The Importance Of Body Language In Public Speaking
No one should ever underestimate the importance of body language in public speaking and presentations. Give off the wrong vibes, and you’ll end up pushing your audience away. But with the right body language, you can just as easily win them over.
Some people just want to get their presentations ‘over and done with’ without giving any thought to gestures and body language. Since you’re reading this article, then good for you for being proactive and for wanting to know more about how you can use body language to your advantage!
What Is Body Language?
Simply put, body language is your body’s way of communicating without the use of spoken words. It’s the combination of facial expressions, gestures, and movements that convey what goes on in your mind.
If you don’t think it’s important, then let me try to put it another way:
Look at yourself and check out how you’re sitting or standing right now. What’s the expression on your face? Are you frowning or smiling? Are you standing up or are you slouching in your seat?
If someone were to take a photo of yourself right now, what do you think people are going to say about you based on your current body language? Will they say you look friendly and approachable, or will they say you’re someone who’s not to be messed with?
Body language is often unconscious, meaning you can verbally agree or disagree with something, but your body language will say the exact opposite.
If you’ve ever wondered why body language is important in a speech or presentation, here’s why:
People will often try to sound confident, but their body language will say otherwise. Or, they’ll say something like, “I’m happy and excited to be here,” but their facial expressions and their gestures say they’re really not.
If you’re out someplace and you’re getting introduced to a bunch of new people, you may tell them you’re pleased to meet them, but without realizing it, your body language actually says the exact opposite. You may think you did pretty well in that social situation. But in reality, the people you just met probably didn’t think too highly of you because something about your body language just didn’t sit right with them.
The truth is that our body language is notorious for betraying our inner emotions. We may not say something out loud, in fact, we may even deny something vehemently, but our body language will let the world know what we really think about something or someone.
Importance Of Body Language In A Presentation
When it comes to presentations, body language has the power to help us succeed or fail. We can succeed if we observe and put our body language to good use, and fail if we let our body language get the better of us.
When you practice your speech, it’s important to also work on your body language. On the day of your presentation, you’ll be comfortable, relaxed and confident that you have what it takes to ace your presentation!
Now, the thing is that there are actually two sides when it comes to body language in presentations. There’s the presenter’s body language (that’s you), and there’s your audience’s body language.
The tips I will be sharing with you later on in this article will be useful to both you and your audience. You’ll learn not just how to be an awesome presenter, but you’ll also be able to read and gauge your audience’s reaction to your presentation.
Knowing how to read your audience is a pretty useful skill which will come in pretty handy later on. You don’t want to be one of those presenters who think they’re doing a great job onstage when in reality they’re boring their audience to death!
The Different Types of Body Language
Being aware of your body language throughout your entire presentation is necessary if you want people to continue paying attention to what you’re saying. There’s a reason why you’re presenting in front of an audience – you want people to listen to your message, whatever it may be.
If you send out the wrong vibes (no thanks to your negative body language), then you’re essentially wasting everybody’s time (yes, including yours). You’re literally telling people to stop listening to you!
With that said, here are the different types of body language you need to be aware of:
1. Eye contact
If you think you’re exempt from eye contact just because you’re on a stage, then you’re in for a reality check. No matter how small or big your audience is, you will need to make eye contact. No, you don’t need to look at every single person, of course, but you can scan the audience and try to make eye contact with someone, anyone, in the crowd.
If anyone’s brave enough to look back at you (some people may look down at their laps the moment you look at them), then hold their gaze for a second or two. No need to stare at them for longer than a moment, unless you want to scare off or intimidate them. Staring at people for prolonged periods can make people uncomfortable, so do your best to avoid doing that.
Eye contact helps you assess how that person is receiving your message. Do they look interested in what you’re saying or not? Do they look like they’re trying to stifle a yawn? In most places, it’s considered rude to yawn when someone’s looking at you directly, so they’ll probably try to avoid letting you see their mouths wide open!
Good eye contact is also key to assuring your audience you know what you’re talking about. As the old adage goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul. People can tell if you’re being sincere or not.
When you look at your audience while you speak, you’re able to assure them that you’re confident about your topic. The simple act of holding people’s gazes make you look so much more credible and trustworthy in front of everyone.
