How To Use Body Language in Presentations

Your body language in presentations is probably more important than the words you say, and how you say them, combined. If your body language is non-existent, hostile or defensive, your audience will reflect the feeling they get from you. If your body language is expressing something different to what you are saying, it is likely that your audience will not believe a word that comes out of your mouth. 

Your Body Language in Presentations

Many listeners subconsciously neglect what they’re hearing in favor of what they’re seeing. Therefore, having powerful and positive body language and a confident posture will make your audience feel that you are an authority, believe that you are credible, and that you really know what you are talking about.

When it comes to using body language in presentations there are five areas you need to keep in mind:

Posture – Your posture should be noticeable from the moment you enter the building. If you wait until you’re up in front of the crowd to adapt to a confidence stance, you’re already too late. Your audience’s opinion of you starts forming the moment they first see you, whether it’s in the parking lot, elevator or even the rest room.

Once you get up from your seat to take the front of the room, show confidence and purpose. With your head held high, stand with your feet hip-distance apart keeping your chin parallel to the floor, which will lengthen your spine, making you look taller. Before you begin your presentation take a moment or two to stand still at the front of the room, making sure you have everyone’s attention.    

Gestures and Movement – The purpose of gesturing is to bring energy and enlighten your presentation. Gestures help highlight and magnify key concepts, basically helping you’re audience understand what you’re saying. Since much of comprehension and retention is visual, gestures play an important role in making that happen.

There are 4 basic gesture sizes - gestures involving your fingers only are considered small gestures. Gestures that pivot at your wrist are medium, gestures that hinge at your elbow are considered large, and gestures that originate from your shoulders and move outward, upward or downward are considered extra large. The bigger your audience is, the bigger your gestures need to be in order to be visible and make an impact. 

Tips for Gestures

  • Open-handed gestures build more trust and rapport (understanding) with your audience than closed-handed gestures. When you’re audience can see your palms, they subconsciously believe that you have nothing to hide.
  • Avoid crossing the mid-line of your body with your arms as this creates a wall between you and you’re audience, and you look defensive. You also want to avoid pointing as it can be seen as threatening or you are accusing someone.
  • Walk only when you are making a transition to a new idea that you want to share with a person, a bit like walking at the beginning of a paragraph. When walking on stage, take only 3 steps at a time. While taking those three steps you need to align your eye-contact, your hand, and your leading foot, all together. Don’t wonder off making you look lost, make your movements purposeful.
  • If there is a podium don’t lean on it or become frozen behind it.
  • Never turn your back to the audience. If you need to go back to where you were standing when you walked forward, move backwards discretely at a diagonal or by gradually stepping back as you emphasize key points.   

Facial Expressions – The most effective, all-purpose facial expression is the genuine smile. A genuine smile will engage your zygomaticus muscles which are the ones that cause ‘laugh-lines’ at the eyes. A good smile will relieve both you and your audience so try practicing this one in the mirror before you hit the stage. 

Eye Contact – The way that we use our eyes and our facial expressions can make a tremendous impact on our presentation. When it comes to eye contact you want to aim for a not too long, but also a not too short eye contact. An eye contact that is too short appears like you are watching the audience watch you, whereas a long eye contact can make the person feel uncomfortable.

Aim to have a meaningful eye-to-eye connection with one person at a time. The best eye-contact time to use is between 3-6 seconds. Use your eye contact to give you a feedback of what the audience is feeling. If they are following you or they look confused or they look bored, then you can adjust appropriately. Body language in presentations isn't just used for delivering a good presentation; it’s about reading your audience all along the way and adjusting. 

Another mistake that people do when they give presentations is that they look at regions in the room instead of the people. Make every effort to connect your eyes with people, since the presentation is for them, not the room.   

Dress – Your body language in presentations is not only about body movement; choosing a professional look also contributes to how your audience views you. It can make or break you since the way you dress sends a message to your audience about how much you respect them but also respect yourself. Select items that will make your audience feel that you care about them.

When making a presentation, dress to make a memorable impact in the best way possible, but don’t overdo it, since you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  

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