Marcel Marceau, The Master Of Mime And Body Language
Today marks the centenary of the birth of Marcel Marceau, the great French mime artist, who is being honored by the daily Google Doodle with a brief animation of some of his most famous poses, among them leaning against an invisible wall, and pushing against an invisible wall. You can see his original versions of the same moves in this YouTube video.
Marceau captivated audiences around the globe for decades with his silent performances, but his lasting impact is his validation of the axiom, “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” The origin of the axiom can be traced all the way back to 1693 to Thomas Manton who wrote, “Actions, which speak much louder than words” ,” and forward to author Malcolm Gladwell whose international bestseller Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, described what he calls “those first two seconds” of how people make snap judgments based on first impressions. Frequently, that first impression is purely visual.
As an example, try this exercise: Ask a colleague or friend to be your audience for a very brief presentation. Then step up to the front of the room and start to speak, but do so silently, without using your voice, moving only your lips. As you do, slouch, put your weight on one leg, thrust your hands deep into your pockets, and dart your eyes around the room rapidly.
Then stop and step aside. After a moment, step back to the center, stand up straight, look directly at your colleague, and move your lips silently again. Address all your energies to your colleague and extend your hand toward that person, as if you were about to shake hands.
Stop again and ask your trial audience to react to both versions of your exercise. Undoubtedly, the person will respond negatively to the first and positively to the second. And they will have made that evaluation solely on what they saw, not what they heard. Actions speak louder than words.
From the simplicity of mime, let’s turn to the business world and, in particular, the high stakes of IPO roadshows. A fascinating academic study examined “how investor perceptions of management influence firm valuation.” To assess those perceptions, researchers showed 30-second video clips from the NetRoadshows (the requisite streaming version of the roadshow presentation) of 224 companies to random audiences—but the researchers filtered the soundtrack so that the CEOs’ voices were distorted, and their words were unintelligible.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the study and, in their article, went right to the bottom line: “They found that perceptions of the CEO are a strong predictor of an IPO’s price. The study found that for the average CEO, a 5% higher rating on perceptions correlated to an IPO price roughly 11% higher than the price that would be expected based on fundamentals alone. ...The more a chief executive’s gestures and manners exude competence during investor pitch sessions, the more likely he or she is to have a higher-priced IPO.”
“Gestures and manners” are the body language. The irony is that most presenters spend most of their time and effort on the content. So, am I suggesting that you should forget about telling your story and focus all of your energy on your delivery skills? Not at all. Put equal effort on both sides of the equation, as much on your body language and your voice as on your story, as much on the messenger as the message.
There are multiple components of the body language—eyes, facial expressions, gestures, and posture—and you must start the most fundamental, posture. Looking back to the exercise above: it did not include a word of content or a decibel of sound. The difference between the slouch and standing straight up, was the difference between a negative and positive perception. Actions speak louder than words.
Weissman, J. (2023, March 22). Marcel Marceau, The Master Of Mime And Body Language. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jerryweissman/2023/03/22/marcel-marceau-the-master-of-mime-and-body-language/?sh=4f6356cb6b50