How to Use Good Body Language for Better Presentations
July 27, 2019
Better Body Language is a Key Presentation Skill
You can use body language to enhance your presentations. body language can be a powerful tool for engaging your audience and delivering a more impactful message., here are a few tips for using body language effectively during a presentation:.
Improve your presentation body language – top tips Use your body language to show confidence Use your hands to emphasize points Make eye contact Use your facial expressions to show emotion Use your body movement to add energy Beyond body language: use props effectively Practise good body language and stage presence
1. Use your body language to show confidence
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, and make sure your body is facing the audience. This will help you project confidence and command attention. Avoid crossing your arms, as this can make you seem closed off or defensive.
2. Use your hands to emphasize points
Gesturing with your hands can help you emphasize important points and make your presentation more dynamic. However, be sure to use hand gestures sparingly, as too much can be distracting.
Our clients frequently ask “What should I do with my hands?”.
Hand gestures are best used to emphasise key points. They also add energy to your presentation, particularly when you use them above shoulder-height. Jill Bolte’s TED talk demonstrates this well. Too much movement can be distracting, however. Lots of tiny movements or flapping your arms around makes you look smaller and unconfident. Go for big, bold, purposeful gestures that you hold for a few seconds. These convey presence, leadership and authority.
When you aren’t using your hands to emphasise what you’re saying, hold your hands slightly in front of you, with bent elbows. You may find this feels odd at first – but watch Ken Robinson to see how effective it can be. If you are using a lectern, then above-shoulder gestures will be the only ones your audience can see. If you choose to rest your hands on the lectern, keep them hands loose and relaxed. Avoid looking as though you are hanging on for dear life!
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3. Make eye contact
Making eye contact with your audience helps establish a connection and shows that you are confident and engaged. Try to make eye contact with different people throughout the room, rather than just focusing on one person.
What would you think if I didn’t look you in the eye?
Or if I avoided your gaze? Or if I looked down every time I said something? What impression do you get?
You need good eye contact to be a good presenter..
We like people who can make eye contact (remember the last time you were flirting with someone?). We trust people who can “look you in the eye” . We want to see people “ eye-to-eye “.
When presenting or speaking in public you will get a better reaction if you improve your eye contact. Eye contact is a learned skill that takes practice. From extensive work with our clients, here are some easy tips you can apply for powerful eye contact:
- Only talk when you are looking at someone. No more looking into your notes or staring into the middle distance.
- Spend one or two sentences talking to each person. Get some ‘quality time’ with each person.
- Hold your eye contact until the end of the sentence.
- If you are nervous, if you don’t like looking into someone’s eyes, then look at their forehead or nose.
- Practice improving your eye contact. Start with friends. Make them point out each time your eye contact drops.
Just these simple tips for powerful eye contact will make you a more convincing and persuasive public speaker.
This is such a simple body language trick. Many people underestimated how powerful it is.
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4. Use your facial expressions to show emotion
Your facial expressions can convey a lot of emotion and help engage your audience. Use facial expressions to show enthusiasm, concern, or surprise, depending on the content of your presentation.
5. Use your body movement to add energy
Adding some movement to your presentation can help keep the audience engaged and add energy to your delivery. This can be as simple as taking a step forward or backward when making a point, or using your hands to gesture.
As with hand gestures, deliberate movements that emphasise your content work well. But too much movement is distracting. Getting the balance right takes practice.
Aim to stand still for the majority of your talk. This will convey confidence and authority. Plan in advance when you will move, combing those movements with breaks in your content. Express a full thought or point in your new position before moving again. Avoid pacing, which makes a speaker look distressed. Make a point, move to another part of the space and make your next point. Aim to emulate a pleasant countryside walk from viewpoint to viewpoint, rather than a nervous wait outside a labour ward!
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6. Beyond body language: use props effectively
Props can be a great way to add interest to your presentation and help illustrate your points. However, be sure to use props sparingly, as too many can be distracting.
7. Practise good body language and stage presence
Your stage presence, or the way you move and present yourself on stage, can greatly impact the effectiveness of your presentation. Practise your stage presence by rehearsing in front of a mirror, or by recording yourself and watching the footage.
