Why Body Language is Important When Presenting

Sometimes when we present—a keynote, report, or any presentation—what we are doing physically with our bodies speaks louder than our words. Body language tells us a great deal, yet we often forget about it when it is our turn to speak. I understand why this; we are often so caught up with what we are going to say that we forget about what our “sending device” (our body), is doing.

Think of your body as a sending device next time you stand in front of an audience.

Here are some examples of what NOT to do

Hanging on one hip as you stand like John Wayne is a bad choice when presenting

1. Hang on a hip (at Interact Authentically, we call this the “John Wayne”). First, this looks too casual. Second, if you keep swinging from one hip to another, we just start watching your movement and tune out your message.

2. Keep your arms folded. Keeping your arms folded portrays you as being closed off and distant. It can also make you look like you don’t care too much about what you are talking about.

3. Hands on your hips. By keeping your hands on your hips when presenting, you come across as stern or militaristic. Good to do when you want to portray that image, but not effective when you are giving us an informational talk.

4. Rocking forward and backward, and side to side. By rocking, we see you as having a lot of nervous energy that you don’t know what to do with. The more you rock, the more we pay attention to your movement and not your message.

5. Looking down at the ground or up in the air. When you don’t make eye contact with us, (the audience) we lose trust in you. If you can’t look at us when you tell us your information, it is hard for us to believe that what you are saying is true.

Here’s what TO DO when presenting

1. Stand tall, both feet flat on the ground. You will look more in control and sure of yourself and you make it impossible to swing from hip to hip.

Try this!

2. Fold your arms at a 90 degree angle and bring your hands together across your stomach. We call this the “Home Base.” It is a place to put your hands so you don’t have to think about them. Don’t stay there the whole talk, but start there. From there, you can gesture naturally and when you find yourself not sure what do with your hands (like if they are on your hips), just bring them back to the Home Base. Your body language will be telling us that you are very confident and in control. It looks so good! Try it!

3. Take some steps. Movement is great, as long as it is meaningful movement and not moving for the sake of movement. We suggest at least two purposeful steps and then stop for a little bit and then take another two steps in any direction, and stop again. This will help get rid of the fidgeting we do like rocking back and forth and hanging on your hips (the “John Wayne”).

This might help you move purposefully. Picture the stage as a baseball diamond with four bases and try to touch each base, in any order. For instance, walk to second base and stay there for a little bit. Next, move to first base for a little bit, and so on. When you move like that, you look like you are moving with purpose as opposed to wondering around the stage. Getting yourself to move can be difficult, so try the baseball diamond scenario.

4. Make eye contact with us. Look at us when you are presenting. Pick out a few faces in the crowd and make eye contact with us for a good 2-3 seconds. You don’t need to look at everyone, just people in different parts of the room. If you are close enough to the people you are making meaningful eye contact with, they know you are looking at them and they will probably start nodding because you have pulled them into your talk.

Watch and learn from other presenters

The next time you see someone present, look at what their body language is telling you and see if you can learn from them. You may see something they do that is very distracting or annoying. When you do, make a mental note so you won’t do that in your next talk. They may also have some great gestures or movement that you may like and want to try the next time you are presenting.

When it is your turn to talk, remember, it’s not all about the words. It’s also about how you use your body and what it is telling us.

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Avatar for Patrick Sheehan

Patrick Sheehan

Patrick Sheehan is Production Director for Interact and a facilitator assistant for its training sessions. He offers insights from his years shooting business executives at work. His other video and broadcast clients include Bank of America Learning Channel, ESPN, the Carolina Panthers and other high profile corporate accounts.