Presentations: Body Language
As the speaker, you have the power to set a relaxed, friendly tone right from the start of a talk just by tweaking your body language. This is because the audience takes behavioral cues from you: an aggressive or arrogant tone from you is likely to invite unfriendly comments from them; fidgety body language will make your audience more nervous; an apathetic tone will probably make them feel bored or tired, no matter how interesting the material is.
To set a relaxed, friendly tone,
- Speak slowly and clearly. Most people speak faster than they realize and speed up as the material gets more technical. To ensure you are not speaking at express train speed, insert “speed bumps” every few slides: take a deep breath or speak a sentence extra slowly. Similarly, make sure your voice is audible everywhere in the room but that you are not shouting.
- Have a rough map of where your energy levels should be. Since the audience takes behavioral cues from the speaker, a speaker's energy level should be appropriate for the point in the presentation. But if you're like most people, your energy levels probably fluctuate for other reasons. For instance, some people who are nervous at the beginning of a talk seem quiet and lethargic even though it is a good time to pump up the energy; some become very animated when explaining a minor technical point they find challenging though it is probably a better time to remain calm and focused. So as you prepare your talk, have a rough map of where your energy levels should be throughout.
- Move deliberately. Some movement by the speaker is very useful in keeping the audience alert: even crossing over from one side of the screen to the other will help those who are watching. But frantic hand waving or repeatedly touching the screen can be distracting. So move, but keep your movements careful and deliberate.
Photograph by Michael Wuertenberg, World Economic Forum