By using body language effectively during your presentations, you can engage your audience and deliver a more impactful message. Remember to pay attention to your posture, hand gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, body movement, and stage presence, and practice using these techniques to enhance your presentations.
As soon as we become conscious of our bodies, they get in our way. When we’re faced with an audience, we become like learner drivers, frozen and unnatural. Advice to ‘act naturally’ isn’t useful, as being watched isn’t natural. Besides, communicating to an audience requires different body language than everyday, one-to-one communication.
Your body language matters when presenting.
We’ve all seen powerful speakers, whether in person or on platforms such as TED.com . We use words like ‘charisma’ and ‘presence’ to describe impressive speakers. But some speakers are uncomfortable to watch. Others use such distracting body language that we cannot focus on what they are saying.
Strong, positive non-verbal communication can be more powerful. Here, we share our top tips for best use of your hands, eye contact and on-stage movement.
These top tips will help you improve your body language when presenting.
- Take control of your body language
- Ignore ‘Just act natural’ advice
- Get feedback and increase your body language self-awareness
- Establish good eye contact
- Use your hands when presenting
- Command the space where you are speaking
- Start with good content in your presentation
Remember, for Better Body Language, Take control
Non-verbal communication has three uses , according to David Lambert .
replace speech (e.g. a wink)
Reinforce speech (e.g. nodding while saying ‘yes’) a, give clues about our true feelings (e.g. fidgeting when nervous)..
Successful speakers use open, controlled and strong gestures that reinforce their message . Less successful speakers contradict what they say with their non-verbal behaviour.
For instance, if your body language suggests nervousness when you speak, the audience will interpret this as a lack of confidence in your own message. Equally, if you fold your arms while you speak, you create an implied barrier between you and your audience. That’s why successful leaders learn how to control their posture and gestures to avoid negative or distracting body language.
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Better Body Language: Just acting ‘naturally’ doesn’t work
Speaking to large groups of people isn’t a natural situation, so aiming to behave ‘naturally’ is an unhelpful goal. In fact, to transfer energy and enthusiasm to your audience, you need to be ‘more’ than you would normally be in smaller-scale interactions.
For example, to be impressive when presenting you need to be more expressive and more powerful in your command of space.
Powerful Body Language: Increase your self awareness
At Benjamin Ball Associates, we film our clients during our coaching sessions . When they watch the footage, they are often surprised to see their body language contradicting their message.
For example, one speaker subtly shook his head in a ‘no’ gesture’ when he was answering ‘yes’ to a question. For a low-tech alternative, try delivering your talk in front of a mirror or recording yourself on a phone. Learning how to watch yourself and improve from self-analysis is key.
A better presentation is the first step to better delivery
If your presentation is weak, even the best body language will leave audiences unmoved. Conversely, the better your presentation, the more confident you’ll feel about delivering it. You’ll find that your body language naturally improves once you feel confident and comfortable about your presentation.
That’s why we focus on getting that right first. In our presentation coaching We:
- Ensure you have a clear message
- Create a subtle structure that gently guides your audience
- Strengthen the language you use, so it is more powerful.
- Refine the start and end until they produce maximum impact.
Then you’ll find polishing your body language much easier.
Start your journey to world-class public speaking skills now
First, download our free ebook to start your journey towards becoming a Powerful Presenter.
You’ll learn our 5-step process for transforming dull, forgettable and un-engaging presentations into your most Powerful Presentations yet: inspirational, memorable and persuasive.
It’s full of practical tips and insightful quotes that will help you make immediate improvements to your leadership talks and presentations, including:
- Increased confidence when you talk and present.
- Improved ability to persuade your audience.
- Greater engagement with your audience.
- Practical ways to plan and structure your talks.
- The inspiration and motivation to change.
Download your free copy of our Five Steps to Transform your Leadership Talks ebook now.
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Over 15+ years our award-winning team has helped hundreds of CEOs and senior executives deliver impressive and persuasive talks, speeches and presentations.
