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Your Body Language Can Make Or Break Your Next Presentation

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

You can have fabulous information and dynamic PowerPoint slides but if you fail to gain the audience’s confidence and engage them the presentation will miss its mark. Surprisingly, it’s not so much what you say that helps you gain that confidence and engagement. Your body language counts a lot more.

There are three key elements of a great presentation. The first is having meaningful and interesting information. The second is being prepared. Just as an actor wouldn’t go on stage without having her lines down pat, presenters need to put in the same attention to rehearsal.

The third element is YOU and your body language. Research from Harvard and Columbia Business Schools found that people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying. Translation: your body language can make or break your presentation.

The most important thing you can do to get the audience on your side is to smile at them. The fact is most people forget to smile. Here’s what happens when you don’t smile when you are presenting: our faces take on a serious expression and that causes our voices to become monotone. Once that happens, our audience gets bored.

When you smile, however, good things happen. The audience interprets a smiling presenter as someone who is confident and comfortable in front of the audience. Your smile communicates that you are happy to be there and most important that you have something worthwhile and beneficial to share.

While this sounds counterintuitive, you will probably need to practice smiling during your rehearsal. You don’t want to smile throughout the entire presentation. Instead, you need to figure out the spots in the presentation where you have good news to share.

To help you during your rehearsal you can put smiley faces next to the portions of your presentation that is either good news for the audience or information that is critical for them to know.

There is a trick to smiling: it has to be a real smile. A forced or fake smile will destroy your credibility. The only way to smile naturally is to practice, practice, and practice, and believe that what you are presenting is smile-worthy.

In addition to smiling, a key component of engaging your audience is looking at them in the eye. New presenters often focus on one or two friendly faces in the audience and ignore everyone else. To win your audience over you need to look at them. Try making eye contact for at least 3 seconds with each person in the audience.

Finally, you can demonstrate your confidence by “working the room.” This advice could be counter to what you’ve had others tell you in presentation training. There is a school of thought that says, “plant your feet, keep you hand gestures around waist height and don’t walk around.”

Walking, not pacing, is a great technique for engaging participants. When you stand planted in one space, you are creating a barrier between yourself and participants. When someone asks a question, walk towards them. People tend to participate more when they have proximity to a speaker.

Most importantly it shows you are relaxed and confident.

Finally, a tip to calm the nerves. If you suffer from stage fright, hold something in your hand, maybe it’s a pen (you’ll often see newscasters twirling a pen while they are presenting the news, for just this reason), and if’s a small group, hold a glass of water or a cup of coffee. This serves several purposes, it gives the nervous presenter something to do with their hands and most importantly, holding on to an item calms the nerves.

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Leslie has over 25 years experience in the training industry. Her responsibilities have included sales, hands on management and software training, curriculum development, needs analysis, usability testing, and project management. Her strong training background, organizational skills, and exceptional development expertise, augment her extensive sales and marketing abilities.