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7 body language traits that impact your presentations

You know you need to make eye contact.

And that you should dress appropriately.

Your basic presentation skills.

But what about the more subtle aspects of body language?

The traits you have that leave a negative impression when presenting?

Here are our top seven – and how you can turn them around.

The down-right liar

body language training scotland eye contact man with hat.

This term is often used by the police.

Someone who attempts to manufacture information on the spot: a down-right liar.

Psychologists have told us that when you recall information, you look sideways.

When you make it up, you look down and to the right.

Whether you are actually lying or your body language is betraying you, perception is the only reality during a presentation.

Best to remove any doubt, and avoid looking away at all.

Instead, use your poker face during your presentations.

When asked a question, keep your gaze fixed on the questioner, whilst remaining totally neutral in your body language.

When you start to answer the question, that’s when the animation should begin.

A sharp intake of breath

body language training breath intake woman on phone.

The next time you get cold-called, take the call.

Listen to the salesperson, particularly when they get to the point of the sale.

If they’re good, they’ll make it sound like the sale is the most natural thing in the world.

They’ve done it hundreds of times before.

If they’re new, shy or nervous, listen for the intake of breath before the killer question.

“So, would you like to go ahead?”

The intake of breath shows a nervousness that undermines their confidence.

So before you ask that all-important question at your next meeting, ask it without the intake.

Act as if you’ve done it a hundred times.

You ooze trust, and you’re more likely to get a positive response.

Shaking/nodding your head

body language training nodding heads three figurines.

Active listening is the art of showing you’re listening while filtering that information to make a sensible response.

Nodding your head to show agreement is one of the most important elements.

But what happens when you nod along to a negative question?

“Don’t you believe this whole project is a waste of time?”

If you nod your head to that, your attempt to engage has just backfired.

You have now agreed implicitly with the accusation.

What about shaking your head?

It’s fine to do – if it backs up what you’re saying.

I have witnessed lots of presentations, in which the speaker says something positive, whilst shaking their head:

“I really do think this is a such a good idea”.

When we play the clip back, they tell us (off the record):

“Yeah, it’s a terrible idea”.

Despite what you’re saying, the audience knows if you’re shaking your head, you’re thinking something else entirely.

That’s why you should always keep your head still.

During presentations only nod or shake your head if it’s consistent with your message.

The head-scratch

body language training man scratching head.

OK, you have an itchy head.

If you scratch it at the wrong point, though, you can look all at sea.

If I asked you to act as if you were unsure of something, you may scratch your head to make the point.

The audience perceives that you’re uncertain, and once again, perception is the only reality.

So let the itch go – or if you really need to, compensate with overenthusiasm to balance the scales.

Taking a backwards step

body language training backward step four feet on Converse.

Often when you’re presenting, you come across a ‘de-railer’.

Someone in the audience who wants to ruin your presentation, as they have a different agenda.

Their question is often met with a backwards step, before the presenter answers.

Stop: you have just ceded ground.

You’ve ceded ground to the de-railer, and to the argument.

You’re on the back foot.

Instead, embrace a negative question by taking a step forward towards the de-railer.

You’ll be able to engage head-on with the criticism.


body language training self cleansing girl holding lip.

At Lochinch House, we advocate something called ‘Speaker’s Stance‘.

When your hands are in a central, open position, it shows confidence.

Now you’ve embraced the position, you want to avoid any ‘self-cleansing’.

Yesmasters refers to this quirk as “fidgety fingers”.

Read their post on “5 Nervous Habits That Betray Your self-confidence” for some nice additions to our top 7.

Any fidgeting or wringing of the hands portrays nervousness.

With all the nervous energy flowing through you during your speech, it’s natural that your hands want to move.

So turn it into something more constructive: purposeful gestures that back up important points.

We’ve written extensively on this here.

Ignoring all but one person

body language training ingnoring all but one person young boy.

It’s tempting to look at the person who’s giving you positive feedback.

The one who nods at everything you say, sometimes even before you say it.

But what about everyone else?

One of the biggest presentation mistakes we see is when people simply attempt to ‘get it over and done with’.

They focus on a point on the back wall or look just over the heads of the audience.

If you take that approach, you’ve missed an opportunity.

This is your chance to convince the audience of a premise.

So include everyone in your presentation.

If someone looks disinterested, get them interested again by focusing on them.

A rule of thumb: in a group of 20 or fewer, aim to make even eye contact with everyone.

Anything more, you need to segment your audience.

Break them into sections, and give equal eye contact to each one.

The magnificent seven of presentations

body language training pink elephant trainer Alan Clark.

Alan Clark

These are just a few, but they’re the ones we see frequently having a negative effect on presentations.

If you have another, please let us know in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you.

Or come along to Alan Clark’s masterclass on July 5th, where he’ll help you create real impact in your presentation.


Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.


Photo credit: and donabelEdleyrawbin underwater. , SimpleSkye via / CC BY


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