We can transform your talk in as little as a few hours.
Call Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email [email protected] to find out more.
About Benjamin Ball Associates
At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help clients to communicate better.
Over the years the BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.
We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.
Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email [email protected] to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.
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The 5 Body Language Secrets for Better Presentations
You’ve done the legwork and prepared an out-of-the-ballpark presentation. Your powerpoint slides are on point. All systems are a-go, right? Not quite. Before you get up in front of an audience, you need to understand how the body language you convey can make or break a speech. When you get up in front of a large audience, adrenaline starts to kick in. You may stiffen up and not “act like yourself”. Let’s be honest: speaking in front of groups, no matter how small or large, is no easy task. When you’re nervous, it’s all too easy to freeze up – and when you freeze up, that amazing speech you spent hours putting together falls flat.
As it’s been frequently said that 99% of body language is communication, it’s important to pay attention to how you use your body to communicate during a presentation? Further, how can you avoid conveying your stage fright to an audience? First off, it’s a good idea to memorize your speech. Sure, you may not remember every single word – but knowing it inside and out will help give you greater confidence (plus, you’ll be less glued to your cards). You’ll naturally look and feel more relaxed and engaging.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the 5 body language biggest secrets for improving your presentation and bringing your delivery to the next level.
Body Language Secret #1: Gestures/Physical Movement
Stage actors and actresses know this secret well: you need to exaggerate your movements to engage your audience. Match your body language to the content you are delivering. For example, if you are trying to convey an open-ended idea, go ahead and gesture with open arms. If you want to communicate a powerful position, raise a hand or arm to show your authority. Or, if you want to appear approachable, you can keep your arms by your side as this gesture doesn’t convey a strong emotion.
Body Language Secret #2: Own Your Space
Pay attention to the area around you when you get up in front of your audience. That physical space is yours for the duration of your presentation: make it your home. How you move across the space will send a strong message to your audience – and you want that message to be a positive one.
Instead of standing in one spot, move around the space you occupy. Doing so conveys the message that you are comfortable in your skin – and confident. Of course, you don’t want to move so much that you end up taking away from the points you are communicating, but some movement is necessary to keep your audience awake and listening.
Body Language Secret #3: Give Yourself Some Props?
Whether it’s a coffee mug or a computer, don’t let a prop (as it’s called in the theater) take away from your presentation. You can use your props to your advantage by knowing when it’s appropriate and when to hold back. For example, if you are delivering a PowerPoint presentation, don’t rely on it to do the work for you. Refer back to it, but look at your audience, make eye contact, and stay engaged in your speech.
The point here is: don’t do things for the sake of doing them. Don’t rely on handouts or technology if it’s not absolutely necessary to your presentation. Stay focused on the presentation itself – if you let props take over, you’re doing yourself, and your audience, a disservice.
Body Language Secret #4: Express Yourself
What’s the first thing you notice about another person? It may be their smile or the twinkle in their eyes. In getting ready for your presentation, don’t forget that your face tells a story your words can’t. Humans are naturally drawn to look at the human face – and all eyes will be on your face during the presentation.
Actively remember to smile, to frown and to convey emotion with your face. Squint if you want to show consternation. Frown if you want to display dissatisfaction. Your facial expressions are an important way to connect with your audience on a deeper level – so use them to your advantage. A great way to master your facial expressions is to practice your speech in the mirror a few times, paying attention to the message you are conveying.
Body Language Secret #5: What’s Your Audience’s Body Language?
Your audience’s physical body language is an excellent way to gauge how engaged they are. Take a look around the room…are people on the edge of their seats? Are they nodding in agreement? Are they slouched down and all but falling asleep? Respond to your audience’s body language with body language of your own.
For instance, if your audience looks sleepy – throw some strong gestures in and move around your space to perk them up. On the other hand, if your audience is engaged, build on their enthusiasm and recognize it by flashing a smile.
To sum up, a great presentation is the sum of several parts: research, delivery, technology, preparation and…body language. Though it’s easy to get caught up in the research and prep work, don’t neglect the importance of nonverbal communication. Remember that the way you use your body during a presentation can make or break your success…. Go get ‘em!
