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Boosting Your Body Language for Better Presentations

Preparing the content of your deck is only half the battle in delivering a presentation. You can have the most beautifully designed and eloquently written presentation in history, but if your public speaking skills are not up to snuff, then it will be all for naught.

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As the saying goes, “it’s not about what you say, but how you say it.”

Simply put, delivering a good presentation takes demonstrating good body language. Presentation experts will tell you, beyond simply knowing your content, it’s important to be able to show confidence and relatability in front of your audience. When your body language complements your content, then you’re sure to deliver a great presentation.

In this article, we’ll tackle the key aspects of body language that will boost your presentation skills to the next level.

Posture

Whether you’re sitting down or standing up, how you carry yourself greatly affects the entire mood of your presentation. You never want to be caught slouching, as it makes you look lazy and unprofessional.

Maintaining an upright and open posture presents a confident and charismatic stance to your audience. It also makes you feel more confident.

A good tip is to loosen up before your presentation. It’s meant to release all the nervous tension that may cause you to stand or sit in awkward positions.

Eye contact

Perhaps one of the most neglected steps in presenting is establishing a good connection with the audience.

The stronger the connection, the more receptive your audience will be to what you’re presenting. The quickest way to develop that is with eye contact. It sends a subtle message that you are paying attention to them, making you deserve their attention.

It may seem like a small detail, but it also subconsciously tells them how confident you are in your presentation.

Facial expressions

While we’re on the topic of connections, remember to be aware of your facial expressions.

When it’s appropriate, you’ll want to smile as much as possible. No one enjoys sitting through a presentation from someone who looks like they do not want to be there.

Remember that audiences tend to mimic or feed off the emotions of the presenter facing them.

With a smile on your face, you have the power to uplift the room you step in front of.

Gestures and Movement

As the presenter, it’s your mission to keep your audience engaged. Incorporating hand gestures and movement can be what makes the difference between a dull presentation and a captivating one.

Think of your arms and legs as storytelling tools. Hand gestures add emphasis to your speech while movement along the stage can guide the attention of your audience. And like any tool, you must handle these with care and precision. You need to strike a balance in your use of gestures and movements so that they come off as part of your natural motions and not overly rehearsed.

While presentation styles may vary from person to person, body language is universal. It’s a form of communication that speaks beyond words and potentially adds to the impact of your presentation.

To presentation specialists, using subtle hints in body language is an invaluable skill in communication and public speaking. With enough practice, you’ll be instinctively using your body language to deliver more dynamic presentations.

To learn more ways to elevate your presentations, you can contact us anytime! At SlideGenius, it’s our passion to design exceptional PowerPoint presentations. We believe that good business starts with a well-made presentation.

Let us handle the designs, while you can practice on your delivery!

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The Importance of Eye Contact During Presentations

When you look people in the eye, you establish rapport. You make an impact. You send a compelling message. A sustained and purposeful eye contact is crucial in public speaking because it gives you a chance to create a good impression. It can mean all the difference when you’re trying to get the audience on your side. 

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Why You Should Meet the Audience’s Gaze

The audience is an important element in public speaking. A presentation will lose its purpose if there are no spectators to validate it. This is why you need to make your speech worthy of your listeners’ time. You can do this by establishing a connection with them through eye contact.

When you meet your audience’s gaze, you’re essentially showing them interest and respect. You’re acknowledging their presence. You’re making yourself relatable and accessible to them. Eye contact can make you vulnerable—and that, in turn, can make you seem more human to those whom you’re trying to reach.

There are other reasons why eye contact is crucial. 

Meeting the Audience's Gaze

1. To establish connection

One sincere look in the eye and you can communicate to the audience just how much you care about their thoughts. A sustained eye contact is an invitation to turn your talk into a conversation. It creates a bond between speaker and listener—a connection that is reassuring to both parties.