2. Facial expressions
Having a very expressive face can both be positive and negative. It’s positive if you make it work for you, if you use it to help get your message across. However, it’s a negative if you can’t control what your face says. Your face says so much about you. In fact, your face literally says it all.
Whether you’re presenting to a crowd you’re culturally affiliated with or not, know that every single member of your audience can identify six “basic” emotions. These emotions are ‘universal’ in nature – even congenitally blind people display the same facial expressions as sighted people! These emotions are anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise.
When it comes to presentations, I have to say that fear often shows up on many a presenter’s face. Stage fright is all too real, even the pros still get stage fright from time to time! While the fear of public speaking is relatively commonplace, it doesn’t mean that you should let your fear get the better of you.
Conquer your fear and if necessary, use your poker face to hide it. Cover it up with another universally recognized facial expression, this time a positive one. Look happy for your audience. Make them think you’re really excited and happy that they all showed up for your presentation. Make your presentation worth their while, so to speak.
Did you know happiness is contagious? When your face shows you’re happy, then you’re basically influencing your audience to be happy as well. It’s not just going to show in your face, it’s also going to show up in your gestures, your posture and even the way you speak.
3. Head movements
The way you move your head during your presentation can be interpreted any number of ways. For instance, when you tilt your head to the side, it can mean you’re interested or listening intently. When you lower your head, it can mean you’re exhausted, or you’re just waiting for the right opportunity to say something.
When you look up at the ceiling when you talk, that is, you avoid making eye contact with your audience, then that doesn’t look good, does it?
You can also nod along to emphasize a point you just made. It lets your audience know you just said something you strongly believe in, or something you think will be beneficial for your listeners.
Head movement can indicate a wide range of signals and expressions. Practice the right moves, and you could engage your audience in ways you never thought possible before! Here’s a good resource you can check out: Head body language.
4. Hand gestures
Hand gestures play an important role in presentations. Some people like to move their hands a lot, while others keep their hands still. Which is the right thing to do?
According to Vanessa Van Edwards, the most popular TED speakers are those who used their hands the most. This is because the correct hand gestures basically complement or reinforce the verbal message, so it’s like you’re getting two explanations instead of just one.
Let’s say you’re outlining a few points in your presentation. For each point, you’ll say something like, “So, on to the first point” or “The second point I want to make is…” When you say “first point,” you hold up one finger. When you get to your second point, you hold up two fingers, and so on.
This is a simple example, but I hope you can see how doing this makes it easier for people to follow what you’re saying. In other words, your hand gestures make it easy for people to remember your point.
5. Body posture
You may have mastered your poker face, and your facial expressions reveal nothing about your true emotions. But if you don’t pay attention to your posture, then you could still be sending out negative vibes to your audience.
If your shoulders are slouching or your back is all rigid and tense, then your posture isn’t exactly reassuring to your audience. It speaks volumes about your fear of presenting, and maybe even your insecurities. If you think you’re not good enough, then your posture will tell that story. When your audience gets clued in, then you could very well lose your credibility.
Even if you’re a respected expert in your industry, if your posture conveys the message that you don’t want to be where you are, then no one’s going to want to listen to you as well. Your body language is basically telling people they’re better off doing something else. How is that going to help you or your message? You and I both know the answer to this. The point is, if you want people to listen and engage with you during your presentation, then you have to initiate and show them how to!
Powerful Body Language Tips For Your Presentation
Now that you know the different types of body language, I’m going to share with you some of the most important body language presentation skills you should master:
- Smile often
Have you ever come across someone who looked to be strict and unapproachable, but when they smiled at you, your perception instantly changed? Smiling, quite literally, can instantly change the way someone perceives you.
I know it’s hard to muster a genuine smile when you’re nervous and all, but why don’t you try it? When you smile, people often feel compelled to smile back at you. You don’t need to flash your pearly whites, lifting the corners of your mouth is often enough. It will cause your eyes to crinkle at the corners and light up your whole face.
It’s easier to engage with your audience when you smile all throughout your presentation. They’ll be more likely to reciprocate your smile and pay attention to what you’re saying.
- Stand up straight
If you’re physically capable of standing up straight, then make sure you stand tall and straight during your presentation. You’ll get an instant jolt, and you’ll feel a lot more energized than if you slouch your shoulders.
