They say that actions speak louder than words. So far in the Moot Court Advocacy Series we have dedicated a lot of our attention to verbal communication. However, we all know that non-verbal signals convey at least as much as verbal messages. That is why it is so important to mind your body language. Here are five the most important elements you should always pay attention to!
Apart from maintaining eye contact with the tribunal, controlling your facial expressions is probably the second most important thing you should think about while pleading. Every face can revel everything – stress, anger, surprise, confidence… This is why your face should be the one of a professional, likeable and well-educated counsel. Being grim or expressionless takes away a lot of charm and makes it far harder to engage in a friendly conversation with you. Grinning, on the other hand, might be perceived a sign of nervousness or too informal for the situation. Make sure that thanks to your smile you are perceived as friendly, but not too familiar, enthusiastic, but not ecstatic. At times it might be difficult to balance due to cultural differences, but a natural soft smile indicating confidence, energy and openness will always help you.
- Watch your posture
Sit straight, but do not be too stiff. You should make your posture look natural – but if you naturally bend forward too much you will not look confident. Make sure you can comfortably use the bundle, reach water and help your co-counsel. If you are seated closer to the tribunal make sure you lean back a little while your co-counsel is pleading so that the tribunal can see and focus on your colleague.
- Watch your hands
Every skilled speaker knows how important it is to use your hands to emphasize the message you are trying to convey. A moot court pleading is not different – you can use your hands to your advantage or detriment. There are two mistakes you can make: either using your hands too much or too little. People who naturally tend to gesticulate a lot may end up waving in every direction and making uncoordinated moves. People who hardly make any gestures often fold their hands in front of them and barely move them throughout the pleading. None of the two extremes is good: in the first case your gestures are distracting and make you seem chaotic or disorganized. In the second case, you lose of an opportunity to emphasizes your key arguments and make your speech less engaging.
The best way to use your hands is through moderate gesticulation. Put one of your hands on the table in a comfortable position. Use the second one to make natural, limited and reasonably diversified movements that are natural for your private style of speaking. Make sure your hands are held separately, so that you keep your position towards the tribunal open.
No matter what you decide to do with your hands, you must never hold a pen/pencil while you are talking or hide your hands under the table. The mere fact you hold and wave a pen is distracting and if you then start to click it, you can really damage your performance. Holding your hands below the table makes you seem dishonest, as if you were trying to hide something, and just as holding them together, makes it impossible for you to gesticulate persuasively.
- Watch your legs
What you should or should not do with your legs depends largely on whether the panel can see them or not. If your table is covered or has a closed front so that they remain invisible you probably do not have to pay attention to them. However, if your legs are visible (an in most cases they will be) you need to watch out. Regardless of anything, keep them firmly next to each other and on the ground. Crossed or shaking legs reveal that you are stressed, no matter how calm the upper part of your body is. Spread legs look unprofessional and can disturb your co-counsel.
- Stop fidgeting
Fidgeting in any form instantly sends a message that you are stressed. It instantly damages your persuasiveness. Most people have their own favourite moves that inadvertently appear when they are stressed, embarrassed or do not feel confident. It goes without saying you should be aware of yours and control them during the pleading. Due to the courtroom setting there is a couple of actions that plague young mooties. If you sit on a swivel chair or a rolling chair you might revolve, what makes it harder for the tribunal to focus on what you are saying. If you have long hair do not touch or play with it. Do not tap with your foot or fingers. No matter how much you feel like doing something unusual, stay alert and fight the urge.
Once you manage to fully control these elements of your body language you will always appear professional and trustworthy.