Imagine someone telling a scary story. Do they hunch their shoulders as if hiding? Do they open their eyes wide, jump about and wave their arms at the climax? If so, they’re probably using body language effectively in their presentation. A well-written speech only gets a presenter halfway to a successful presentation. Much depends on its delivery, too.
Stance is how you stand in front of your audience as you speak. The way you look to your audience can speak volumes even before you open your mouth. If you slouch, hang onto the podium or shuffle your loose change in your pockets, you are conveying nervousness or inexperience. Instead, use your stance to support you from the first step up to the podium. Stand with your feet firmly planted. Adjust your weight to the front of your feet as if you are about to leap. This stance conveys confidence and makes you appear engaged with your audience. Planting both feet firmly helps ground you, as well, which can reduce nervousness. If you’re comfortable walking away from the podium, draw an imaginary box around the podium—not too large in size—and stay within the box. If you stop walking, then assume the stance with feet firmly planted once again.
A gesture is a means of using your arms or hands to convey some meaning to another person. When people express anger, they make fists or cross their arms over their chest in defiance. When people want someone to come to them, they open their arms. When they want to convey a hello or goodbye, they wave. All of these are simple, but effective, gestures used to convey emotion or words every day. Think about what types of gestures would be appropriate for your topic. Gestures can be used to show:
- Size—demonstrate height, length, weight
- Action—act out a specific task or
- Emotion —demonstrate anger, joy, confusion, excitement, fear
Once you’ve identified a few gestures, practice using them in front of a mirror as you present your speech. Only use the ones that come easily—your audience will know when you’re pushing too hard to use a gesture.
The most important facial expression to master as a presenter is eye contact. While standing alone in front of a large group can be overwhelming, select four or five people throughout the room with whom to make eye contact. Then, make purposeful eye contact for several seconds with those individuals as you speak. By shifting among these selected few, it will give the illusion that you are making eye contact with people all over the room. Once you’ve mastered eye contact, try using facial expressions to convey something related to your topic. Practice your facial expressions along with your gestures in front of a mirror as you present your speech. Then, use the best combination to enhance the words you are speaking.
As you practice using body language effectively, remember that when you’re alone on stage, it pays to overuse body language. Using natural gestures and expressions won’t convey much to anyone past the first row. This is one case where bigger, and more expressive, is better. So, drag out your mirror and a well-written speech and get to work.