When you slouch, you literally look like you have the world on your shoulders. This is not the kind of image you want to portray to your audience. Instead, you want to convey confidence – you simply can’t do this when you’re slouching!
Standing up straight is really easy. Simply pull your shoulders back, tuck your stomach in, and lift your chin up. Now hold this position during your entire presentation, and you’ll realize you’re able to deliver your message more confidently. It’s also easier to look at your audience when your chin’s up, not down!
- Assume power poses
You want your power poses to look as natural as possible. Therefore, you should try practicing your poses before your actual presentation. You want to appear authoritative in front of your audience, you can’t achieve this look if you appear meek and helpless.
One of the most popular power poses you can assume is the ‘Superhero’ pose. This is where you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, put your hands on your hips, and put your chin up. Of course, you can move your hands around (and you should as you’ll read later on in this article). But the point is, this pose will help assert your authority in front of your audience.
- Put space to good use
The stage is yours for the taking, so put it to good use. Moving around on stage tells your audience you’re comfortable in your own skin. You don’t want to stay in one place all throughout your presentation. Rather, you want to move around from one spot to another. Move naturally though, you don’t want to look like you’re moving around just for the sake of it!
Even if you’ve got a podium, you don’t want to hide behind it. Sure, that can be your starting point, but after one slide or two, you may want to step out from behind and show yourself to your audience. Some people use podiums as barriers to put a distance between themselves and their audiences.
If you want to engage with your audience, then it’s really a good idea to be as open as possible – this means minimizing barriers between you and your audience!
- Be facially expressive
Facial expressions can do so much to help your audience connect with you as a person. When people see you’re sincere in whatever it is you’re talking about, they’ll be more likely to engage with you. When you look like you truly believe in your cause, then you’ll get more people to join you than if you look like you’re only doing lip service.
Try talking in front of a mirror. Or better yet, video yourself while you practice your speech. Then analyze your facial expressions. Do you look like you believe in what you’re saying? Or are you only going through the motions of presenting?
Your face will tell your audience whether you’re someone they can trust. So, show them and use facial expressions appropriately.
- Speak clearly and confidently
Stuttering and mumbling are but natural side effects of nervousness. If you want your message to be heard, then you need to stop for a moment and gather your thoughts. Take a deep breath before speaking. You’ve practiced your speech a hundred times, you can’t let your fear of public speaking get in the way. Just imagine you’re talking to a bunch of friends, only that you’re speaking in front of them, not with them.
Speak loudly, speak clearly, speak confidently. This is how great presenters do it. They don’t let their nervousness get the better of them.
The best way to combat this is by practicing your speech until you feel comfortable enough delivering it. You don’t need to memorize your speech, but you do need to make sure people understand you perfectly. Don’t be conscious if you have an accent. Many people with accents manage to deliver their presentations perfectly! It’s just a matter of making sure your message is understood perfectly.
- Don’t forget to breathe
If you feel like you’re talking too fast or you seem unable to speak, take deep breaths to help yourself relax. Clear your mind and focus on the present as you take deep breaths. Be aware of your breathing – tell yourself to inhale and exhale.
Breathing properly will help you pause or stop between ideas. It will also help you use the right pitch in your presentation. When your voice sounds high-pitched and strained, then you’re probably not using the right amount of air. So, stop for a moment and breathe until you find yourself back in control.
- Face your audience
Some presenters are afraid of facing their audience, they tend to show their backsides more often than not. This right here is an example of bad body language during a presentation! It’s just rude, plain and simple. What’s even worse is when you continue talking while your back is turned to your audience!
If you need to go do something on stage, you can try walking sideways – this will at least allow your audience to still get a glimpse of your face. You don’t want to break your connection with your audience, so please, avoid turning your back on them!
- Point at your presentation slides
It might sound simple enough, but many presenters forget this simple tip. Pointing at your presentation slides will help your audience focus on you. If they’ve been distracted by something, your movement and your hand gestures will help them re-focus and pay attention back to your slides.
Final Thoughts on the Importance of Body Language
Your body language says so much about you as a presenter. It can also make or break your presentation. Take the time to practice not just your speech and your presentation slides, but work on your body language as well. You’ll have an engaged audience, and your presentation’s message will be heard.