use of appropriate gestures at the right time can amplify an essential point and displays importance which again keeps the participants engaged. Studies show that body language accounts for between 50 to 70% of all our communications. To know more about how body language can win over participants, check out our blog here
So the next time you deliver another workshop think about these points, try to work with them both consciously and subconsciously and see what difference you can make in your verbal communication by adopting these. Spend time building this skill by paying careful attention to other people and practising different forms of non-verbal communication. A good video to watch is this TED talk on body language here