Body language is a vital form of communication, which can make or break your presentation. It is an essential part of emotional intelligence, which can help you bond with another person, a small group or a large audience. When your body language is deliberate, it shows that you are in control and that you are happy to be where you are, doing what you are doing. Non-verbal communication is so powerful it can reinforce your verbal message or contradict it. By following the body language guidelines below, you will be able to strengthen the effectiveness of your oral presentation.In addition, you can watch and pick up cues from other presenters.
Our posture conveys a lot about our level of confidence. Good posture gives the impression of authority and confidence. A natural, straight open-body position is best. If you are not accustomed to standing straight, you can practice by pressing your spine against a wall. Let your arms rest in a relaxed way at your sides, so you don’t appear stiff or rigid. Remember, the audience members want you to behave normally; they don’t want to see you uncomfortable or suffering, as it makes them uncomfortable too.
Avoid the following:
- arms folded across your chest, which may make you slouch, and makes you appear closed, disconnected from the audience
- arms clasped behind the back military style, which makes you appear too aloof
- hands on hips, which makes you appear too matronly, like you are about to scold someone;
- arms down in front, folded below the waist, which makes you seem too ‘goody-goody”
- rocking back and forth, which makes you appear restless or nervous
The main idea is to avoid any actions that distract the listener’s attention away from what you are saying.
From an open body position, your arms will be free to gesture as they would in normal conversation in order to support your words and emphasize certain points. In most professional presentations, you can add movement by simply pointing to the important features of your presentation. At the same time, avoid using the same gesture over and over.
Avoid the following:
- Putting your hands in your pockets, which makes people trust you less. Research has found that we trust others more when we can see their hands.
- Jiggling your keys or other items in your pocket. If you tend to fidget, empty your pockets beforehand.
- Playing with your jewelry, your hair, or your clothing, which signals that you are nervous.
- Pushing your glasses back constantly.
- Pushing your hair aside frequently with your hand or shaking your head to push aside your hair.
- Sporting a hairstyle that covers your eyes.
- Clicking your ballpoint pen.
- Taking the caps on and off your pen or marker.
- Scratching your face, head, or any other part of your body.
- Checking your watch. If there is a wall clock across from where you are standing, keep an eye on the time there, without appearing to do so. If not, take off your watch and place it on the lectern so no one can see you are checking the time.
- Drumming your fingers on the lectern or table. This just comes across as a distracting, annoying nervous gesture.
- Tapping your feet or bouncing your legs. Check your legs and feet every once in a while to make sure they are still.
- Facing away from the audience. If you write information on flip charts or boards, make sure to finish writing before turning around the speak. Or else your voice will be projected into the flip chart instead of out to the audience.
Controlled walking can add to the effectiveness of your message. If you stay glued to one spot, you might appear rigid, inexperienced or terrified. Your movement forces the audience to refocus its attention on you and creates interest. However, make sure you move about in a relaxed, natural way. Don’t pace. Like any repetitive action on stage, pacing will annoy and distract your listeners.
Using a Podium/Lectern
If you’re using a lectern, it’s a good idea to hold the sides so your hands can be seen. Many presidents and prime ministers do the same when they are speaking on television, at press conferences, or at international summits. Hold the sides of the lectern, but do not grasp them tightly as if you are scared. Feel free to gesture naturally, even from the podium. Step away from the lectern at times if you don’t need your notes or your microphone. This will give a more relaxed feel to your presentation, as you will come across as more informal, open, and accessible to your audience. Since you are only visible from the chest up, avoid low necklines, unusual ties or frumpy collars as they can distract your viewers or listeners.