How to use good body language for better presentations

Better Body Language for your Presentations

The best (or worst) visual aid for your talks is you. You and your body language are key in getting a good result from your presentations. Much more so than your PowerPoint slides.

As soon as we become conscious of our bodies, they get in our way. When we’re faced with an audience, we become like learner drivers, frozen and unnatural. Advice to ‘act naturally’ isn’t useful, as being watched isn’t natural. Besides, communicating to an audience requires different body language than everyday, one-to-one communication.

Your body language matters when presenting.

We’ve all seen powerful speakers, whether in person or on platforms such as TED.com. We use words like ‘charisma’ and ‘presence’ to describe impressive speakers. But some speakers are uncomfortable to watch. Others use such distracting body language that we cannot focus on what they are saying.

Strong, positive non-verbal communication can be more powerful. Here, we share our top tips for best use of your hands, eye contact and on-stage movement.

These top tips will help you improve your body language when presenting.

  1. Take control of your body language
  2. Ignore ‘Just act natural’ advice
  3. Get feedback and increase your body language self-awareness
  4. Establish good eye contact
  5. Use your hands when presenting
  6. Command the space where you are speaking
  7. Start with good content in your presentation

Better Body Language Tip 1: Take control

Non-verbal communication has three uses, according to David Lambert.

It can:

  1. replace speech (e.g. a wink)

  2. reinforce speech (e.g. nodding while saying ‘yes’) a

  3. give clues about our true feelings (e.g. fidgeting when nervous).

Successful speakers use open, controlled and strong gestures that reinforce their message. Less successful speakers contradict what they say with their non-verbal behaviour.

For instance, if your body language suggests nervousness when you speak, the audience will interpret this as a lack of confidence in your own message. Equally, if you fold your arms while you speak, you create an implied barrier between you and your audience. That’s why successful leaders learn how to control their posture and gestures to avoid negative or distracting body language.

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Better Body Language Tip 2: Just acting ‘naturally’ doesn’t work

Speaking to large groups of people isn’t a natural situation, so aiming to behave ‘naturally’ is an unhelpful goal. In fact, to transfer energy and enthusiasm to your audience, you need to be ‘more’ than you would normally be in smaller-scale interactions.

For example, to be impressive when presenting you need to be more expressive and more powerful in your command of space.

Powerful Body Language Tip 3: Increase your self awareness

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we film our clients during our coaching sessions. When they watch the footage, they are often surprised to see their body language contradicting their message.

For example, one speaker subtly shook his head in a ‘no’ gesture’ when he was answering ‘yes’ to a question. For a low-tech alternative, try delivering your talk in front of a mirror or recording yourself on a phone.  Learning how to watch yourself and improve from self-analysis is key.

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better eye contact for better presentations

Better Body Language Tip 4: Establish eye contact

What would you think if  I didn’t look you in the eye?

Or if I avoided your gaze?
Or if I looked down every time I said something?
What impression do you get?

You need good eye contact to be a good presenter..

We like people who can make eye contact (remember the last time you were flirting with someone?).
We trust people who can  “look you in the eye”.
We want to see people “eye-to-eye“.

When presenting or speaking in public you will get a better reaction  if you improve your eye contact. Eye contact is a learned skill that takes practice.  From extensive work with our clients, here are some easy tips you can apply for powerful eye contact:

  1. Only talk when you are looking at someone. No more looking into your notes or staring into the middle distance.
  2. Spend one or two sentences talking to each person. Get some ‘quality time’ with each person.
  3. Hold your eye contact until the end of the sentence.
  4. If you are nervous, if you don’t like looking into someone’s eyes, then look at their forehead or nose.
  5. Practice improving your eye contact. Start with friends. Make them point out each time your eye contact drops.

Just these simple tips for powerful eye contact will make you a more convincing and persuasive public speaker.

This is such a simple body language trick. Many people underestimated how powerful it is.

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Better Body Language Tip 5: Use your hands when presenting

Our clients frequently ask “What should I do with my hands?”.

Hand gestures are best used to emphasise key points. They also add energy to your presentation, particularly when you use them above shoulder-height. Jill Bolte’s TED talk demonstrates this well. Too much movement can be distracting, however. Lots of tiny movements or flapping your arms around makes you look smaller and unconfident. Go for big, bold, purposeful gestures that you hold for a few seconds. These convey presence, leadership and authority.

When you aren’t using your hands to emphasise what you’re saying, hold your hands slightly in front of you, with bent elbows. You may find this feels odd at first – but watch Ken Robinson to see how effective it can be. If you are using a lectern, then above-shoulder gestures will be the only ones your audience can see. If you choose to rest your hands on the lectern, keep them hands loose and relaxed. Avoid looking as though you are hanging on for dear life!

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Better body language tip 6: “Should I move around or stay still?”

As with hand gestures, deliberate movements that emphasise your content work well. But too much movement is distracting. Getting the balance right takes practice.

Aim to stand still for the majority of your talk. This will convey confidence and authority. Plan in advance when you will move, combing those movements with breaks in your content. Express a full thought or point in your new position before moving again. Avoid pacing, which makes a speaker look distressed. Make a point, move to another part of the space and make your next point. Aim to emulate a pleasant countryside walk from viewpoint to viewpoint, rather than a nervous wait outside of a labour ward!

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Body Language Tip 7: A better presentation is the first step to better delivery

If your presentation is weak, even the best body language will leave audiences unmoved. Conversely, the better your presentation, the more confident you’ll feel about delivering it. You’ll find that your body language naturally improves once you feel confident and comfortable about your presentation.

That’s why we focus on getting that right first. In our presentation coaching We:

  • Ensure you have a clear message
  • Create a subtle structure that gently guides your audience
  • Strengthen the language you use, so it is more powerful.
  • Refine the start and end until they produce maximum impact.

Then you’ll find polishing your body language much easier.

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Start your journey to world-class public speaking skills now

First, download our free ebook to start your journey towards becoming a Powerful Presenter.

You’ll learn our 5-step process for transforming dull, forgettable and un-engaging presentations into your most Powerful Presentations yet: inspirational, memorable and persuasive.

It’s full of practical tips and insightful quotes that will help you make immediate improvements to your leadership talks and presentations, including:

  • Increased confidence when you talk and present.
  • Improved ability to persuade your audience.
  • Greater engagement with your audience.
  • Practical ways to plan and structure your talks.
  • The inspiration and motivation to change.

Download your free copy of our Five Steps to Transform your Leadership Talks ebook now.

Get expert support

We can support you with all aspects of your talk.

Over 12+ years our award-winning team has helped hundreds of CEOs and senior executives deliver impressive and persuasive talks, speeches and presentations.

We can transform your talk in as little as a few hours.

Call Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email louise@benjaminball.com to find out more.

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About Benjamin Ball Associates

Benjamin Ball Associates Team

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help clients to communicate better.

Over the years the BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.

We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email louise@benjaminball.com to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.

Contact us to transform your presentation skills

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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