Body language is incredibly important for presenters. Our posture, the way we gesture, how we stand, the extent to which we move and how we physically ‘own the room’ all combine to communicate presence, confidence, comfort, authority and credibility – or not as the case may be!
The good news is that most people, even with very little coaching, can develop strong, assertive and impactful body language for when they are actually presenting.
The challenge usually comes when they are NOT presenting.
Let us explain.
Time and time again we see presenters look their weakest and their most nervous before they actually start speaking. You know, the 2-3 minutes at the start of the meeting/presentation when the presenter simply stands limply at the front of the room whilst people settle into their seats, help themselves to water etc.
What presenters don’t realise is that the minute they enter the meeting room, the conference, even the client’s office – they are being judged, not necessarily intentionally, but it’s happening all the same. And someone standing weakly at the front of the room with their head down, their face frozen, avoiding eye connection, their legs crossed, and their hands wringing and fidgeting, has a body language that speaks volumes. It’s a language that sends a message that says ‘I’m anxious, I don’t want to be here, I pray this goes alright, I can’t wait until it’s over’. In other words they are creating the worst possible first impression.
Think about a football team (it doesn’t matter what code) entering a packed stadium of fans. Now consider their body language as they exit the changing rooms, come out of the tunnel and onto the pitch. Do they amble onto the playing field, slouched over and weak-looking, waiting nervously for the referee to blow the whistle? No! Why? Because they know the minute they’re in the stadium, they’re on. And they know the opposing team, the fans and the TV commentators are all looking at them, and judging how match-ready and confident they are.
The same should be true for us as presenters.
To create the best possible impression, even before you start speaking, here are 5 proven techniques to use:
- Own the presentation. Establish your authority by greeting everyone by their name and with strong, steady eye connection as they enter the room (assuming you’re not presenting at a conference of course). If you don’t know them, introduce yourself including your role/title.
- Own the room. As people settle-in demonstrate your confidence by standing as close to the audience as is comfortable. I.e. don’t hug the back wall and lurk in the shadows. Instead, position yourself so you’re almost touching the meeting room table, or if the room is set up as a u-shape or cabaret style so you’re just a few feet from those at the front of the audience.
- Own your space: Convey physical comfort and increase your personal presence by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart (never crossed!), shoulders back, and with your hands held comfortably at waist-level or above. This will ensure you appear assertive, calm and in control. It’s important to learn what ‘neutral’ hand position works for you. It could be with your fingers inter-locked, or the horizontal steeple position, or the self hand-shake – or indeed a variation all your own. If you find that nothing feels comfortable, trying holding a chunky pen, like a whiteboard marker, in both hands. This works for almost everyone!
- Smile. There’s plenty of scientific evidence proving the immediate positive effect smiling has on our emotions. Smiling will also create the impression that you actually want to be there which in turn will help make the audience want to be there too.
- Ditch the notes. No matter how tempting, do not take any notes with you. If you don’t know what you’re going say at this stage you never will. And clutching and referring to sheaves of shuffling paper will make the audience doubt your preparedness and undermine your credibility.
So remember, you’re creating an impression well before you start speaking. And that impression is up to you. So switch yourself on the moment you’re in your presenting environment and make your body language send a positive message that will set you up for success.