Your body language, and the body language of your audience, is a significant form of nonverbal communication in presentations that speaks to the level of engagement during a presentation.
Alongside the more obvious mistakes like turning your back on the audience, there are some subtle errors that can hinder the value of your presentation. You should present yourself alongside your presentation in a way that exudes confidence and authenticity. Here are some thoughts to help you stand and walk tall in front of the screen.
A lack of eye contact with your audience implies a lack of focus, or that you’re distracted (by your anxieties to say the least). Maintaining eye contact maintains a visual level of engagement and connotes that you are prepared and confident in your message. Don’t pick one unfortunate in the audience and glare at them throughout your presentation, rather be willing and open to catching the eyes of your audience. They are hopefully already looking at you, do not be afraid to look back. This shouldn’t be a battle of wills nor a staring contest.
Even if you are glancing at your notes, or the presentation itself, it can be misconstrued as a lack of certainty in yourself and your work. Inserting visual or textual cues into your presentation can limit these breaks in contact, by cueing your verbal communication.
Your eye contact commands theirs, and in turn, their attention.
Posture is often underappreciated; a tall stance and straight back can empower you, increasing your stature, imbuing confidence within your audience. It also has the practical advantage of opening your chest and freeing your breathing.
Withdrawing into yourself physically gives the impression of anxiety and nervousness, and limits your every movement and word. You may speak faster, or quieter, and your hand gestures may be sporadic, giving the impression of a lack of focus or control.
By adopting an open stance, and avoiding weak gestures, such as wringing your hands or cradling your arm, you are drawing focus to your words and your presentation.
Envision the implications of crossing your arms; you are literally creating a barrier between you and your audience.
It is important to command the room, don’t shrink yourself. You have the right to be there, the opportunity to say what you have come to say. Your posture speaks volumes about how you feel about your presentation, it should be one of your tools to reach your audience. Become imposing, but don’t impose. Imbue your presentation with humanity and emotion, that will reach out and attract your audience.
The headless chicken
Give some thought to how and when you move. Circumstances may dictate that you have literally little room for manoeuvre but even if you have the benefit of a large stage that doesn’t mean that you have to strive to fill it constantly. There is nothing quite as off-putting as an individual stalking alone across the stage, undoubtedly all eyes will be on you, but they are unlikely to be on your presentation.
If you are moving while presenting such movement should be natural.
As with eye contact, if you find yourself in a large venue with a large audience, you may feel that it is advantageous to cross the stage to reassure parts of the audience that you are aware that they are there. If you have been planted behind a lectern stage centre and have one, fixed, microphone this may not be possible but if you are lucky enough to have the freedom to roam, use it wisely.
Likewise lack of movement. There are no golden rules for this, just experience. In the same way that an introverted stance can throw up barriers between you and your audience, a complete failure to move throughout your presentation is simply not natural. However twitching, drumming your fingers and tapping your feet, however natural, do nothing to engender confidence.
Though it is important to ‘work the room’; to use your body as tool for drawing focus, senseless movement and pacing risks the value of your presentation being lost upon distraction. Any movements should be used in an effort to engage with your audience, drawing their attention towards you and the key components of your presentation.
Some final thoughts
How we use our bodies, and the messages that our use sends, is ingrained in most of us but it is all too easy to forget or ignore if we are badly distracted by other tasks. Apprehension about the importance of what we are doing or naked fear of speaking in front of others can cause us to act physically in a way that magnifies our fears to the detriment of what we are actually trying to achieve.
While no advice can magically overcome stage fright, an understanding of the message your body is sending goes a long way to helping you ensure that you project the correct message. If you are nervous about delivering your presentation the simple act of standing tall and facing your audience can be enough to carry you through. Physically projecting anxiety will be picked up by your audience immediately and whether they intend it or not, it will inform their view of what you are saying.