Body language tips for presentations
Body language is a vital tool in any public speaker’s arsenal – we look at the best ways of using body language to your advantage.
Public speaking is generally an essential and unavoidable activity in the business arena. What is sometimes unappreciated is the importance of good non-verbal communication. The knowledge that you will be non-verbally communicating conveys a great deal of meaning through eye contact or hand movements and will perhaps do little to lessen nerves for those who are concerned about their own performance. Fortunately, employing or avoiding certain non-verbal cues will increase your confidence and channel tension in positive ways. Here are a few tips.
Its all natural
Remember that sending and receiving signals via body language is just a brute fact of human interaction – it occurs whether we want it to or not. This does not mean that positive action is futile; just as you prepare the text of your speech, you can prepare certain cues.
First impressions are unsurprisingly crucial with each nuance of your body language projecting several different clues about your own confidence. If you act confident and relaxed the audience will feel the same. Don’t slouch or hunch your shoulders as you walk to centre stage; try to look out at the audience immediately with due intent as this conveys conviction. If you slouch, hunch and look down the audience will respond by mirroring that projected tension and nervousness back at you (this is known as “mirroring”: . Hopefully this begins to suggest the ease with which speaker and audience can become trapped in a negative feedback loop.
When you reach centre stage combat the urge to assume a defensive posture, i.e. by crossing your hands. An open posture indicates confidence and reassures listeners that you want to be there. A smile before you begin to talk will further reassure and will rid the body of some tension. Remember these individuals have not gathered together in a desire to see you fail.
The Importance of Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact throughout your presentation is crucial. Try to avoid having to look at presentation notes (in fact avoid them altogether) and constantly shift your gaze around the room. Linger for two or three seconds on a particularly section and then move on. For an example of mastery, observe how Barack Obama takes in the room in these short excerpts:
The occasional look down is absolutely fine and can give the impression of deep consideration, as in this example:
Prepare by Being Criticised!
In your journey to becoming a better public speaker it is useful to recruit a friend or colleague to judge your style; this person can alert you to a hand gesture which you may employ to the point of causing irritation. Use hand gestures for emphasis – again see Barack Obama’s cutting motion and finger pointing – but do so in a measured way: not too fast and limit repetition.
Move Around the Room
Human perception is naturally geared towards spotting movement; capitalise on this and make moving around the stage a focus of your presentation. At the very least you will ease audience boredom! But when it comes to making a key point stand still; the contrast will emphasize the importance of the content.
Public speaking, whether in front of a small group or an audience of thousands, is about more than just the content of words. A strong message must be matched by a strong delivery; those that can combine the two can become persuasive and impactful speakers.
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