When you hear the term “body language,” what comes to mind?
You may have been told that people who cross their arms and legs are “hiding” something. Conversely, you may have heard that those who speak with arms stretched wide are welcoming and open to their listeners.
Well, all that is baloney.
Just like any other theory or set of ideas, the body language mystique may be overused. But there is some wisdom to be gleaned from what is commonly considered to be “body language.” The bottom line is that if you are comfortable in your own skin, you will make your listeners comfortable, too.
When you observe a presentation or presenter, how do you determine that he or she is comfortable with the information being presented? You observe confidence, calm, and command of the topic at hand.
How does this come across to the audience? The presenter is relaxed. The presenter is not over-eager, because the presenter knows that she has something to say. The presenter is calm and self-assured.
What does calm and self-assured look like? You already know. The calm and self-assured presenter exudes expertise and knowledge. He is not thrown by questions, but intrigued by them. She is not threatened by challenges, but enervated by them. In other words, he is confident enough in his expertise to rely on it completely, and to be able to share it with others.
Think about some of the body language you’ve observed in presenters.
Many people who have taken presentation skills classes have been told that they need to make regular eye-contact with the audience.
This may be more difficult to do than to recommend! But it is possible to learn to do well. Recommendations for eye contact do say that you should scan your audience and make eye contact with audience members for a couple of seconds at a time, and then switch your attention to someone else.
Like everything else, this skill can be overused. I have seen presenters who put me in mind of sprinkler heads.
They ratchet their gazes a measured tic at a time across the audience. And the audience becomes intrigued with the “sprinkler head” action of the presenter and loses track of what the poor person is saying!
Have you ever seen a presenter who literally reads the slides to his audience? This has to be one of the most irritating habits of presenters.
If the words are up on the slide on the wall, why read them, line by line to the audience? Often it is because the presenter is not completely comfortable either with the material being presented or with his command of that material.
The best use of slides for the presenter is to use them as an outline for what will be spoken. The presenter should never read the slides to the audience.
What about the overly casual or “friendly” presenter. Well, if time has been set aside for a group to listen to a presenter, it’s generally because there is some important information to communicate.
I have seen presenters sit down, lean back, and just sort of flip through the slides. What is this body language saying to the audience? That the information in the presentation is not important.
Let’s go back to the beginning. If you are comfortable and conversant with the information in your presentation, that confidence will come across to your audience.
If you have checked out the equipment ahead of time, you will handle it confidently during your presentation.
What I’m saying is that your body language will quite naturally reflect your command of your subject and of your equipment.
If you don’t know the material well, you will be nervous, and your nervousness will show. If you fumble around with the equipment, you will make yourself uncomfortable, and your body language will reflect your discomfort.
This does not mean that your only body language “homework” is to know your subject and your equipment.
You may have personal habits which show during your presentations, and you may have to work on these.
They could include an unattractive, slouching posture, a tendency to fidget or jingle pocket change, or a failure to make eye-contact.
All of these are important. All can be practiced, and all can be learned. But they won’t do you much good if you don’t know your material! So start there. The body language will follow.