When giving a presentation or a speech, your content is extremely important. However, what a lot of people forget or indeed struggle with is that their body also sends messages to an audience. We refer to this as body language. Body language is non-verbal communication. The position of your body, the spacing of your legs, your arm movements, and your facial expressions are all part of it.
For example, when you’re stressed, you may cross your arms or tap your foot. Unfortunately, an audience can interpret these gestures to mean that you’re either bored or that you don’t want to be there. It can also look unprofessional. Let’s look at some ways in which we can improve our body language.
Standing and speaking in front of an audience can prove physically difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. We have a tendency to get tired and to shift our body weight from one leg to another [show movements] or to cross our legs [show movement] or to do a little dance like so [show movement]. This results in giving the audience the impression of instability, uneasiness, and even clumsiness.
To correct that, you need to be well-centred. This means having a strong, stable standing position. It gives an air of greater confidence and power.
Place your legs a little further than hip width apart. Remain loose and flexible. Your legs aren’t tight and your knees aren’t locked. Avoid slouching by keeping your back and head stretched and drawn up towards the sky. Imagine you have some kind of invisible thread pulling you upwards. Being centred does not mean staying still. Your legs are strong but you can still move and make gestures with your arms to accompany your words. This brings us to another important point: managing your movements.
If you have room to do so, you can walk. That being said, avoid walking for walking’s sake. Make sure you have a destination. Wandering aimlessly for no apparent reason can become distracting. It can also reveal that your nerves are getting the better of you. One thing you can do is to simply cross from one side of the stage to the other. Walk with purpose so that you can highlight transitions in your speech. When you change topic a few minutes later, walk back again [show movement]. Notice how I’m not turning my back to the audience.
This is useful for a variety of reasons. It changes perspective, allows you to catch your breath, but above all, it allows you to make a transition between two parts of your talk. In the audience’s mind, it marks a change which will help them follow the thread of your story.
Now, how about managing gestures? Good gestures begin with the palms of your hands facing upwards, towards the audience. Your arms should make full, rounded gestures, not closed ones. [show movement] Like this, you can’t keep your arms folded! Keep your arms springy, not glued to your body. Spread them a few centimetres away. Also, your arms or hands shouldn’t hide your face when you move. [show movement] Your movements should be full [show movement] but not exaggerated [show movement]. This can sometimes be difficult if you are used to speaking with your hands. In that case, use the energy that you have from your nerves or the passion that you have for your speech and control those gestures. Use them to give examples such as “firstly, secondly, thirdly” [show movement] or to make your audience feel included like so [open arms].
Things not to do: Don’t fold your arms in front of you or clasp them behind your back Don’t lean on a table or a lectern Don’t click your pen or fiddle with an object as that can irritate and distract your audience [show movements for all]
All of these movements give the impression of boredom or lack of confidence. They have the effect of cutting you off from the audience.
Now, who should you look at? Don’t fix your gaze on one single person the whole time. That will make the rest of the audience feel that you are addressing just that person. It could also make that person feel overwhelmed or embarrassed.
Instead, include the whole audience. Sweep the room, resting your gaze at several points. To do this, you can follow the W pattern. For example, rest your gaze for a few seconds on one person, then pass to another and so on until you reach the furthest point of the audience. When you reach the end, sweep the audience in the other direction. You can also change the direction of the W. Make everybody feel included - not just your boss or the people that you think are important. Look, speak, then look again and speak again. Last but not least, remember to smile. Smile with your mouth but also with your eyes. If your eyes don’t smile, your smile will be forced. If you’re not happy to be there then the audience won’t want to be there either.
Remember, we’re not necessarily born with good body language. It’s something that gets better with practice and experience. So, practice, put your knowledge to use, and you’ll have the audience on your side in no time.
In this lesson, you'll learn:
- why body language is important
- how postures, gestures, and facial expressions can improve your presentations