2. To improve concentration

A large room full of people can ruin your concentration. By limiting your focus to just one person at a time, you can calm your nerves and clear your mind. Don’t let your eyes wander around the room lest your ideas get all muddled up. Keep your eye contact steady so you can concentrate on your message.

3. To project authority

Have you ever spoken with someone who averts his gaze every time he talks? It’s not surprising if that person gained little, if any, of your respect. No one can blame you if your thoughts stray while that person talks to the floor.

With eye contact comes authority. So if you can’t look people in the eye, you can’t expect them to believe your words or agree with your views. The eyes can communicate confidence and conviction—two things that you won’t be able to project unless you look people squarely in the face. 

4. To facilitate engagement

People will feel welcome to participate when they see you scanning the crowd. They’ll be at a liberty to nod, frown, smile, and raise their brows. If you look at them long enough to create a bond, you’ll find a spark of recognition in their eyes. In that precise moment, you can transform them from being passive receivers to active participants.

What You Can Learn from Professional Speakers

Presentation gurus should know what makes or breaks a presentation, and all of them agree that eye contact is a big determiner of a successful speech.

Learning from Professional Speakers

1. See your audience as individual listeners

Before you speak, take a moment to pause and scan the room for friendly faces. Connect with distinct listeners whom you feel are willing to engage with you. Forget yourself and focus on one audience member at a time. You’ll be more conversational and confident if you do so.

2. Involve everyone in the conversation

Don’t play favorites. Instead, connect with as many people as possible. If you’re dealing with a large crowd and it’s impractical to make eye contact with everyone, divide the audience into sections and just choose one member from each group to connect with. The people in his or her area will feel included even if you don’t look at them directly. Just remember to randomly shift your gaze from person to person. Don’t follow a pattern; otherwise, you’ll come off as unnatural and predictable.

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3. Sustain eye contact long enough to make a connection

 How long does it take to make a genuine eye connection? According to Toastmasters, a global organization dedicated to developing public speaking and leadership skills, it takes no more than five seconds to establish proper contact. Five seconds is usually the time it takes to finish a thought, so there’s minimal risk of losing your focus if you follow this tip. Also, five seconds of sustained eye contact can slow down your speaking rate.

4. Avert your eyes when a person grows uncomfortable

Not everyone appreciates being looked at directly in the eye. While it’s true that eye contact is a universal communication signal, there are certain exceptions that you should consider. Some cultures and norms find eye contact offensive under certain circumstances.

For instance, in Middle Eastern cultures, it’s considered inappropriate for people of the opposite sex to look each other in the eye, as that can denote a romantic interest between them. In Asian cultures, however, eye contact is seen more as a sign of disrespect, especially when the contact is made by a subordinate to his or her superior. This is because most Asian countries are largely authoritarian. For African and Latin American cultures, eye contact is interpreted as a sign of aggression and confrontation, since these societies uphold a strong hierarchy.

Julia Minson’s words are fitting for this situation. She reminds speakers “to keep in mind that trying to maintain eye contact may backfire if you’re trying to convince someone who has a different set of beliefs than you.” Minson is an assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Final Advice: Practice Makes Perfect

If you’re not used to it, making eye contact can be challenging. You’ll feel exposed and vulnerable while staring into someone’s eyes. But nothing can be fixed with constant practice and application. Try to look people in the eye every time you communicate, and sooner or later, you’ll get accustomed to the peculiar sense of connection that comes with it.

How to Maximize Eye Contact for Presentations

A study from the University of Pennsylvania revealed that 70% of non-verbal communication is based on body language.

Among other forms of body language, eye contact plays a significant role in building a deeper connection with acquaintances, friends, and strangers. This proves that eye contact is an important part of interacting with other people.

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Eye Contact in Non-Verbal Communication

We often forget how much our eyes contribute to our daily interactions. In most cases, we’re unaware of how our gaze can make communication more powerful and effective.

The eyes are the most expressive parts of the human body. We can determine someone’s inner thoughts or feelings by just looking at their eyes.