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The power of good presentation: body language
Body language , Development , Presentation skills , Uncategorized
From winning a job to winning new business for your job, presentation skills are both fundamental and an area for continual development. Body language is key.
Body language impacts and sends messages to people all the time. We need to be aware of what our bodies are doing and we need to use it for our benefit because every interaction–not just the job interview, not just the performance review, not just the presentation—it’s every interaction we have with other people. It’s: how are others perceiving us? — Donna Warrick
Recent “High Performance Body Language” presentation by Donna Warrick.
Something as basic as posture can demonstrate confidence in an initial job interview. And with a little more practice, it can give you a competitive edge in important business pitches. Certain postures can even physically and mentally energize you to think more clearly and speak with authority.
Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words . — Deborah Bull
This is why focusing on non-verbal cues is a key component of our presentation skills workshops . The messages in how you stand and how you gesture can change the outcome of any important engagement.
In a recent body language presentation as part of a corporate learning day, Donna Warrick laid out the range of physical habits that can be learned and others that should be avoided.
An enthusiastic audience closed the talk with important questions about body language for Skype video conferencing (should you stand or sit?) and how to make an impact while presenting to a group around a boardroom table. It’s one of the most practical training programs we offer, helpful to the individual as well as the organization.
You can learn more about Jamesson Solutions popular presentation skills workshops here.
A blur of blinks, taps, jiggles, pivots and shifts … the body language of a man wishing urgently to be elsewhere. — Edward R. Murrow Food for thought: “Forty-three Quotes on Body Language” from Psychology Today
- Body language
- Leadership development
- Leading across generations
- Presentation skills
- Talent acquisition
- Talent Selection
- Training and Development ROI
- Women In Leadership
- Workshop sampler
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- How to give women employees upward mobility in your organization
- A leadership sandbox – How a peer-to-peer program builds leaders on the job
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Body Language and Gestures – 5 Great Tips for More Effective presentations
Introduction to body language / mannerisms/ gestures.
Body language in simple terms can be explained as those nonverbal signs we give off in our day-to-day communication with one another. This can range from anything from facial expressions to simple body movements, small but crucial subconscious actions that make up much of our non-verbalized interactions.
Language and communication experts have even noted that body language makes up about 55 to 70 percent of all kinds of communication.
When we communicate with our body language and gestures, we ought to watch out for the subtle hints we give off and receive to each other on a nonverbal basis.
Many people are pressed by the need to learn how they can effectively read or study body language. To do so, let us break it up in three categories.
· Body Language Category I: Facial Expressions
Researchers have stated that there are seven universally recognized small facial gestures that every person makes when they feel are intensely emotional.
Most times, these emotions are magnetic or contagious when we are observing the face to understand a person’s emotions. We are often able to decode what a person is feeling by looking at the expressions on his or her face.
Example of a Surprise & Anger Facial Expression:
Body Language Category II: Proxemics
Body Proxemics refers to a term that explains how our body moves around in space.
Most times, we are subconsciously and continuously watching how a person moves or walks across a room. This then forms the basis of how to interpret body communication.
Body movements will often tell us about someone’s personality, whether they are confident or nervous.
Let us see an example of a man exuding confidence below
· Body Language Category III: Clothes and Accessories
The clothes, accessories, and hairstyles we wear are all extensions of our body language.
Certain styles and fashion sense send signals to others, on how we view the world. Societal class is also perceived by the type of clothes and ornaments we have on.
You can also tell if s person is anxious by how they twitch around with their hair or how often they check their watch.
When I look at the picture below, a boy who just graduated taking a picture – memory keeping. One important phase of life has just passed, he’s proud and happy for crossing that milestone.
Nonverbal Communication And Gestures
When it comes to nonverbal communication and gestures, there are a thousand and one ways by which an individual can communicate using simple facial expressions.
On the one side, a person with a frown can be perceived of as being in state unhappiness or displeasure while on the flip side, smiling face or a laugh can be an indication of a state of happiness and elation.
