"What does body language have to do with a PowerPoint presentation?" you ask. Well, more than you think. In the same way it's always worth putting some thought into the placement of our text and images or the way we design a slide, it's also worth thinking about the placement of other things "outside of the presentation" like our hands and eyes, as well as the way we present ourselves (no pun intended).
The thing is, you're using body language whether you realise it or not. There's no vacuum here, so you may as well be intentional about it. Being aware of and leveraging the way you come across when presenting can be a great way to add that extra layer of clarity, conviction or persuasion we need to win that pitch, secure that raise or get the team on board for the next project.
Your body language can either help you engage your audience and be confident and relaxed during your presentation, or make you look dull and uninterested thanks to slouching, lack of eye contact or nervous pacing back and forth. So, while we normally focus on helping you design your slides, in this post, we're giving you five pointers to help you look as good as your deck!
1. Make eye contact, but don't be creepy
If you're nervous, your body will often instinctively try to avoid eye contact. If you're overly confident, you might stare for too long, making the other person nervous. The goal here is to find that sweet spot and look for long enough to appear confident without coming across as creepy.
Here are a few tips for healthy eye contact:
- Aim to move around and look at everyone in the room at least once
- Try about 2 seconds – less looks nervous, longer feels awkward
- If you're too nervous to lock in, try looking just above people's eyes
- Don't look down at your notes the whole time if you're aiming to connect
2. Use hand gestures ... the right ones, that is
According to a study by Vanessa Van Edwards, lead investigator for Science of People, hand gestures are among the five essential ingredients that make up a successful TED talk. Intentional, well-timed hand gestures can show your audience that you care about the topic and that you're a knowledgable and effective communicator. On the flipside, unintentional hand gestures can easily cause distraction and make you look nervous or unprofessional and even annoying.
Here are a few common ones to avoid:
- Fiddling with a watch, wedding band or microphone
- Playing with keys, pens, coins or stuff in your pocket
- Stroking your hair, beard, mustache (or eyebrows!)
- Repeatedly adjusting items of clothing
- Pointing at people
And a few to try:
- Pausing to point an important element or message on your slide
- Using welcoming, positive gestures to engage with the audience
- Using a gesture to invite the audience to answer a question
- Counting key points on your fingers for emphasis
- Clapping to celebrate or acknowledge an achievement
3. Consider your clothes
A lot can be said about people's choice of clothing, and there are obviously plenty of landmines to be mindful of here, including everything from company dress code to individual taste. We won't go too deep here, and also try to leave some room for personal preferences, but here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Are your clothes enhancing your message or distracting people?
A t-shirt with an eye-catching design or some provocative wording might be perfect for a night on the town, but if it's not supporting your message, it may be distracting and detracting from it. If in doubt, go neutral. Plainer clothes are often a good choice, or at least items of clothing that don't carry conflicting messaging.
How will your audience be dressed?
If they're in suits, you might not want to rock up in swimwear, unless of course you're doing a talk on water safety, in which case it might be an appropriate way to grab, and hold, people's attention. Many suggest dressing slightly better than your audience, helping establish some level of professionalism while also hanging on to some relatability.
Are your clothes clean, ironed and in decent condition?
We're not suggesting you invest in a new wardrobe every time you need to get the team together for a 5-minute stand-up meeting at the office, but it's worth checking your clothes are neat and tidy enough not to distract people while you're talking. There's nothing worse than staring at a guy with big square-shaped creases on his recently purchased shirt because he didn't allow time to iron it before taking the stage.
4. Remember your posture
Body language matters. As mentioned in one of the earlier tips, a poor posture such as slouching will give your audience the impression that you’re not confident nor interested in your topic or yourself. If you're tense, they'll sense your nervousness. Remind yourself to relax throughout your presentation and to straighten up if you start to slouch. Not only will this give you the chance to improve your posture, but it'll also allow your audience to take in the points you’ve just covered.
Within your own personal style, try to be comfortably confident.
So here are two dos and two don'ts when it comes to posture during a presentation:
- Don't slouch – Your posture should be upright and open. This'll make you look and feel more confident, inviting the audience in rather than pushing them away.
- Try not to be tense – It’s important to look and feel relaxed during a presentation. Appearing too rigid won’t make a good impression. No matter how nervous you may feel, a speaker who seems to be afraid of his or her audience will not win their trust. Remind yourself to relax at different points throughout the presentation. Use your pauses to consciously to relax and reset your expression and posture.
- Think about your audience – A formal presentation to the board of a company is quite different from an interactive talk with a junior coworker. While you still need to be upright, open, and relaxed in all situations, remember that different settings require different levels of formality. Adapt your posture and the delivery of your message to be more open or more formal accordingly.
- Be adaptable – You should have an open and communicative posture at all times. Be prepared to adapt to unexpected situations. If you're addressing a large audience or being recorded, you may need to use a microphone. This might restrict you to so you have to stay at a lectern, or you may have to hold a microphone in one hand, restricting your gestures. Try to find out beforehand, but if things are not as you initially expected, adapt quickly to make the best of the facilities provided so that they work in your favour.
5. Don't forget to breathe
Whether you're nervous, excited or insecure about delivering a presentation to an audience, it's surprisingly common to either freeze or to speak faster than normal, leading you to experience a shortness of breath. Regardless of how you feel about presenting, it's important to remember to breathe normally. It's a great way to center yourself, find some calm and take control of the situation. Breathing at a healthy pace will also give you the chance to gather your thoughts in between points, and most importantly, give your audience the opportunity to take in what you've just said.
Much like eye contact, pausing to breathe needs to be timed well. Too short and you seem flustered, too long and it gets awkward. Try delivering a sentence or two and then pausing to breathe. Soon, you'll find a rhythm and cadence that enables both you and your audience to settle in for the ride so they remain focused and curious, and you stay calm and in complete control.
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