(It’s not what you think!)
We’ve all been there. Presenting to an audience can be nerve-wrecking as it is, so the last thing you want to worry about is positioning your arms properly and gesticulating, right? We get nervous and focus too much on our delivery that we miss the point of getting our message across.
Body language can be very important to interpersonal communication. There are often critical ideas and emotions that remain unspoken but which are intimated through body language. Body language can also be instrumental to gauge the power dynamic between individuals engaged in dialogue.
But in performance, for example, when presenting to a group at a meeting or conference, we have less subconscious and sub-textual concerns. Because the presentation is just not about the speaker – it’s about the information that an audience needs to receive, to learn and make decisions. Our voice and body are the primary tools we use to communicate that information.
And as presenters, we’re not only judged by what we say but by our appearance too. It’s our natural instinct to judge what we see. As much as you want the audience to like you for your mind and not your appearance, their first impression is going to be based on how you look. They will mentally categorize you in just a few seconds, and then decide whether or not you’re a person they can connect with.
What you need to realize is that you have the power to shape and control the first impression that people use as a basis for judging you. By learning some of the principal ways that your own appearance, posture, gestures, facial expression and even tone of voice affect your mind, you will become more aware of the factors influencing your mood, and give yourself an edge in presentations and negotiations.
Here are some body language tips to keep your audience engaged throughout your stage time:
- Appearance: What you say is of course more important than what people see. However, your appearance is an important aspect of your presentation skills. You want your audience to listen to what you have to say. Dress the part. Your presentation begins the moment someone recognizes you as the speaker.
- Posture: Keep a good posture, stand straight with shoulders back, relaxed and feet shoulder width apart. Don’t cross your arms, put your hands in your pocket or slouch. Face the audience as much as possible and keep your body open.
- Eye contact: Eye contact is crucial when speaking. It genuinely connects you with your audience. And because you’re talking to people as if you’re in a one-on-one conversation, you’ll come across as conversational. That makes you easy to listen to and engaging.
- Gestures: Hand and arm movements are an important part of our visual picture when speaking in public. Not only are they a non-verbal representation of how we feel, they reinforce our message, and help us appear confident and relaxed. When using visual aids, point and look at the relevant data. The audience will automatically follow your hands and eyes.
- Breathe right: Relaxed and deep breaths ensure that your voice holds power and can project. Use slow and measured breathing to pace your speech, and pause to emphasize key points.
- Connect: Don’t hide behind a podium, your laptop, the mike or the screen. Orientate yourself towards the audience. They need to see your face, to know that you are attentive to their interests and available to meet their needs.
- Move with purpose: When you move (and you should!) have a specific destination in mind. For example, you can re-position yourself to address a specific audience to the left. Step forward to respond to a question. Walk around and towards people. Ever notice people tend to participate more if they have close proximity to a presenter?
- Smile: To make your audience feel comfortable, all you have to do is just smile! Smiling helps you feel more comfortable and reduces your tension – and because it’s contagious, it attracts a positive atmosphere that allows for an engaging discussion.
The importance of good body language cannot be underestimated. It’s incredibly important not only to audience engagement, but to how your overall message is received. No matter how good your speech, if you are motionless, expressionless and dull, your audience will lose interest within minutes.
Bonus tip: Ask a friend to record a short video of you presenting using a smartphone, and then give you feedback on your gestures. Use the list of common gesturing mistakes in this post as a checklist to improve your use of effective gestures.
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia
It seems obvious that you shouldn’t put your audience to sleep, doesn’t it? It should also be obvious to people who deliver dull presentations or talk in circles at dinner parties — but consider how many boring speakers you’ve had to endure. The most engaging communicators avoid trite expressions, whether in conversation or in writing. They use strong, simple words. Think of Winston Churchill’s famous phrase blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And remember what George Washington said when questioned about the fallen cherry tree: not “It was accomplished by utilizing a small, sharp-edged implement,” but “I used my little hatchet.”
When you write e-mails, reports, letters, and other documents, here’s how to keep your readers alert and responsive:
Use personal pronouns skillfully.
Don’t overuse I (try not to begin paragraphs or successive sentences with it), but do lean heavily on we, our, you, and your. Those are friendly words that pull readers into a document.
Many writers have a morbid fear of contractions, having been taught in school to avoid them. But you won’t be breaking any real rules if you use them — and they counteract stuffiness, a major cause of poor writing. Relax. If you’d say something as a contraction, then write it that way.
Avoid passive voice.
Don’t write “The closing documents were prepared by Sue”; instead, write “Sue prepared the closing documents.” This guideline is hardly absolute — sometimes passive voice is the most natural way to say what you’re saying. But if you develop a strong habit of using active voice, you’ll largely prevent convoluted, backward-sounding sentences in your writing.
How do you identify passive voice? It’s invariably a be-verb or get, plus a past-tense verb. Some examples:
- is + delivered
- are + finished
- was + awarded
- were + praised
- be + served
- got + promoted
Vary the length and structure of your sentences.
Monotony, as Cicero once said, is in all things the mother of boredom. It’s true of syntax no less than it’s true of eating or anything else. Sameness cloys. So you want short sentences and long; main clauses and subordinate ones. You want variety.
Avoid alphabet soup.
Readers find acronyms tiresome, especially ones they’re not familiar with. Use them judiciously. It may be convenient to refer to COGS instead of spelling out “cost of goods sold.” But if you also throw in acronyms such as ABC (“activity-based costing”), EBITDA (“earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization”), and VBM (“value-based management”), only the accountants in your audience will follow you — you’ll lose everyone else. Small wonder, too. People don’t want to master your arcane vocabulary to get what you’re saying.
Surely you’ve had this experience as a reader: you encounter an acronym (a long one if you’re particularly unlucky) and can’t connect it with anything you’ve read in the document so far. You find yourself scanning backward through the text, hoping to find the first appearance of that acronym or else words that might fit it. By the time you find it (or give up trying), you’ve lost the writer’s train of thought. Never put your own readers through that.
Stick to words when you can. Acronyms make writing easier but reading harder. Your shortcut is the reader’s hindrance.
Courtesy of Harvard Business Review (Bryan A. Garner)