For the most part, the simple expressions our faces carry at a time, often reveal some of our innermost feelings at a particular period, so much so, it becomes difficult and almost impossible to conceal them.
The feelings of excitement, happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, desire, lust, confusion, fear, anxiety, surprise are barrages of emotions that all could be expressed through facial expression.
A person’s facial expression makes it easier for one to believe or trust what a person might be saying.
A study found out that one of the best ways to know if a person is trustworthy is through a smile and slightly raised eyebrows. This facial expressions, the researchers believe, conveys to some extent an aura of confidence and friendliness.
Facial expressions are among the most universally recognized forms of body language. All facial expressions of happiness, anger, fear anger and sadness, are by and large the same across the world.
Some researchers have even suggested that we can make sound judgments on a person’s level of intelligence by their facial expressions.
Another study also found out that people with chiseled faces could easily pass off as being more intelligent and impressionable. Same for those found exhibiting smiling and happy gestures, being perceived as being more intelligent than those with sterner facial looks.
Below are a couple of ways our facial and body expressions convey messages to a close observer
1. Movement Of The Eyes
The eyes are capable of revealing a lot about what a person is experiencing at a given period.
When you engage in conversation with another person, be bound to subconsciously take note of the movements of the eyes as a natural and essential part of the whole communication process.
What you might find interesting is just how much the movement or action of the eye could say about the emotions of such a person.
Below are such movements a person makes with the eye that explain a lot about their present state:
- Blinking of the eyes : When the eyes blink more sporadically, this might indicate that such a person is uncomfortable or in a state of distress.
Spontaneous blinking is also a natural reflex mechanism to defend against intrusion to the eyes. For example, a person’s pupil will dilate on a very windy day to avoid having dust or tiny debris from getting into his/her eyes.
- Gazing: When one looks you directly in the eyes as you engage in a conversation, it shows the person has a keen interest in the topic and that they are paying close attention.
Long gazes over an extended period, in many cases, could either a strong admiration or attraction, especially with the opposite sex or could pose as threatening.
On the flip side, when a person breaks off eye contact, it could mean the person is either uncomfortable, shy, or has low self-esteem.
- Color of the Eyes: The color of one’s eyes has been a strong telltale sign of what a person is feeling. For instance, it has been a longstanding practice by many doctors to look at the eyes when making a medical examination of a patient.
It is common to find a pale eye color as an indication of illness or blood shortage. On a more general note, swollen red eyes could mean a person has been crying or experiencing an itch.
- Dilation : Light conditions in a particular location can affect how pupils dilate.
When the light is too bright, a person tends to squint the eyes to avoid the direct stream of light beams from getting into the eyes.
Highly dilated eyes too, for instance, may also indicate that a person is being flirtatious, or even afraid of something.
2. Nose or nostrils
The nose or activities around the nostrils are not left out as an indication of what a person is feeling at a particular time. For instance:
- Runny Nose: A runny nose may show that a person has catarrh or might have been crying.
- Snorting or Sniffing: If a person is snorting or sniffing continuous and uncontrollably, it could either be an indication such a person has got a cold or the flu.
A snorting nose could also mean such an individual is a drug addict and itching for the next fix.
3. The Mouth
Mouth expressions are a great way to read body language. For instance, a person covers the mouth when coughing or yawning indicates a level of politeness or might be a bid to cover up a contemptuous smirk or laughter.
A person smiling or grinning may be interpreted as being genuine, and it can also be used to express a false pretext, sarcasm, or even cynicism.
Always pay attention to the following: teeth, tongue, and lip signals when trying to decode body language:
- Yawning : Yawning shows that an individual is either tired or hungry
- The angle of the lip : When a person’s mouth is slightly turned facing up, it might show that such a person is happy or feeling optimistic. However, when one’s mouth is slightly reversed downwards, can indicate a feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or tiredness.
- Teeth Gnashing: Gnashing of the teeth could in one part be a bad habit or could also indicate anxiety or a state of boredom
- Licking of the lips: In popular culture, it is seen as an art of seduction, most familiar with men.
