Art Science Presenting – Episode 10 – How to use your body

 

woman standing in different positions

In episode 9 we said that ‘If there’s a mismatch between what we are saying and how we are saying it then the impact of the words we use is significantly diminished; people won’t trust what you say.’

In other words when it comes to the way people feel about our message then what we say and how we say it both verbally and non- verbally are each critically important to building trust. In fact, we often don’t have to utter a word to communicate as even if we aren’t saying a thing our body is still giving us away.

The way we move our arms, heads, the way we stand, use our face and make eye contact are constantly sending messages. We’ve already looked in some depth at content and how we verbally express what we want to say so now let’s turn our attention to this thing everyone calls body language.

What is it?

Each of us uses our entire body as well as our vocal range to communicate; it’s a completely innate and largely unconscious process.  I actually believe that much of the way we naturally express ourselves may be genetic, let me explain.

A friend of mine recently met his own paternal son for the first time in 26 years; the last time he saw him his son was 2 years old. He hadn’t spent any time with his son as he was growing up yet when they were in a room together for the first time in over a quarter of a century the similarities in the way they used body language to communicate was quite astonishing. In fact, it was so identical that had you not known the circumstances you would have believed they had shared their whole lives together.

I’ve seen several examples of this before.

In essence that means that we each have our own inherent way of expressing ourselves some of which is learned and much of which is gifted to us at birth.  Most of us are blissfully unaware of exactly what that that non-verbal communication looks like and feels like to others.

The Mindful Presenter is aware

Such is the nature of mindful presenting; its having the emotional intelligence and conscious awareness to understand the impact you have both verbally and non-verbally when presenting to others.

Mindful Presenters achieve that awareness through feedback and self- observation.

When most people see and hear themselves speaking on a video recording they are either speechless or horrified. The difference between the great presenters and the average presenter is the great ones take conscious control and practice using non-verbal language to achieve a high level of congruence with their content and the way they express it vocally.

Let’s have a look at how they do this.

They smile

It always fascinates me how often I see business presenters leave their personalities at their desks when they step up to present. It’s more common than you’d imagine purely because as presenters we are so focused on remembering our content and getting it right that we simply forget to smile. Unfortunately, this detracts from our message as we leave our audience with a memory of a stern expression that tells them that we didn’t really enjoy the experience ourselves so we give them permission not to either.

When we smile we help our audience to relax because they can see we are comfortable and confident with what we have to say and we actually like being there. Audiences like presenters who are friendly, warm, kind and supportive and the most natural way to convey those attributes is to smile.

There is very little that is more endearing that a genuine smile.

They open up

Many presenters struggle to know exactly what to do with their hands while they are speaking so they end up in their pockets, behind their backs or by their side. Closed postures and minimal or constricted movements often make a presenter seem insecure, so avoid stances such as standing with your legs or arms crossed and hiding your arms. Instead use large bold hand gestures to convey confidence and openness.

Try slightly exaggerating your movements and open up your gestures as though you were having a conversation with a friend. Film yourself as you practice your presentation and then play it back to yourself on mute with your entire focus on your movement and gestures.

They enter gracefully

Before you step up to speak take a few slow deep breaths and then with your held high and a straight, smooth and relaxed posture slowly make your way to the centre of the platform. Don’t make the mistake that many presenters do which is to begin speaking the moment they start walking. Instead, when you reach the front stop, smile and glance around the room gently then pause for just two or three seconds before you speak.

Your poise and confidence will relax the audience and reassure them that you are comfortable being there and are in control.

They look at them

If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who hasn’t maintained good eye contact with you I’m pretty certain you’d have left the exchange feeling quite uncomfortable. It may appear difficult to maintain eye contact with a large audience but the fact is they will feel equally uncomfortable if you don’t.

The trick is to focus your attention on individuals and small groups around the room whilst holding your attention on them for a short while before moving on. Just as it doesn’t serve you well to avoid eye contact you will also lose trust if you continually scan the audience without briefly holding your focus for a few moments.

In the same way you know how it feels when someone doesn’t look at you when they speak the next time you have a conversation with someone who does maintain good eye contact remember how reassuring it feels.

They own the floor

I often hear presentation trainers and coaches tell their clients to stand still while presenting. At Mindful Presenter we think that’s generally bad advice. Movement represents life and energy and most audiences like to see both in a speaker. Movement with purpose can help you to animate your message, express the emotion of a story and help you to bring your idea to life.

Meaningful movement attracts attention and that’s always a good idea while presenting.

You’ll have noted by now that I’ve deliberately used the words ‘purpose’ and ‘meaningful’ because too much movement can be very distracting. Movement should support and enhance your message and not be used as part of your delivery because you are anxious or need the exercise. If you are speaking about the future take a step forward into the future, if you are referring to the past then step into the past. If you are making 3 points then step into each point to give them there own position and focus.

The mindful presenter doesn’t take their body language for granted, they know that their body speaks volumes when they present. 

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If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image: Courtesy of flickr.com

 

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