When it comes to presentations we all speak the same language: body language. We both speak and listen in body language. It makes sense then that better body language will lead to better results in presentations. Here are five do’s and don’ts for presenters that you can put to use immediately for high impact results.
The single most important thing to strive for in body language is to look natural. You can look natural long before you actually feel comfortable in the front of the room. From there it works like one domino knocking down another. When you look comfortable in front of the room, your audience feels more comfortable. That, in turn, helps you to feel more confident which will reflect in your body language.
Of course it can work in the other direction too. You look uptight and nervous. That makes your audience feel uncomfortable. You sense the tension in the audience. That undermines your already shaky confidence and it’s all downhill from there.
So in order to help you look natural—even if you don’t yet feel comfortable—in front of the room, here are five do’s and don’ts that will help your body language send a more confident, comfortable message:
#1 MOVING AROUND:
Do: Move at a comfortable pace, and change your pace.
Always identify how much space you have to work with in the front of the room. Are you limited by a podium? Is there a stage? Are you using a projector that casts a cone of light onto a screen? How is the seating in the room arranged? All of those impact how much space you have to work with in the front of the room. You want to use as much space as possible. It helps you “own” the room.
A couple of ideas to keep in mind:
- Avoid walking in front of the projector light.
- Avoid turning your back to large portions of the audience at a time.
- If the room allows it, try walking into the audience. Use the aisles when appropriate to help break down mental barriers.
- Invite audience members to the front of the room to help you demonstrate something. This is a powerful way to help the audience feel included in your presentation.
- If you are forced to use a podium, try standing to one side or another and leaning against the podium. That creates a very relaxed, comfortable look (if that look serves your intentions).
Don’t: Pace like a nervous animal.
Moving around in the front of the room will help you to release some the adrenaline that naturally surges in your body before and during a presentation, but move under control and don’t move constantly. Your movements should look natural, not like you’re speed walking in a competition or plodding along a road side like a weary travel. Use a combination of good energy, movement, and pauses to hold your audiences attention.
A couple of ideas to keep in mind:
- Use the pace of your movement to set up important ideas. Move as you build toward the idea then stop, pause, and deliver the idea. That has maximum impact.
- Chance the pace of your movement. Don’t spend the entire presentation walking or pacing at 12 miles an hour from one side of the front of the room to another. That makes you look like a caged animal—never a good look in a presentation.
- If you feel like you’re moving too much, find something in the front of the room to help anchor you. You can lean on a podium or stand on a particular spot for a moment, but break up a repetitive movement pattern. You want your movement to look and feel natural to your audience and not like you are a captive animal wearing a human suit.
#2 MOVING YOUR HANDS:
Do: Let your hands help you communicate
I speak with my hands all the time when I’m in front of the room or just having a one-on-one conversation. There are no hard and fast rules about hand movements. If you move your hands in conversations, when you’re on the phone, when you’re talking with a loved one, then by all means use your hands when you present from the front of the room. That’s part of your natural personality and it will help you to look natural to your audience.
A few suggestions :
- Be careful to keep your hands away from your face. You don’t want anything to come between you and your audience.
- Be careful not to touch your face too often in a presentation. This will make you look nervous, and you probably are but we don’t want to advertise that.
- Speak with your palms up when you want to include your audience; speak with your palms down when you want to exercise authority over your audience.
Don’t: Program your hands to move in perfect cadence with your words.
This makes you look robotic and contrived. Occasionally you’ll come across someone who can pull this off. Bill Clinton was a master of it, but I suspect that’s because he also talks in private with his thumb resting over his fist and his hand moving in rhythm with his thoughts.
#3 PUTTING YOUR HANDS IN YOUR POCKET:
Do: Put one hand in your pocket when you want to look comfortable, even casual.
You’re not alone when it comes to wondering what to do with your hands during a presentation or a speech. Fortunately if you take care of one hand, it usually solves the problem for both hands. Try putting your non-dominant hand in your pocket. That keeps your dominant hand free to make gestures. It also helps you strike a professionally casual look, comfortable but not sloppy. When you look at ease it helps put your audience at ease too.
Don’t: Put both hands in your pockets at the same time.
If you stuff both hands in your pockets you will look like you are nervous and hiding something—bad
combination. When both of your hands going down into your pockets, you also run the risk of slouching your shoulders, further undermining your message with bad body language. Stay away from putting both hands in your pockets—even if your instincts tell you to do that so you have some place to put your hands.
#4 HOLDING NOTES:
Do: Keep your notes handy where you can get to them
There’s nothing wrong with using notes in a presentation. It’s better to use notes and stay on track then to avoid using notes and constantly lose your place and get off course. The trick with notes is to use big fonts, wide margins, and position the notes in front of you where you can easily see them on a desk, table, or podium. You can still move around while you present and when you want to check your notes simply move back to the place where you have placed your notes.
Don’t: Clutch your notes
Remember, one of the ways adrenaline gets out of your body is through your hands. If you hold your notes while in front of your audience your run the risk of your notes shaking if your hands shake and becoming a distraction to the audience. I saw this happen with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews at a keynote in Las Vegas. He was holding his notes and twisting them like a wet towel as he spoke. He never referenced his notes. He just twisted the papers over and over. It became a major distraction to his audience.
Put your notes down and walk back to them when you need to reference your notes. Keep them out of your hands. Even though they might feel like a safety blanket to you they run the risk of becoming a major irritant to your audience.
#5 USE BODY LANGUAGE TO ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE:
Do: Show the audience what you want them to do
The audience takes its cues from the presenter. So when you want a show of hands, rather than just ask a question like, “How many of you have travelled overseas?” raise your hand while you ask the question. That one simple thing will dramatically increase audience involvement—and few things bring a presentation to life like audience involvement. If you want the audience to get up and move to the left side of the room, use both of your hands to make a rising motion and then you walk to the left side of the room. The audience will follow. We listen with more than our ears in a presentation. We listen with our eyes too. If you show people the same message that you tell them and do it at the same time you greatly increase the chance of them hearing and acting on your request.
Don’t: Point, thrust, or jab your finger at the audience
An upturned palm from a presenter is inviting. Downturned palms are the sign of authority, and finger point, thrust, or jab is threatening and confrontational. Unless you want to confront your audience, be careful pointing your finger. It makes people feel isolated and attacked. I can’t think of too many settings outside of sports lorckerrooms where that kind of challenge can have a positive effect but I have noticed that the accidental use by presenters and speakers of a finger point can have an extremely negative effect on the audience. Unless you are acting out a story that involves someone pointing a finger at you, be very careful of pointing at your audience. Do too much of it and audience members might want to share a finger of their own in your direction.
Try different combinations of the do’s:
- Move at a comfortable pace, and change your pace.
- Let your hands help you communicate.
- Put one hand in your pocket when you want to look comfortable, even casual.
- Keep your notes handy where you can get to them, but not in your hands.
- Show the audience what you want them to do.
By experimenting with different combinations you will find your comfort zone and your own personal style. Once you have that, you have what you need to look—and feel—like a natural in front of any and every audience.