- Blocking of the mouth : An act of politeness when yawning, sneezing, or coughing. Can also be used cover up a contemptuous smirk or laughter.
4. Body Gestures
- A thumbs up and thumbs down often express feelings of approval and disapproval.
- A clenched fist might indicate strength or solidarity. It could also be a threat sign when pointed at a person.
- Cracking of the neck is a sign that a person is tired and in need of rest
- Twisting of the neck is a popular mythology indicating intense sexual arousal in women.
- If a person is frequently tapping his or her fingers. It might show that the person might be anxious, impatient, or bored.
- Stretching of the arms above the head will most certainly indicate that the person is tired.
- Crossed arms might give off a confident composure, or a might mean the individual is putting up a defensive gait.
When the arms are across behind, it could indicate tiredness or boredom.
- Standing with arms akimbo is also an expression of confidence and that such a person is in control.
- If a person sits with his palm supporting his or her chin, such a person might just be lost in thoughts or might show be a sign of indifference, especially when in a meeting.
- If a person is continuously playing/fidgeting his or her legs, this indicated uneasiness and impatience.
- Crossed legs might show class and sophistication, rapt attention or disposition, especially in an informal meeting or gathering.
How To Read People’s Body Language
There are typically two key ways of reading the body language of others. One is encoding, and the other is decoding
- Decoding : Decoding is your ability to read cues that others give off.
It is a great way by which one can interpret hidden emotions or the truest feelings, personality arch type, read information by merely studying the gait and disposition of others.
- Encoding : Encoding is simple, a person’s ability to send cues or hints to other people.
People are able to manage and control personal branding effectively through this approach. This is usually the first impression a person gives off and how good or bad a person makes other people feel when they are around them.
Importance Of Body Language In A Presentation (How it makes or breaks your presentation)
It is no news that when it comes down to presentations, a good amount of body language not only helps you communicate better, they also make you appear confident, gives a great poise and sets you apart.
- Body language possesses the power to make us either succeed or fail in our public presentations. Success comes when we learn to watch and put our body language to proper use, or we set ourselves up for failure when we let our body language dictate or get the better of us.
2. As we rehearse our speeches, it is always essential that we also work on our body language. This gives us a heads-on start to the day of the actual presentation so that on the D-day, we are already halfway through being comfortable and at home with our presentation.
A relaxed and confident mind is all we need to ace our presentation!
3. There are usually two things involved when it comes down to body language in presentations. First is your own body language, and then there is that of your audience.
Learning to read the audience’s reaction to your presentation is critical to allow you to adjust when needed and ensure you keep the audience entertained and engaged.
In order to achieve this you need to also master the art of eye contact , please go through these solid tips to help you better establish eye contact with the audience, here’s the article .
4. The key to communicating with the best body language is to first believe in what you are speaking about.
You must carry yourself in such a reassuring way that displays firm conviction on the subject.
An audience can immediately perceive weak confidence, and when this happens, the credibility of your presentation will automatically be in question.
So the clue here is being yourself, believing in your idea/topic, and making the audience feel all that.
Check out additional tips to help you speak confidently in front of others on this related article .
5. Body language habits that would be better to avoid like turning your back on the audience, strutting around too much or perching behind a desk.
Showing aggressiveness or beating your fingers are also bad for your presentation.
Understanding body language and mannerisms, and learning to leverage this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of your presentations is a great way of spending your time.
Those who can convey the right messages with their body, in line with their speech, and showcase confidence and enthusiasm while speaking, have a better chance of being remembered long after the speech is done.
Note that people are almost constantly emitting some form of ‘message’ even when they are apparently ‘just’ sitting and doing nothing. If you can manage to read ‘boredom’, ‘confusion’, ‘curiosity’, ‘excitement’, or ‘surprise’ from the nonverbal signals that your audience is giving off, then you are much more equipped to spice up the presentation, break the ice, do something unexpected, or even keep giving more details about the point where you noticed curiosity and confusion.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
HelpGuide. What is Body Language? https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm . Accessed on 08/10/2019.