Conveying positive emotions and confidence is essential for any effective presenter. This works the same way for your audience. Eckhard Hess, an American psychologist and ethnologist, discovered that the our pupils dilate when we are interested in a conversation. If the pupils contract, it shows disinterest. These, in a way, gauge how effectively you can establish rapport and persuade the audience.

Here are further reasons why eye contact is necessary:

It catches attention

People lose interest if they sense a lack of passion from the presenter. Once you’ve successfully established eye contact, show them that you’re confident to stand and talk in front of them. They’ll become more attentive and interested in your pitch.

It engages the audience

Speech coach Patricia Fripp writes about the positive effects of eye contact. According to Fripp, not only is it effective in convincing people, it also boosts self-esteem, another crucial factor in delivering a winning pitch.

If you conduct business presentations, establishing stable eye contact makes the audience feel that you’re interested in them, allowing you to build trust and rapport. Make them feel that they are involved in their presentation.

It makes a good impression

Great presenters avoid looking at their notes while speaking, letting their audience read and understand the message by making eye contact.

Your audience’s first impression of your performance can either increase or decrease your credibility. Doing well makes them understand that you are knowledgeable and confident.

How long should you maintain eye contact?

Leadership trainer Dan Rockwell advises presenters to keep eye contact for at least three to four seconds per person in each group.

If you’re discussing something that’s related to your subject, know when to pause so they can catch up to the ideas you’re highlighting.

It takes practice to master eye contact.

Learn and practice this technique to achieve your audience’s expectations.

Since the eyes convey your emotions, you need to give off a friendly yet confident impression for your audience during presentations.

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References

“Build Emotional Connection Through Good Eye Contact.” Patricia Fripp. 2009. Accessed May 21, 2015.
Hess, Eckhard H. “The Role of Pupil Size in Communication.” Sci Am Scientific American 233, no. 5 (1975): 110-19.
Power Your Presentations with These Body Language Tips.” SlideGenius, Inc. 2014. Accessed May 21, 2015.
Presentation Tips: 5 Easy Ways to Establish Your Credibility.” SlideGenius, Inc. November 04, 2014. Accessed May 21, 2015.
Rockwell, Dan. “Secrets to Great Presentations.” Leadership Freak. June 18, 2014. Accessed June 21, 2015.

Study Shows Simplicity is Key When Creating a PowerPoint Presentation

At what point is your PowerPoint taking away from what you have to say, ultimately doing more harm than good to your presentation? German psychologist Chrstof Wecker did a study on oral information retention when using a PowerPoint presentation, and his results were very interesting.

The study’s abstract states:

“The objective of this study was to test whether information presented on slides during presentations is retained at the expense of information presented only orally, and to investigate part of the conditions under which this effect occurs, and how it can be avoided.”

The study found that “regular” slides negatively affected how much of what the presenter said was retained by the test audience. This means the presenter would be better off using no PowerPoint at all if he or she wanted the audience to retain more of what was said during the presentation.

By SlideGenius
An example of a simple, effective PowerPoint slide by SlideGenius.

However, the study found that correctly done, concise slides were by far the best for maximum retention of information, both orally and visually. This is because the two complimented each other without overloading the audience’s ability to take in new information.

We’ve all heard this lesson many times before, but here is scientific evidence that you don’t want to overload your audience with cluttered slides, because the mind naturally prioritizes visual information over auditory information.

Another important lesson to take from this is to keep in mind that your PowerPoint presentation is there for your audience; it’s not your teleprompter. Many people will cram their slides with as much information as possible, and then use them as their talking points. This is detrimental to a presentation for a couple reasons.

