Getting your presentation body language right is just as important as the words.
It’s what the audience sees when they’re watching you speak.
Your hands, your face, your posture, your movement.
Each week at Pink Elephant, we help people build confidence in delivering their presentations.
We focus on five areas of body language.
Let’s explore them to help you get it right in your own time.
A social media post informed me that May 31st is, in the U.S., is National Smile Day.
My first thought was: why does everything have a ‘day’ these days?
My second thought was all about the power of smiling, particularly while giving a presentation.
I pictured many presenters that I have seen over the years who lose themselves in their script.
They insist on reading exactly what they have written, word-for-word.
Of course, nerves play a big part in this, so it is understandable.
However, it can also be undermining.
While building rapport with your audience, we’re much warmer and friendlier when we smile.
I remember receiving feedback, via a translator, from a non-English speaker in a school (I wish someone had told me before the workshop).
She said she failed to understand most of what I was saying but appreciated my smiley nature.
By smiling, she had at least been able to enjoy the energy of the workshop and engage in the practical activities.
So be sure to remember your personality while you deliver a presentation.
We want to get our content right, of course.
But by being over-scripted we run the risk of losing our own self that shines through in our day-to-day life.
Smiling can play a huge part in this.
In fact, frowning can do the same when used at the right moment.
As can looking puzzled, looking angry, even surprised.
A good and proper use of our facial expressions can be a wonderful way to build a connection with our audience.
I would encourage you to remember to display the feelings attached to the words you have written.
Let’s stick with the face for now.
Another risk of reading from a script is where our eyes go.
It’s perfectly fine to look at your script or to find your place.
But remember to look up.
You’re there to speak to your audience.
Rather than your notes.
Eye contact is a hugely important part of connecting with anyone.
It’s vital in presentations, too.
Making and holding eye contact can be nerve wracking and feel awkward at times.
Remember it can be fleeting glances while scanning the whole room.
As a word of warning though with smaller groups, it’s noticeable when we’re looking between audience members.
So be sure to look them in the eye.
I always appreciated having my arms until I had to deliver my first presentation.
What am I meant to do with them?
Hanging by my side felt awkward. Folding them looked aggressive.
Behind my back looked like I was lining up for the national anthem.
A simple tip to use here is Speaker’s Stance.
Bring your hands together just above the belt buckle region.
Andrew’s doing it in the picture above.
It helps display confidence during the presentation.
This avoids any nervous fidgeting and allows your hands to gesture naturally.
And remember that after any hand movement, we can come straight back to Speaker’s Stance.
As you present more often, you can begin to gesture in different ways.
Use your hands to demonstrate the size or position of your content.
Show, with your hands, where your organisation has been and where it wants to go.
Your hands can support your message in many ways.
Moving inwards, towards our torso, think about your posture here.
Avoid slouching first and foremost.
We want to appear confident, even if we feel differently inside.
Fake it ‘til you make it, as they say.
As well as looking more confident to our audience by standing up straight, it can also start to impact how we feel inside.
The concept of Power Posing was discussed in this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy.
It shows the mental benefits of standing in a high power position, and its impact on our levels of confidence.
Stand like the presenter you wish to be.
Heading down to our legs, if you’re anything like me, my first presentations involved incessant leg shaking.
It would have put Michael Flatley to shame.
Or so it felt.
My mentor at the time suggested filming my presentation so I could watch it back.
I was mortified at the idea of doing this, but I’m so glad I took his advice.
Watching it back, my legs looked perfectly still (apart from when I was walking, of course).
I doubted this was even the same presentation.
My legs felt different to how they looked.
Your legs will likely be the same: far stiller in reality than they feel.
But what about walking? Is it encouraged?
Obviously there can be space constraints to this, and make sure you stay close to any fixed microphones.
But moving around on stage can be a great way to make sure your whole audience stays engaged.
By moving to different parts of the room, we ensure that they feel included.
Like eye contact, we want to engage with our entire audience.
Walking is a great way to do this.
Be sure to make it deliberate and as normal as possible, though.
I’ve seen some presenters walking so quickly around the stage I thought they were late to catch a bus.
I’ve also seen some presenters who trudged and shuffled, almost penguin-like.
Both are very distracting.
So decide before you speak: am I a walker or a stander?
From our heads to our toes, we have wonderful tools at our disposal to support our communication.
Be sure to use your body language to underline, rather than undermine, your message.
If you want direct feedback on how you’re coming across, book a course with us.
It all starts with an email.
Let us build your confidence in how you communicate.
Stuart Fenwick is a Senior Trainer at Pink Elephant Communications.
You can read more about him here.
All photos in Presentation body language blog by Pink Elephant Communications and Stuart Fenwick.
Presentation body language blog written by Stuart Fenwick.
Presentation body language blog edited by Colin Stone.
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