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Humans communicate with more than just words. Your facial expression, posture, and hand movements tell your audience much about your mood, level of confidence, and feelings about the material you are sharing. If you really want to hit your next presentation out of the park, follow these tips for speaking in body language.
Keep your hands in front of you
Holding your hands behind your back can indicate deception or lack of faith in what you are saying. Putting them in your pockets is a sign of meekness or nervousness. The best place for your hands is in front of you.
Avoid crossing your arms
Crossed arms is a defensive gesture. It can give people the impression that you don’t think they will accept what you are saying. It is also a closed pose that indicates you are not open to feedback or questions.
Make eye contact
The best way to keep the audience engaged is to look directly at them as much as possible. It is OK to look at your presentation once in a while, but if you look at it constantly it makes you seem unprepared, nervous, and unprofessional.
Practice good posture
Slouching or leaning all of your weight on one hip comes across as weak, lazy, and uninterested in the material. Try instead to put your shoulders back and keep your back straight. This is as important when sitting as it is when standing.
Move with intention
Your presentation will seem more interesting if you move through whatever space you have, but you want to do it with some thought and at the right points in time. Aimlessly walking back and forth is distracting, as is constantly moving your arms. Unnecessary movement signals to the audience that you are restless and not in the moment.
People tend to respond to a smile by smiling back. This simple act makes them more receptive to your message. A recent study at Penn State University found that when you smile, you appear to be more likable and courteous, which is not too surprising. What was surprising is that you also appear to be more competent. Check out this TED talk, The Hidden Power of Smiling, by Ron Gutman.
Watch people who are really good at it
Speaking of TED talks, they present an awesome opportunity to learn from people who excel at delivering presentations. Find a few that you are interested in and pay careful attention to the body language of the presenter. Keep an eye on their faces and hands. Watch how they use the stage thoughtfully to keep your attention. Notice the thumbnail images for the videos. They reveal some very appealing gestures and facial expressions.
Practice makes perfect, of course, so the more opportunities you have to try out these techniques, the better you will get. Who knows? Maybe someday, you’ll end up on the TED stage yourself.