Kendra Cherry. Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions. https://www.verywellmind.com/understand-body-language-and-facial-expressions-4147228 . Accessed on 08/10/2019.
Mind Tools Team. Body Language – Picking up and Understanding Nonverbal Signals. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/Body_Language.htm . Accessed on 08/10/2019
An avid seeker of knowledge, and passionate about sharing the lessons he picks up in life. Emidio is passionate about public speaking, teaching, and helping others develop critical soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and other interpersonal skills which are in high demand in today's rapidly evolving market.
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How to use body language during a presentation
- 19 February 2018
- 10 minute read
It’s easy to spend a long time agonising over what to say when it comes to giving a presentation. However, it’s important to remember that a great presentation is about much more than just content. Elsewhere on the Future Skills Blog we’ve talked about the most important public speaking skills to have in general, but here we’re going to focus on body language.
Body language can make all the difference between a dull, static presentation and a dynamic, engaging one. Of course, body language has many different elements, and so we’ve broken it down into five categories:
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Position and movement
Some of these may seem like small details, but they have a big impact on how your presentation comes across. When your body language is working hand in hand with the other aspects of your presentation, such as content and tone of voice, then you’re sure to win over your audience.
1) Facial expressions
People will travel half-way around the world to meet one another “face-to-face” for a reason – when it comes to interacting with others, what we do with our faces is vital. We may not usually control our facial expressions in any conscious way, but there are times when we have to think about what our face is telling others, such as when giving a presentation. Study-body-language.com has produced a fun guide to facial expressions and why they matter.
The first and most obvious thing to remember is to make sure that you are using your face at all. Giving a presentation with a blank face, without any particular facial expression is like speaking in a monotone – no matter how great your content is, your audience will not be engaged. Even some simple steps from the outset, such as opening your eyes wider, raising your eyebrows a little, and smiling, can make a huge difference in setting the tone for your presentation. You can also “reset” at different points during your presentation to make sure that you haven’t fallen back into a dull resting expression and to re-engage your audience’s attention.
Of course, putting rehearsed facial expressions into your speech mechanically is never going to be effective, and what you do with your face should look natural. The important thing is to be attentive to what you’re saying. If your facial expressions are in line with the tone of your words, then the information you are presenting will come across more clearly, and you will seem more sincere. Remember that the expression you wear tells people a lot about how trustworthy you are. Don’t forget that the size of the room and the audience matters too – a bigger crowd requires bigger facial expressions.
2) Eye contact
Having thought about what your face is doing in general, it’s time to get even more specific and think about eye contact. This is crucial when it comes to communication, as explored in a recent Psychology Today article .
Just as with facial expressions and the other parts of body language we’ll be looking at below, the way in which you use eye contact and look at your audience depends on the size of the room and the audience. However, here are some general tips:
- Make sure you look at everyone – Staring at the same spot throughout a presentation is visually dull and unengaging for your audience. Make sure that by the end of your presentation you have made eye contact with everyone at least once – that might mean every individual if you have a small audience, or every section of a crowd if you have a bigger audience.
- Don’t be afraid of eye contact – Prolonged eye contact can make people nervous, but that’s because it’s so powerful. You may be perceived as aggressive or bullying. A brief glance, however, suggests that you are monitoring their expression as you speak to them, and thus that you care about how your message is being received. While it may be tempting to find a spot to stare at on the back wall, it is always better to try and make a more personal connection with members of your audience. But remember…
- Don’t stare – No one wants to feel uncomfortable or that they are being put on the spot. Keep your gaze moving and engage as many people as possible.
Again, remember that different situations call for different approaches, but as long as you are consciously using eye contact, you’ll be well on the way to making your presentation as involving as possible.
We’ve talked about facial expressions and eye contact, now it’s time to look at the bigger picture: posture. Whether you’re sitting or standing, the way in which you hold yourself is incredibly important and sets the tone for the whole presentation before it’s even begun.
