Your Body Language:
It may be saying more than you think!
When you hear the term "body language," what comes to mind?
You may have read 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, maybe.
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, your will make your listeners comfortable,
When you observe a presenter or speaker, how do you determine that he
or she is comfortable with the information being presenting? You observe
confidence, calm, and command of the topic at hand. How does this come
across? The speaker is relaxed. The speaker is not over-eager, because
the speaker knows that he has something to say. The speaker 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. He 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
yourself. 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 you 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 speaker and loses track
of what the poor guy is saying!
Have you ever seen a speaker 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 to 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 speaker should never read the slides to the
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? Right.
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.