Body language says more about what you really think about your presentation than your words do. It has a huge influence on your audience. Here’s how to get it right.
1. Your stance
If you’re nervous, you might feel safer by standing stiffly in one place, taking refuge behind your lectern, slouching, or swaying. You might put your hands on your hips or in your pockets (strangely, young men do this most of all) and look straight ahead while speaking.
Don’t do it! These are big audience turn-offs.
2. Move around while you speak
“Be alive and energetic,” says presenting expert David Vickery. “Don’t sway, don’t slouch, and don’t lean back. If you stand tall and lean forward, you send an unconscious but powerful message to your audience that you’re passionate about your subject, that you’re confident and that you’ve got something to say that’s worth hearing.”
3. Your hands are weapons
Even more than your voice, hands are a speaker’s best weapon. Take a look at TV presenters. Their hands continually drive the points they make, underlining and illustrating them.
4. Shoulders are important
When addressing a large gathering, hands can’t always make big enough gestures – but shoulders can. Gesturing from the shoulder and using your whole arms also helps to relieve any tension or nerves. But don’t overdo it in a small room: you’ll look like a gibbon.
5. Look at people in turn
Your facial expression is vital. Many experts recommend that you should look at different people in turn, engaging each of them with your eyes before pausing slightly and moving on to your next point. The pauses help your message, and give added drama and impact to what you’re saying.
Make sure you don’t ignore any part of the audience. Engage with as many members of it as possible. This will help make them feel connected with you.
6. Above all, smile!
Even in a serious or weighty presentation, you should be able to smile at the start: it’s another good tension reliever. In many presentations, you’ll be able to smile much more. Look as if you’re having fun, and two things will happen: you’ll start enjoying yourself, and so will your audience.
7. Use body language for feedback
Body language works the other way too. In many presentations, nobody in the audience will speak until you get to the end and ask for questions. But their body language provides powerful unspoken feedback.
If everyone’s sitting back or slouching, they’re not paying attention. If they’re looking away or have their eyes closed, that’s even worse. If they’re sitting with their arms folded looking directly at you, you might have offended or annoyed them. (If they’re shaking their fists, you certainly have.) If they’re leaning forward and maintaining eye contact, you’ve made a hit.
Picture credit: Red October