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Body Language – Presentation Skills


Rightly or wrongly, human nature drives us to follow (and trust) high-impact or “high-status” individuals, so if you want to influence and persuade, having a good presentation posture and avoiding unconscious low-status body language is a good idea. When you stand with a strong presentation posture you feel calm and confident inside, and once this happens, the audience can’t help but sense that from you and see it in you. (The opposite is also true that if you look scared and nervous the audience will see that and feel that too).

In my book “High-Performance Presentations” I use an example of a king posture and jester (joker) posture. Look at the king’s body language in the illustration and notice how it conveys high status  – he’s standing up straight and either not moving or moving slowly, and his hands would remain mostly still.

Now compare that to the jester – he’s always moving around, hopping from one foot to another and waving his hands and arms in the air. He may be funny and the audience may well laugh, but is he conveying high status? Are people really listening to his message?

Good body language is critical to a confident calm and clear presentation. If you want to improve your presentation skills, here are a few basic exercises which will help.

Get into position

Before we look at breathing and voice projection and tips on confident facial expressions when giving a presentation let’s look at presentation posture/position and where to put your hands during a presentation.

During our presentation skills one-to-one training, we teach a good neutral standing posture which makes you feel confident inside, and look and sound confident outside. Have a look at our “How to…presentation posture/position” video to give you a feel for it, then practise this exercise below. This is just one of the techniques covered in our Level 1: One to One Presentation Skills Training Course.

Exercise – How to how to stand while giving a speech

    1. Before starting your position take a few moments to relax and focus on being grounded.
    2. Place your feet hip-width apart with equal pressure on each foot. Imagine your feet have tree roots which reach down into the floor to hold you firmly and securely floor.
    3. Hold your body straight and imagine a string in the centre of your head gently pulling you upright. In yoga, this is similar to the Neutral Spine.

If you hunch over the PC for far too long each day you may want to practise this every day anyway!

A few handy tips

Before we show you how you can use your hands when presenting, first I want to show you how to NOT use your hands when presenting! It may seem unusual but I’m always telling clients to keep their hands still by their side whilst they learn the body language basics. Why? Untrained people are very likely to use their hands incorrectly meaning they send the opposite message with their body language than that intended. If the words you are saying don’t match up to the message you are giving with your body language, at best, you look inconsistent and, at worst, untrustworthy.

Exercise – Minimise unnecessary, inconsequential hands

I suggest you practise using very minimal hand movements by filming yourself. Try this:

  1. Aim to speak easily for a minute or two without moving your hands from your side.
  2. If you notice yourself using your hands, ask yourself is that a helpful movement for the audience or a hindrance? If so, see the next exercise.
  3. If your hand movement is not useful to the audience, then stop it and keep your hands by your side.
  4. Repeat this exercise until you’re self-aware enough to subtly correct yourself as you’re speaking, without the use of the video recorder.

Exercise – Using hand movements that are correct, conscious and clear

  1. If you think your hand movement is useful, then study it and ensure you do it correctly, consciously and clearly.
  2. Once you’ve decided on a unique hand movement to represent a key message, practise the gestures until it is second nature.
  3. Next practise using it at the right place in the presentation.
  4. Once you’ve finished your hand movement, put your arms back down by your side until it is time for the next correct, conscious and clear hand movement.

Don’t forget to breathe!

Breathing and voice projection is vital to your presentation. Experiencing breathlessness and speaking too quickly is a common problem for anxious presenters. I want to share some useful techniques when giving a presentation that aid calm and confident performances.

The main reasons for getting out of breath when giving a presentation are:

  • Nerves or “Public Speaking Monkeys” causing extra adrenaline, resulting in shallow upper chest breathing and tension in the body
  • Poor presentation posture/position with the airway crunched up not free flowing
  • Poor breathing techniques meaning we’ve “forgotten” how to breathe properly

We all know how to breathe, but the chances are unless we are musicians, singers, athletes or completed some presentation skills training, we’ve ‘forgotten’ how to control our breath – and that’s something that makes a huge difference to our presentations.

Your breathing plays a huge role in the success of your presentation. Slow and measured breathing is characteristic of control and that’s you want. Prepared, ready and in control.

Once you’ve got it right, your breathing will be even and you’ll be able to project more effectively. You’ll also find that your breath will last longer, so no embarrassing gasping or breathlessness.

Exercise – Breathing!

  1. Stand with your back straight, shoulders back, and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Place a hand on your stomach.
  3. As you breathe in through your nose, feel your hand being pushed away as your abdomen rises.
  4. If your chest rises not your tummy you aren’t breathing correctly! Try again!
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth and allow your stomach to return to its normal position.

Prior to going your presentation I always recommend you centre yourself with your breathing; a great little exercise to do this takes 3 deep breaths followed by one normal breath.

During your presentation, regulating your breathing is a great way to regulate your talking speed. If you start speaking too quickly, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, then a normal breath, and continue. (If you’re wearing a microphone, do it quietly – as you don’t want to sound like Darth Vader)! You can disguise this action if you want to, by taking a moment to check your notes.

Finally, good posture and body language are critical to ensuring you stand up straight, open your windpipe and can breathe easily. You won’t suffer from a shortness of breath and you’ll add to your calm composure. A good presentation posture also leads to better voice production and projection so you don’t have to shout to be heard.

 

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