 

First, while there isn’t likely to be much information lost since you’ll essentially be repeating everything on your PowerPoint slides, you’ll create a totally impersonal presentation. You’ll take away the need for a human being presenting the information, which obviously has the capacity to be more engaging than words on a page. You’ll also fail to make eye contact while you’re speaking if you’re constantly reading off your PowerPoint, which is sacrificing a great tool for drawing people in while you’re speaking.

boring-powerpoint-presentation-1024x748

While simplicity and conciseness are hugely important when creating a visual aid to accompany you in a presentation, there are several other factors that come into play to guarantee that your presentation packs a punch. Professional PowerPoint designers and presentation specialists are vital in taking all these factors into account when creating your presentation in order to ensure your presentation is both easily retained and enthralling.

How to Make Your First Impression Count in the Business World

You don’t get a redo with a flubbed first impression, especially in the modern business world defined by a hyper-fast pace and short attention span.

We meet new faces every day, and you can’t downplay the importance of these first impressions, especially with an important contact or a corporate presentation. Because of the pressure and importance associated with first impressions, it’s easy to become nervous or over think the situation, but paying attention to a few basic concerns about your behavior and physical appearance can help you relax and make a memorable impression.

Whether you’re meeting someone face to face or engaging a group of people, knowing what cues will cause others to form opinions about you in less than 10 seconds can be the difference between success and failure.

Physical appearance

first impression

This may seem shallow, but your physical appearance and your body language will be the two key factors in how you will first be perceived by others, and keep in mind that the bulk of the first impression will be made in seven seconds, and that impression is unlikely to ever change.

Dress with care, it’s a sign of competency and attention to detail to others, but be wary not to overdress for the occasion. That can also show incompetency–even insensitivity. Furthermore, while it’s important to show individuality, creativity, and originality through your appearance, don’t go overboard, especially in a professional setting. Find out the appropriate dress code (i.e. casual, formal) and craft your creativity within that context. Also, making sure you’re well groomed and appropriately dressed can give you the boost of confidence you need if you’re walking into a situation that may make you a little apprehensive.

Remain open, confident, and relaxed

Your body language can say a lot about your personality and attitude as well, so it’s important to give off a positive, open vibe through your gestures, posture, and body language.

Good posture and a firm handshake will show confidence and assertiveness, which are too highly valued qualities in the business world. Conversely, slouching can be a sign of lack of self esteem and low energy.

Confidence is key to being taken seriously, but appearing open and friendly can’t be undervalued. Your body should face the person you’re speaking to. To ensure the person that you’re giving them your full attention, maintain eye contact, and don’t glance at your watch, phone, or what other people in the room might be doing.

Knowing what not to do is just as important. We all have nervous habits that we begin doing unconsciously. While we may not even be aware of these habits, such as biting our fingernails, crossing and uncrossing our legs, or touching our hair and face, others are, and becoming aware of and controlling these habits is imperative in order to present yourself effectively.

While this may seem like a hefty list of things to be conscious of, the most important tip is simply to be confident, because the majority of these techniques of good-impression making are just symptoms of confidence.

Body Movement in your Presentation; How to Make it or Break it

Would you deem it appropriate for Obama to give his State of the Union address while sitting in a “chris-cross-applesauce” position? No, you would not. That is because you know that he would look childish, immature, unprofessional, and similar to how I sat in elementary school.  Body language dictates how we are perceived in any situation. On a very base, subconscious level, and this goes double when we’re in front of an audience, body language can make or break what people think of us and what we are saying in a matter of seconds. When all eyes are on you, your movements, posture and body language carry more gravity than usual, so each requires even more attention on your part.

Most studies find that verbal communication makes up less than 10 percent of all human communication, while nonverbal communication (i.e. body language, eye contact, etc.) makes up roughly 55 percent of communications. Here are a few tips to guarantee your body is portraying the message that aligns with your professional presentation.

 

Face your audience head on

Take a power stance: Square your shoulders to the direction of the audience and plant your feet far enough apart to be sturdy and balanced. However, if you’ve ample space when presenting, utilize it. Facing your audience head on doesn’t mean becoming a statue. Make it a deliberate point to move from point to point while you speak. This will give you a more vibrant, commanding presence that will demand attention from your audience.