With this in mind, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to posture during a presentation:
- DON’T slouch – In almost all presentation situations, your posture should be upright and open. This will make you look and feel more confident, and it will invite your audience in rather than pushing them away. If you are not sitting or standing upright it suggests that what you have to say is not particularly important to you. If you suggest to your audience that what you have to say is not really worthy of your attention they are unlikely to pay much attention either.
- DON’T be tense – It’s important to look and feel relaxed during a presentation. If you’re standing upright but look rigid, it won’t make a good impression. No matter how nervous you may feel, a speaker who seems to be afraid of his audience will not win their trust. Pause and take a deep breath before you begin, and remind yourself to relax at different points throughout the presentation. Pausing and giving your audience time to think about what you have just said is a good thing to do anyway. You can take that time consciously to relax and re-set your expression and posture.
- DO think about your audience – A formal presentation to the board of a company is very different to an interactive talk with schoolchildren. While you still need to be upright, open and relaxed in all situations, remember that different situations require different levels of formality. Do you want to be interrupted if someone has a question for example, or will you only take questions at the end of your presentation? Adapt your posture to be more open or more formal accordingly.
- DO be adaptable – If you are sat down or have a lectern for your presentation, don’t hold onto them for support or let them get in the way. You should have an open and communicative posture no matter what the specific set-up is. Be prepared to adapt to unexpected situations. If you are addressing a large audience or being recorded you may need to use a microphone – this may mean you have to remain at a lectern, or you have to hold a microphone in one hand, which can restrict your gestures. Try to find out beforehand, but if things are not at you expected, adapt quickly to make the best of the facilities provided.
In addition, Ethos3 also gives some very helpful advice on how to improve your posture for a presentation .
Varied facial expressions, eye contact and a good posture will put you well on the way to presentation success, but if you stand still without moving any other part of your body, it can create a very strange impression. On the other hand, over-rehearsed or exaggerated hand gestures can be off-putting and look unnatural.
A happy medium is needed. Remember that the purpose of using gestures when giving a presentation is to make your message clearer and more interesting. In short, your gestures should mean something. For example, if you are making a contrast between big and small, you can use hand gestures to represent this. If you are giving a numbered list, you can show the numbers with your hand so that both people’s eyes and ears are engaged. Alternatively, if you want to address the audience directly, you can gesture towards them (but try not to point aggressively as though you’re accusing them of something). If you have a PowerPoint slideshow or other visual aids, use gestures to draw people’s attention to them. If you have a particular point which is one of the key messages of your presentation you may want to make your gestures more exaggerated as you work up to that point – in this way you can communicate to the audience which of the things you have to say matter most to you.
The Science of People blog’s article on hand gestures gives some great insight into this aspect of presentation along with some further ideas. Remember that whatever happens, gestures should look relaxed and natural. If you are struggling with this, remember that practice makes perfect – film yourself presenting or ask your friends to give you feedback. Also, as with all the other aspects of body language we’ve been talking about, you’ll need to adjust things depending on the size of the room.
5) Position and movement
This last area is more variable depending on the specific set-up of your presentation. It will be clear straight away whether you have any flexibility over where you position yourself or if movement around the space is even possible, but it’s always worth considering.
For example, if you are giving your presentation on a big stage, a bit of movement around the space can help to create visual interest and keep different parts of the audience engaged. Likewise, if your presentation has interactive elements, you could move closer or slightly further back from the audience depending on whether they’re involved or not. The golden rule is that any movement should be clear and directed – you should never look like you’re just wandering around the stage. You may, for example, want to engage your audience early on in your presentation by moving to the front of the stage and asking them a question – “Who can tell me…”, “Put your hand up if you have ever…” – this not only enables you to make some judgements about how much your audience already knows about what you have to say, it also engages them and suggests that you care about their experiences. Most people are much happier if they feel a speaker is “talking to” them rather than “talking at” them with no concern for their opinions.
The five topics above give an overall sense of how you can use body language to make your presentation clearer, more engaging and more powerful. Remember that body language is not something you apply later to a pre-written script, but a core part of how you present. It should go hand-in-hand with every other aspect of the presentation, such as the content and the tone of your voice, to create a compelling overall experience for your audience. Good luck and happy presenting!
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