The adult self-advocates in our monthly communications workshop are learning how body language shapes people’s perceptions.
Every month a group of up to 9 self-advocates get together to hone their communication skills. Our short-term goal is to prepare these adults with Down syndrome to lead our advocacy table at the Buddy Walk in September. In the long-term, our hope is these new communication skills will lead to more involvement in the community and employment opportunities.
This month’s topic is non-verbal communication, which experts say makes up for 70% of any given conversation. All of us used body language long before we learned to talk. For individuals with Down syndrome, non-verbal communication may be their primary mode of communicating their needs and wants.
What is your body telling your audience?
That’s the question we posed to our self-advocates. Although they all used many non-verbal cues in conversation, almost all were unaware of the impact of those cues. A long look in the mirror brought some of our negative body language to light.
Lack of eye contact and looking “closed off” were two of the most common mistakes we learned by taking a look in the mirror.
Anna is a particularly confident communicator. She always made great eye contact and uses hand gestures to explain her point. But after seeing herself in the mirror she remarked “I need to remember to keep smiling.”
Theater Educator, Stephanie Radford (emphasize on the “RAD”), gave our self-advocates pointers on “matching”. This technique requires the listener to copy the expression and emotion of the talker. “It’s important to show you are listening and empathize with the talker, without saying a word,” Radford explains.
Radford stresses the action of body language is more memorable than what you say.
This is especially important for our self-advocates who are often unsure of what to say or concerned that they might not be intelligible or understood. At the Buddy Walk we stressed that their body language should exude an air of confidence and openness.
They’ll be introducing Congressmen and our mayor at the Buddy Walk, as well as teaching attendees about Down syndrome and programs our local group provides self-advocates. It’s important that they use their expression, eye contact, and gestures to show they’re the experts on all things Buddy Walk related.
In three short sessions I have have seen improvement in our self-advocates communications skills. I can’t wait to see them in action during our 15th Annual Buddy Walk!
To learn more about our self-advocate communication workshop click here.