When you’re giving a presentation, the audience is listening to you but they are also registering your non-verbal communication, in other words your body language. So, if your words don’t match what your body is ‘saying’, your presentation message could get lost.
Many studies have shown that the single most impactful factor in presenting is non-verbal communication – body language. In fact, some studies say that body language makes up as much as 55% of the total influence of a presenter! (Source: SOAP)
So, it makes sense to look at the worst mistakes you could make and look at how to improve them. The tips that I share here were put together by State of the Art Presentations (SOAP) in Brazil. I found their excellent presentation while doing research for this article and decided to adapt their advice and share it here with you.
Let’s take a look…….
1. Crossing your arms and/or your legs
When you talk to someone who has their arms crossed during the conversation, what does it say about them? For me, it says that they feel threatened and are using that posture to go on the defensive. It also shows a lack of openness. Imagine doing that while giving a presentation. What message are you giving your audience? That you feel threatened by them and therefore need to defend yourself against them? Quite the contrary (opposite).
Similarly, crossing your legs shows you’re nervous and can come across lacking in professionalism.
You want to show confidence and look approachable so your posture needs to be open. Back straight, head high with chest and arms in an ‘open’ position. I refer to this latter point in my Guide on Better Communication.
2. Turning your back on the audience
Don’t you just hate it when you see a presenter with their back to you? They spend the entire presentation talking to the screen. What’s that all about? That’s so rude and it says that the presenter doesn’t care about his/her audience.
Your audience wants to see your face, your eyes and your mouth to engage with you, particularly if you’re giving a presentation in a foreign language. They need to see your facial expressions.
Turn and face the audience and if you need to draw their attention to the screen, turn sideways and point.
3. No eye contact
When we feel insecure we unconsciously avoid eye contact with the people we’re talking to. The trouble is that when you’re giving a presentation, you have to feel secure and show confidence or else your audience won’t pay you the attention you want.
It’s therefore crucial (important) you look your audience in the eye. By giving them eye contact, they will pay attention to you and what you’re saying because they feel more engaged.
A word of caution: don’t stare! Don’t pick one person out of the audience and give them exclusive eye contact. You’ll only make them nervous and avoid your eyes.
4. Don’t focus at a single spot in the audience
It’s a bit like staring at one person only. If you pick a single spot and focus on just that, people will notice that you’re not looking at them and they will feel disengaged from you. This will also make them think you lack confidence or are nervous.
Look at various people around the audience. Hold their attention for a second or two and this will make them feel that they matter to you and will consequently listen to you.
5.Standing in the same position
Unless you’re a totem pole, I’d suggest avoiding standing in the same position throughout your presentation. The brain needs movement to stay alert and your audience also wants variety. Furthermore, movement is a powerful tool to keep your audience’ attentive.
6. Don’t walk too fast or for too long
Having said to move around, don’t walk too fast or for too long or worse up and down. You don’t want your audience to think they’re at a tennis match following you as the ball! They’ll think you’re super nervous.
Move when it makes sense to do so and it helps to convey (communicate) your message. For example, if you’re addressing someone in the audience, move to a spot closer to them. Or if you are making a list of 3 points, take a step to make point 1, then a further two or three steps to and make point 2 and a few more for point 3 (Source: SOAP).
7. Repeating gestures ……a lot
I have to say that I can be guilty of this and I have to work at it. Gestures are an excellent way of emphasising your message but not when the gestures are used too often because they become meaningless and it looks like you don’t know what to do with your hands.
By varying your gestures and using them carefully, you can help your audience follow your message.
Fidgeting equals nervousness and can totatally distract your audience because all they’ll do is focus on your fidgeting and not listen to a word you have to say.
However, fidgeting is sometimes something we do unconsciously and therefore can be difficult to control. You need to be aware of when you’re fidgeting to stop yourself. One way to do this is to video yourself while rehearsing your presentation. Watch the replay and see how much you fidget and then try to correct it.
9. Forgetting to smile
Your nerves take over, you’re worried about how you’re going to present; about forgetting your words; about the technology failing that you completely forget to smile.
Not only do you come across as too serious, you show no warmth and seem unapproachable. This will stop your audience from empathising with you and stop you from creating a warm rapport with them.
So before you do anything, be sure to smile and look like you really want to be there with your audience. A beautiful smile shares a thousand words without a single word being said.
10. Don’t speak too fast, too slow or too low
In our nervousness and desire to get the presentation done, we can sometimes end up talking too fast. Or you could be someone who speaks far too slowly which could leave your audience reaching for their smartphones or worse still, nodding off (falling asleep!) Another problem could be that your voice is too low and the people at the back can’t hear you.
Your voice is one of the most powerful tools you have in your presentation armoury. Think about how actors use their voice to get and keep the audience’s attention. Think of the great orators of recent history and how they use their voice to captivate their audience – Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr.
As presenters, we need to do the same. We need to use our voice at the right volume, to emphasise the words we want our audience to hear and to articulate key expressions clearly. You want your message to be understood and your voice is the perfect tool to hold your audience’s attention. Using pauses and intonation are further techniques you can use to captivate your audience.
There’s so much more to engaging an audience in a presentation than a good grasp of the English Language. What our body “says” is equally important. These skills can all be worked on and improved which is half the battle won!
Good luck with your next presentation and do please let me know how you get on.
Ciao for now