Friday, December 28, 2012

5 Body Language Errors that Will Sink Your Presentation

Want to be a dynamic speaker or presenter? Then you'd better learn body language! 

Listen, there's a lot of paint-by-number body language advice out there, especially concerning reading what you're seeing. Follow those tips if you want to stay confused and in the weeds. ("She just tucked her hair behind her ear. What does it mean?")

If on the other hand you want to understand how true leaders move when they speak in public, you have to take a different approach. At Public Speaking International, we tell our executive speech coaching clients to forget the how-to advice. How many leaders do you know who hold themselves and move in specific ways because someone told them they ought to do so?

You should understand this general rule instead: do what you find natural in terms of movement and gestures. Make it strong, limited, and controlled . . . but make it natural. (For powerful tips on using nonverbal communication effectively, download our Learning Guide "How to Use Body Language and Gestures as a Speaker.") 

In terms of prescriptions, it's more helpful to learn how to avoid the errors that will brand you as an amateur. This article discusses five of those errors. Avoid them at all costs if you want your speech or presentation to be the stuff of history, rather than sly grins and rolling eyes (now there's an easily read gesture!).

1. Splitting Your Focus: Appropriately enough given its title, this error involves poor eye contact. You've seen this again and again: the speaker splits his or her attention between the audience and their notes (or alternatively, the PowerPoint screen). It looks like this: A few words delivered to the audience, then a quick glance down at the page or the screen, some more words to the listeners, back to the page, another remark to the by-now suffering audience, then another glance tossed toward the screen, etc.

Why is this speaker doing this? Is her name written on her 3 x 5 cards? Does he need to remind himself of his title and the company he works for? The answer is self-consciousness. Audiences are often strangers, and one's notes (or the PowerPoint screen) is a familiar life preserver—one that speaker will hang on to for dear life! But your greeting is THE section of your presentation where you open a communication channel with your audience. Give them 100% of your eye contact as you talk straight to them. You're saying things you don't need to look down to discover. So don't.

2. Weak or Unbalanced Stance