Our clients frequently ask, “What should I do with my hands?”.
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, unable to operate all the controls smoothly.
Advice to ‘act naturally’ isn’t useful, as being watched by so many people isn’t a natural situation. Besides, communicating to an audience requires different body language than everyday, one-to-one communication.
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 their almost magical power over listeners.
We’ve also seen those at the opposite end of the spectrum. Some speakers are uncomfortable to watch. Others use such distracting body language that we cannot focus on what they are saying.
We believe that the best (or worst) visual aid in a talk is the presenter’s body language. That’s why many of the world’s best speakers don’t use presentation decks. Strong, positive non-verbal communication can be more powerful.
Here, we share our guidelines for best use of your hands, eye contact and on-stage movement.
But to finish, we’ll explain why improving your content will have the biggest impact of all on your body language.
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, let them hang in a neutral and open position by your sides. This sounds and 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!
Eye contact is your opportunity to make a personal connection with your audience. It conveys that you are speaking to each person individually.
Knowing this, many speakers continually sweep their eyes across the audience. The brevity of any eye contact as a result of this approach fails to connect deeply enough.
Instead, aim to hold eye contact while you express a complete sentence or thought. As a guide, five seconds of eye contact is about right to make that audience member feel that you’ve singled them out (in a good way!). This takes practice to get used to, as it initially feels like a long time.
Only talk when facing your audience. If you need to look down at your notes, wait until you are ready to look up again before resuming.
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!
The most dramatic improvements to your delivery will come from honing your content. Focusing only on body language is like applying fresh paint to a cracked wall. It’s a superficial improvement. Weak body language is a symptom; weak content is often the cause.
We’ve found that people’s body language naturally improves ten-fold once they feel confident and comfortable about the content of their talk.
That’s why we focus on getting that right first:
Only then do we coach our clients on delivery techniques that will engage the audience.
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:
Download your free copy of our Five Steps to Improve your Leadership Talks ebook now.
We’ll support you with all aspects of your talk, from your structure and message through to your delivery and body language. You’ll be memorable, persuasive and confident.
Fundraising presentations are hard work. You're bombarded with challenging questions from investors, worn out by long days, and struggling to...
Investment decision-making is not totally rational. Are you using all the tools at your disposal to create and deliver persuasive...
Do your public speaking skills inspire, motivate and influence others? They should. Many leaders are nervous of public speaking. Some...
A great investor pitch book is at the heart of successful fundraising. It should capture the essence of your business...
Better Body Language We all know that body language is important in business. But how important? And does is really...
How can you be seen as a top 1% fund by investors? At SuperReturn Emerging Markets in Amsterdam, experienced LPs...
A great elevator pitch is an essential part of your toolkit Last month I chaired the Quickfire Showcase at Berlin’s...
Better Media Interviews The excruciating Newsnight interview with Treasury Minister Chloe Smith this summer is just one example of how poor preparation...
These days, we are writing more than ever. That means it’s harder than ever to grab attention. Your readers have...
When an investor questions how you calculated your Private Equity fund's performance, how do you react? If an investor asks...
How do you choose a public speaking coach? When selecting a public speaking coach or presentation trainer, you want to work...
How To Harness Powerful Language For Leadership Communications Great leaders use Power Language to add interest and colour to what...
When you put your talk or presentation together, how do you decide what to include and what to leave out? Use...
What do LPs want from private equity funds at first investor meetings? That's the question I put to the panel...
While we wrote this piece with our Private Equity clients in mind, there are good lessons here for anyone pitching...
Do you want to give high impact talks and presentations? Do you want to engage your audience? And do you want...
Leaders use storytelling so that audiences listen, remember and act on what they say. In fact, stories are “the single...
How do you make your investment pitch more memorable? It's a real challenge these days. Investors have more opportunities than...
Your leadership talks need to be persuasive As a leader, every talk or presentation you give is an exercise in persuasion....
A well-crafted private equity pitch book can make the difference between securing a first meeting with investors and getting a...
Our Most Popular Coaching Programmes
Contact Us Now
“The new presentation properly represents the institutional quality of our fund. It has been a step change of us.”
Erwin de Kleijn Head of IR, Saemor Capital
“This training has contributed directly to new business – including a new FTSE100 client.”
Michelle Elstein Head of Business Development, Olswang LLP
“BBA transformed our pitch into a compelling investment narrative. They undoubtedly helped us secure Sky TV as an investor.”
Gerry Bastable Director, Blast Films