Anyone who has ever had to give a presentation before an audience knows that it takes more than just content to succeed. Exciting theories and a precisely laid out PowerPoint presentations will achieve little if the presenter fails to deliver the content in a convincing manner. In addition to an effective speaking style, body language is a decisive factor in the success of a speech or presentation. Only if a speaker gives the impression of being authentic, authoritative and approachable can the content be delivered in a way that keeps the audience’s attention on a lasting basis. Despite this, even people who come across as secure and relaxed in their day-to-day lives have a tendency to clam up on stage due to the unusual situation and the stress that it causes.
Maintaining your posture
A few tips can allow speakers to enhance their body language, and by doing so, add to their authenticity when presenting. In fact, they can even set out to do this deliberately, by practicing at home using a mirror or a video camera. The importance of perfect posture should not be underestimated as it can be a helpful aspect of your preparation.
An upright stance is the most important thing, so that you stand up straight without appearing stiff or forced. Your bodyweight should be evenly distributed over both legs, without bending at the waist. Feet should be placed apart so that they are parallel with the shoulders with the chest pushed forward and the shoulders pulled back slightly. This position allows you to show your full size and convey a sense of calm self-confidence. As well as adopting this posture, you should ensure that your toes point forwards or gently outwards; inward pointing toes quickly give the impression of being intimidated.
Many speakers underestimate the importance of their hands, so that they end up waving them around wildly or burying them in their pockets. Either of these possibilities is off-putting for the audience, as these postures convey either nervousness or uncertainty. So what should you do with your hands, especially when you’re already slightly on edge due to public speaking? The “Merkel” posture is one option, touching your fingertips together and resting your hands in front of your body.
Another option is placing your hands loosely on top of one another. Many speakers prefer to have more freedom of movement in order to hide their nerves. A pen or cue cards that you can hold on to can help if you otherwise wouldn’t know where to begin with placing your hands. No matter what, you should avoid sudden or hectic movements as it creates a disturbance when you drop things! Advanced speakers can actually use their hands to reinforce the message of their speech and support their words with gestures. In particular the hands can be used to increase expressiveness when weighing up arguments or highlighting particularly powerful concepts, for instance by imitating weighing scales or a clenched fist. In general, it is the case that all hand movements should take place above the waistline, so that they can be recognized by the entire audience – and, the larger the audience, the more exaggerated gestures need to be to make an impression.
Both from the perspective of the speaker and the audience, movement during a speech is an advantage. The speaker can use the movement to reduce adrenalin levels (and the associated nervousness) while on the other hand, the audience benefits from the visual cues that movement stimulates in the human brain. However, you should pay attention and ensure that you take large, powerful steps, instead of pacing back and fore on the spot.
In addition, your head should always be held horizontal and should not move. It titled at all, your head should point slightly downwards rather than upwards to give a sense of confidence and authority. Taking a step forward, toward the audience, literally and metaphorically brings speakers and audiences closer together, and this is particularly powerful when asking questions, particularly rhetorical ones. Taking a step to the left or right can emphasize particular aspects of the content of the speech. It is however important to ensure that the upper body is always oriented toward the audience, in order to build and maintain the audience’s trust. Eye contact also contributes to the reinforcement of this feeling, and if possible, you should let your gaze glide through the different rows. You can help focus your gaze by looking out for a few fixed points such as people in the audience whom you already know.
In order to lend your presentation even more authenticity (and accordingly, make it even more credible) you need to pay attention to one thing in particular: coming across as natural. As easy as this sounds, many people struggle with this, particularly inexperienced presenters. It’s not easy to allow your own personality to come to the forefront when speaking, especially in front of an audience of strangers. To succeed in this respect, the most important thing is to be self-aware and honest to yourself in order to face up to your uncertainties while conveying the strength of character needed to do so. It also helps to incorporate some examples from your own real experiences into the presentation in order to stimulate an emotional response from the audience. This allows the speaker to convey personal feelings and experiences, creating a sense of sincerity and giving the presentation a calm and consistent approach.