Top Tips for Body Language

In over 15 years of working with all types of people on their presentations – from CEOs to those starting out in their presenting career, the question of body language almost always arises.

Every speaker knows how important body language is… yet, for some it can be difficult to master.  Of course, your words and your PowerPoint slides are important.  However, at the end of the day, people have come to hear and see you, not your slides!

Often nerves and poor self-confidence can lead to poor body language.

Below are 6 tips that should help you to have better body language so that you appear more relaxed and confident during your presentations.

1.  Stand up straight; open your chest and arms

Not only does this make you look more confident but it allows you to breathe with ease which will immediately help you to feel more relaxed.  Keeping your shoulders back can give you an instant feeling of confidence – totally opposite to this is to roll the shoulders forward which will cause you to slouch and can make you look dis-interested in your audience.

2.  Become more aware of your gestures

While you might be innocently placing your hands or arms in a way that feels comfortable, your audience might be reading more into them than you think.

Below are just a few things to be aware of:

Steepling: of hands (when hands are placed together forming an upward pointing V-shape) can appear to indicate superiority to others in the room.

When hands are steepled downwards it can indicate the opposite, as in, you feel inferior to others.

When hands are steepled pointing out it can indicate that you feel that both you and your audience are equal.  An inordinate number of politicians here in Ireland tend to do this gesture, personally I am not a fan.  It often looks too contrived.

Hands on hips: this gesture is said to signal confidence or arrogance.  One you might want to show, the other – definitely not!  In my coaching sessions I regularly see men present with their hands on their hips, funnily enough I never see women doing it.  I call it “The Irish Dancing Stance”.  Hand on heart, not one of those who adopted this posture were arrogant or particularly confident.  It was simply a matter of not knowing what to do with their hands.

Crossing your arms: is generally considered a No No.  It can be read as being dis-interested in your audience.  However, if you are having a profile photograph taken, do adapt this approach, apparently it is more flattering!  Well, that’s what Susan from Circus Photography told me when she took the picture attached to this blog!

3.  Eye contact

Look at your audience.  People tend to naturally pay more attention to people who look them in the eye.  I know I have said it before, but worth repeating – if you feel uncomfortable looking them in the eye, look at their eyebrows or bridge of the nose.  They won’t notice, honest!

4.  Moving around

If you are a mover – then move!  Sometimes people ask me “Am I allowed to move?”  Of course!  You are you and you need to do what feels right for you.  There are many guidelines around moving, in short, if you are moving – remember to stop moving and stand still every so often.  Constant movement can be a bit distracting.

5.  Hand gestures

When gesturing it is really important that you do what feels natural to you.  Observe yourself in your natural habitat.  If you are a person who constantly talks with your hands, as I do or indeed as most children do – you need to use them in a similar way when presenting.

If you are someone who uses very little hand movement in your normal habitat – then that is what you will naturally do in your presentations.  However, if you are someone who is looking to have more impact when presenting, maybe try pushing your own natural hand movements to be a bit bigger in your natural habitat.  When you are comfortable doing this, then try and incorporate similar movements into your presentations.

Regardless of whether you are a person who uses  constant or little hand movements, I am fairly confident that you do not hold them behind your back or clasped in the fig leaf shape in your natural habitat… so try not to do the latter in your presentations.

For more tips on hand gestures, in particular what to do when you are not using them, see this blog from a few years back – Hands – what to do when you are not using them.

6.  Facial gestures

Don’t forget to smile!  At the beginning and the end are good places to smile – unless of course you are delivering bad news or speaking on a somber occasion.

Don’t forget your other facial gestures too.  If something is serious, look serious.  If something is great, look happy.  If something is confusing, look confused.  You have 80 muscles in your face – your probably use them at home, why not use them in presentations too?

If you want to get an opportunity to get On Your Feet and learn-by-doing, check out our up-coming 1 day presentation skills course with videoing.  For all the details click here.