I often have clients come to me with the idea that I will completely change their delivery style and body language. But my philosophy is that when you begin to coach and change a person’s physical presence significantly, they no longer look or feel like themselves, and the audience can sense this.
For the most part, I advise my clients to be themselves. And then we get to work on making them the best selves they can be. The structure and substance of what you are saying matters, and your body language and delivery style matter.
To up your game and be your best self, there are a few simple tips and recommendations that I tell all my clients. These tips can help connect you to the audience without impacting your authenticity.
- First and foremost, decide that you’re going to bring your best game, that you’re going to own the room and enjoy your time with your audience. Seriously, if you make a conscious decision ahead of time and set it as your intention, it is more likely to happen. And it will be the standard you hold yourself to as you move through your time with your audience. You’ve done it many times for a job interview; you can do it for a speech or presentation!
- With your body overall and with your arms or hands specifically, think forward, up, and out. Stand tall. Lean and reach toward your audience instead of slinking back, collapsing onto one elbow, or crossing your arms. Point your feet toward your audience and stand on the balls of your feet as if you were poised and ready to jump into their laps. Keep your palms open. Don’t be afraid to open your arms and “embrace” your audience. Avoid pointing, but open-armed, open-handed, outstretched gesturing is fine.
- Use your voice. Modulate your tone as a way of changing things up for the audience. Attention spans are short and demand regular stimulus changes. Try to speak louder, softer, faster, or slower as appropriate for different portions of your presentation. And pause. Pauses are good; your audience needs time to digest your ideas.
- Use the room. If there’s a podium, try to get out from behind it. And, if possible, move around the room. That, too, will stimulate attention, changing the scene a bit and keeping the audience alert. However . . .
- Don’t pace, and be aware of any fidgety habits. Remember what your third-grade teacher told you
the first time you stood up to give a book report: Stand up straight. Don’t jingle or play with things in your pockets. Don’t fuss with your hair. We all want to hear what you have to say.
- Make eye contact. That’s huge. And not just with one friendly face. Try to cover as many faces and as much of the room as you can. Do not be put off (and I hear this all the time) by that “one guy in the front who was glaring at me the whole time.” One man’s glare is another man’s look of concentration. You never know, so don’t be distracted by one face. Just keep on looking at everyone.
- Let your voice and facial expression match your words. In a sense, this goes back to being transparent. If you say you’re excited, sound and look excited. If you’re sad, sound and look sad. This is where a lot of executives fall down. With too much preparation, they can seem a bit wooden when it actually comes time for the presentation. You can use a highlighter on your notes to emphasize points that call for a little emotion—and then emote!
- Finally, unless you’re delivering bad news, smile. Presentations, keynote addresses, sales, or even fundraising pitches . . . these are the times to look positive. A smile completely changes the way your audience perceives you, and—believe it or not—it helps you relax and enjoy what you’re doing.
Being an effective communicator is a science that requires the right style and body language. Build on your presentation skills with AMA's seminars and resources.