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“Where body language conflicts with the words that are being said, the body language will usually be the more ‘truthful’ in the sense of revealing true feelings.” Glen Wilson.
The importance of body language in communication is not a new thing; we all know that crossing our arms is a no-no and that smiling and nodding are a good way of expressing understanding and agreement. The way in which you deliver your presentation will of course determine the level of engagement you achieve from your audience. But when it comes to giving presentations, using body language effectively can help significantly improve presentation skills and transform your presentations from good to outstanding.
Here are 4 Body Language Tips to improve presentation skills.
1. Maintain Eye Contact. The larger your audience, the more difficult this can appear to be, but let us turn to one of the greatest speakers of the last century, a man who was well accustomed to engaging large audiences; Steve Jobs. In his book ‘The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs’, Carmine Gallo notes that Jobs “maintains eye contact with his audience nearly all the time. He glances at a slide and immediately turns his attention back to where it belongs – on those watching”.
If you’ve got an audience of 3000, physically looking every single one of them in the eye may not be possible, but you need to make them feel like you are. An audience member sitting some distance from you will not really know whether you’re looking at them, or at one of their neighbours, but by maintaining focus on your audiences faces, they will feel as though you are talking directly to them.
Maintaining eye contact is associated with raised levels of trust, confidence and perceived honesty and leadership capabilities. In contrast, avoiding eye contact is associated with a lack of confidence and leadership capabilities.
2. Gesticulate. New research published in Science Journal last year suggests that facial expressions alone cannot convey meaning, but body movements observed both alone and in conjunction with facial expression do convey meaning. For presentations this is important because it suggests that the ‘traditional’ model of standing behind a lectern to deliver is perhaps not as effective as once believed. It used to be thought that gesticulation whilst presenting only served to distract the audience from the subject matter, but in fact it has the opposite effect; engaging the audiences attention, bringing the subject matter to life and bringing a more human element to the presenter, a stark contrast to the robotic, stiff presentations of the past.
There is also research to suggest that gesticulating helps the speaker as well as the audience by enabling them to more clearly process their thoughts.
3. Use Facial Expressions. OK, I know we’ve just said that facial expressions are not quite as important in determining emotion as once thought, but that’s not to say they’re irrelevant. The fact is that people prefer to look at happier faces. From birth, human beings show a preference for smiling faces over non-smiling faces and smiling releases endorphins; actually making us feel better. So, if you want to improve presentation skills, learn how to fake it, because the research shows that even faking a smile can actually make us feel happier.
Additionally, smiling conveys sincerity, likeability and capability, all qualities essential in a leader and when trying to engage an audience. Smiling shows that you’re enjoying yourself and that you’re passionate about the subject on which you are talking (even when you are not!); it in turn encourages enjoyment and passion in others.
4. Maintain a Strong and Open Posture. “Stand tall, don’t slouch” – words we probably all heard as youngsters at school, but in fact great advice for giving presentations. Standing tall demonstrates confidence and maintaining an open posture inspires trust from others. Think too about avoiding barriers, don’t cross your arms or legs, and avoid actual physical barriers, such as a lectern. Although you may feel it gives you some form of safety net, audiences perceive it as having something to hide and/or a lack of confidence.
There are many other factors to consider when preparing and giving presentations, (for more advice on how to improve presentation skills, download Top 10 Presentation Skills Tips), but making yourself aware of your body language and learning how you can use it to your advantage to engage your audience and get your message across, will set you on the path to becoming an outstanding presenter.
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