Body language in public speaking is the nonverbal queues that your movements make during communication. Presenters often focus on what they are going to say and their visual aids. However, we often overlook an important part of the speech — body language. In public speaking, if you look poised and confident, your audience will believe you are poised and confident.
In this session, we’ll cover a few simple public speaking ideas that will help you stand and move better. First, we show how important nonverbal communication is during your presentation. Next, I’ll give you a few, simple tips to look more confident (even if you’re nervous). Finally, I’ll share a presentation secret that, once you understand it, will change the way you present.
You Body Language in Public Speaking is Important to a Successful Speech.
When presentation coaches reference body language, they often refer to a 1967 study published by Albert Mehrabian. Dr. Mehrabian is a professor at UCLA. His study showed that only 7% of communication comes from the words spoken. He said that 38% of communication comes from the voice and tone. The final 55% of the communication process comes from body language. In reality, this study has nothing to do with a public speaking or presenting. So, the reference to the “Mehrabian Formula” as a reason to focus on body language in public speaking is false. However, that doesn’t mean that body language isn’t important.
When I wrote The better that a speaker carries himself or herself, the move credibility the speaker has with the group. If you look timid or nervous, your audience will question your competence.
To cover for nervousness, a lot of speakers will hide behind a lectern. Others will deliver their entire presentation from a seated position and make the slideshow the presentation. When you do these things, though, you are losing your connection to the audience. You are also, likely, inadvertently making your presentation more boring.
A Few Simple Presentation Tips to Improve Body Language
If you want to look and feel more polished when you present, try these simple tips.
- Set Your Screen to the Side, Not the Front
What? What does where the screen is in the room have to do with body language in public speaking? Well, everything. Many presenters will set the projection screen or digital screen in the very center of the room. When you do this, though, your ability to move around the room is limited significantly. You are now limited to a much smaller “stage” to present from, and you are now off to the side. Your audience didn’t come to see you click through bullet points. They came to hear you speak.
- Take a Deep Breath and Drop Your Hands to Your Side.
Please don’t misunderstand this tip. The tip ISN’T to KEEP your hands by your side. It’s just the opposite. When you start your presentation with your hands dropped loosely by your side, your first gesture will be bigger and more powerful. You can try this from wherever you are right now.
Stand up and clasp your hands together in front of your waist as most presenters do. Now, break the clasp and try to make a gesture with one of your hands. Try it a few times. When you do, you will notice that your elbow will tend to rest around your hip. The gesture will look robotic. If you alternate moving your hands from that clasped position, you will likely look like a t-rex.Fearless Presentations, I mentioned in the book that “People judge our competence by the confidence that we show.” This statement is so true.
Now, drop both hands to your side and let them hand loosely. Try to make the same gesture that you did before. When you do, you will, most likely end up moving BOTH hands. This time, the gesture will look more powerful and energetic. Also, when you stop making the gesture, you will probably return your hands to your side so that your next gesture is also powerful. (Your hands will often return to their starting point.)
- Tell More Stories
If you want to have great body language when presenting, tell more stories. It is almost impossible to tell a story without using your hands to explain what is happening. For instance, when I start my presentation skills seminars, I will often start with a story. Typically, I tell the class what happened to me the first time I had to speak in front of a room of executives. As I describe how my hands got sweaty, I often naturally rub my palms on my pants. When I tell them how a zoomed through the presentation, I move my hands quickly in small circles. These movements add clarity to my description. No one ever taught me how to do this. These gestures happen naturally as I relive the incident from memory.
These natural gestures add a lot of enthusiasm and fun to your presentations. So, if you want to use more poised body language, tell more stories.
- Use Your Visual Aid.
One of the things that bug me most is when a speaker stands (or sits) clicking a clicker. If you are going to take the time to create a great slide or visual aid… USE IT! One of the techniques that we cover in our speaking class is to visually touch your slide. I know it sounds weird, but it works like magic.
Have you ever been in a presentation where a speaker puts up a series of bullet points and just starts talking? As he presents, you may think he is on point four, but then he clicks to the next slide. This occurs because the speaker naturally assumes that you can figure out which point he is on. As a result, he doesn’t both to tell you when he moves from one point to the next. In most cases, the points aren’t clearly defined, anyway, so there is a lot of overlap. This makes the entire presentation confusing.
A better way is to physically go to the screen and point to bullet #2 when you move to bullet #2. If you combine this technique with telling a story, your presentation comes alive. This happens because the speaker will move toward the screen to identify the next point. Then, she will jump into an example or story to clarify the point. She will naturally move back toward the audience as she tells the story. Of course, as she tells the story, she will use those natural gestures as well. This combination of techniques adds a lot of enthusiasm and energy to a presentation.
A Presentation Secret that Should Help with Presentation Gestures
This is a presentation secret that most people don’t realize. (I guess that is because it is a secret.) Most of the stuff that happens to us when we get nervous is not seen by your audience. When we have public speaking fear, we may have shaky hands, a faster heart rate, butterflies in the stomach and the like. However, although these things are real — we feel them — the audience will likely not realize you are experiencing these symptoms. For instance, if you feel queasy, as long as you don’t throw up, your audience will never know. If your heart is beating faster, again, that is an internal feeling, not an outward manifestation. This is why most people think that they are the only speaker who gets nervous.
In reality, most speakers feel nervousness. It is just that most of the symptoms they feel aren’t visible either.
If you understand this and use a few of the tips we covered earlier, you can look very poised when you speak. (Even if you are nervous!)