Got awkward hands syndrome? You probably don’t, because I just made that up. BUT – we all have moments when we don’t know what to do with our hands, legs, or any part of our body. It’s possible that you have an amazing icebreaker, impeccable introduction, and great presentation, but the delivery is where it matters most. You don’t know what to do with yourself and it’s perfectly normal.
In this article we’ll spell out some quick tips on body language and how to develop your presentation skills, regarding:
- Eye contact
- Hands & Shoulders
- Back & Head
You’re body language is crucial because it not only makes you look more confident, powerful, and collected, but you will also end up feeling these things too.
DON’T avoid eye contact like it’s the plague. A lot of people don’t know how to make eye contact and are taught to stare at the back wall or someone’s forehead. People can tell when you’re not looking at them and will perceive you to be nervous and distant. I was one of those presenters, because I thought public speaking was the same as acting. When I did theater productions in high school, they encouraged us to look at the back wall and to not engage with the audience because it would take them out of the fantasy world we were creating. I learned the hard way that acting is not the same as public speaking. There are similar aspects, but you don’t want to block the audience out of your presentation – you want to include them, so why would you pretend they aren’t there?
On the other hand, some people are taught to look at just one person which is also a bad habit. Staring at one individual the entire time will make them very uncomfortable and that atmosphere will distract the other audience members as well.
DO connect with people like you would a normal conversation. How do expect people to want to engage with you if they don’t feel seen? One of the most useful presentation skills I’ve learned from Nicole Dieker is that people love attention! Take time to connect with your audience. When people feel that a presenter cares about them, they feel important and encouraged to share in your emotion. Shift your focus to different audience members, to foster an inclusive environment. Especially engage with those already looking at you. Nothing is worse than staring down someone looking at their phone or program.
Use as much eye contact as you would when talking to a friend. Public speaking is the same, just on a larger scale and with more people.
DON’T restrict yourself or think too much about it. There are so many ways to hold your hands incorrectly, like behind your back (which comes off as militaristic and formal), below your belt (limiting movement), or stiffly by your sides (which feels awkward). Definitely don’t cross your arms as this comes off as defensive and aloof. Most importantly, don’t over-gesture! This will not only become exhausting, but the audience will begin to fixate on how tired you must be rather than the content of your presentation. Make your presentation easy to watch, and therefore, easy to understand.
DO rest your hands at a neutral position. This will be a bit above your belly button. The most successful looking neutral position is either holding one hand in another, or simply just touching them together in whatever way your hands would naturally. Hands, arms, and shoulders are the most important visual cue for the audience. You should gesture, just like your typical body language in a regular conversation. Don’t be a robot!
Below is a quick video by Steve Bavister, and I recommend you watch it to visualize what I just described.
DON’T lock your legs and stand still. Not only is it dangerous, but it also makes you look uncomfortable (making the audience uncomfortable). And no one likes to feel uncomfortable! The blood will start to pool in your legs, and without any movement, the blood will have a hard time recirculating to the heart. This makes you susceptible to passing out and that would definitely be … you guessed it … uncomfortable. On the contrary, don’t move your legs too much. I’ve been to a few presentations where the speaker is rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and I paid so much attention to this distracting behavior that I totally forgot what he was talking about!
DO use your legs as an extension of your hand gestures. If you want to make a statement that connects with your audience, take a step forward. If you want to give space for thought after an astounding statement, take a step back. There is a balance it it all. Think of the stage as a single plane – you shouldn’t turn your back on the audience. Walk in a way that is inclusive of all people in the space and move around so you can be visible from every seat.
DON’T fold into yourself with slouched shoulders, drooping head, and curved neck. People have subconscious biases against this form of body language and will begin to question your capability as a presenter if you project as a defensive, self-conscious, and insecure speaker. Even if you don’t identify with these descriptors, your body will surely show it.
DO convince them of your confidence with your posture. Stand straight like your head is connected to a taught string attached to the ceiling. If your body language portrays confidence, you will become confident. You will be surprised by how little adjustments will improve or worsen your speech delivery. Try using these presentation skills in the mirror and see for yourself!
Lastly, if you have confidence in your presentation – you’re body language will improve drastically. Your body will reflect how proud you are of your visuals and preparedness. AhaSlides is a great tool to use if you want to become a more confident presenter and WOW your audience with real-time interactive tools they can access while you’re presenting. Best part? It’s free!