Steve Jobs at an Apple presentation
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs utilizes his large floor space while remaining open to the audience.

Eye contact

Eye contact is a pivotal part of communication in Western culture. The unspoken understanding is that when a person avoids eye contact, it’s because they’re lying or nervous. When presenting, eye contact is vital in order to ensure your audience trusts the validity of what you’re saying.

A good trick is to pick out three people in the audience: one in the center of the audience, one in the left corner, and one in the right corner; Alternate between them.

Some will tell you all you need to do is pick a few spots on the back wall of the room, but the problem here is that you’re not actually connecting with anyone, and that can make the presentation feel insincere or inhuman. Eye contact is vital for making a connection with your audience.

Never underestimate the importance of good posture

Superman having great posture wearing a cape
Superman, the epitome of cape wearers and good posture, has the puffed-out chest and arched back.

An upright, open posture can signify success, confidence, honesty, positivity, vibrancy—the list is practically endless. The point is: have good posture. If you often catch yourself slouching, try standing and walking as if you were wearing a cape; that’ll give you a good idea of how you should be standing.

Posture is especially important when presenting, because it’s directly correlated to being perceived as confident. Your audience doesn’t want to listen to someone who doesn’t appear to be resolute in the message he or she is presenting.

While having a well-designed PowerPoint presentation from a PowerPoint specialist can go a long way in creating a clear, convincing professional presentation, there’s no substitute for confidence. Body language can reveal a lot about a person, and when correctly mastered, can do a great deal to ensure a lasting impression on others. The most important thing is to relax, remain open, and be comfortable in your own skin.

Controlling Your Physiology for Your Presentation

Can you guess what this is describing?

Your hands are disgustingly warm and sweaty, your heart is beating at frightening speeds, you knees are weak and you feel like you’re going to collapse. Your fingers can’t seem to stop pinching each other. Each breath you take is getting progressively harder and weaker. Those butterflies in your stomach (the ones that everyone talks about in romantic movies) seem to be flying viciously into places they’re not supposed to. In a matter of minutes, you seem to have developed a stutter and the ability to crack your voice like a pubescent thirteen-year-old boy.

In medical terms, it’s called glossophobia, but for those of us without PHDs, it is what most people feel before speaking in public.

Let’s be honest, nobody wants to wants to sit through twenty minutes of some guy twitching and sweating through a presentation about why their software is the latest and greatest. Controlling your physiology for your presentation is crucial if you want your presentation to have any value to your audience.

You may not be a presentation expert, but you can certainly train yourself to be able to give an interesting and effective corporate presentation. Here are a few tips for that:

Find a way to relax right before your presentation. Take deep breaths, wash your hands with warm water, listen to your pump-up song (Kanye West seems to do the trick for me), or stretch. Find something that gets rid of your nerves but keeps you focused at the same time.

Be the body for your presentation. Let your fingers point, your hands wave, and your shoulders shrug. Movement is good; it keeps the audience focused on you. Just make sure to have it under control. Don’t be excessive with it. Pinpoint three people in the audience: one on each far corner of your vantage point, and one smack in the middle. As you speak, alternate making eye contact with each. This will help you know where to look and keep any nervous movements away.

Smile and laugh; they’re both contagious. It is instinctive for people to smile at a smile. Since you are in control of the mood in the room while you presenting, use it to your advantage. Smile and look happy, and soon enough your audience will mirror that. Speaking to a public that seems genuinely interested and happy to hear what you are saying will ease your nerves and relax your body. This in turn will make your presentation more human and organic.

Prepare for perfection. In his Art of War, Sun Tzu explains how “every battle is won before it is ever fought.” Practice every scenario, every word and movement. A LOT! If your presentation is interactive with the audience or includes questions, anticipate them. Use them to your advantage. Practice in front of anyone and everyone. Time yourself. You can even record yourself for critique. Know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, when you’re going to say it, and how people will respond to it. Do this, and you will have won the battle.

Sun-Tzu-Strategy