When you think about a speech or presentation, you probably think first about what gets said. Of course, it’s critical that our words match the message we are trying to get across. The whole experience for our audience, though, includes not only what we say, but how we say it and how we can use our bodies to amplify our impact.
A presentation, in person or virtual, gives you multiple ways to get your message into your audiences’ heads, to leave an impression. A strong physical presence can be divided into three categories, each of which has a video I’ve prepared for you:
Let’s dive into more detail about what makes a successful presentation and learn a few tips and tricks to make effective physicality a permanent part of your repertoire. Read on so you can give a full experience next time you present!
Taking a stand
Standing means not just your posture but also the way you move while you’re standing. Your body language influences how people think about you. When you’re the one in front of the room, this becomes even more important because it influences how well you are able to get your message across to your audience.
Why we do it:
- Inspire confidence. How you move sends non-verbal cues to your audience that they use to judge whether or not you know what you’re talking about. They are more likely to respect you and retain the content of your speech when your body language projects and inspires confidence.
- Show you’re present with and open to your listeners. Open body language keeps your audience engaged. Show openness through your actions and your audience will feel they are a part of the presentation.
How to do it right:
- Align your core. Make sure you’re standing up straight — chin up, chest out, and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Offer open arms. Your “ready position” should be with your arms bent at the elbows with palms facing your audience. Open palms show your audience, “I’m here for you and open to your participation.” It also prevents you from falling back into negative postures like slouching or having your hands in your pockets.
- Don’t be a statue! Don’t hyperfocus on your posture so much that you forget to move. Holding your hands at waist level for an extended period of time, mindfully avoiding putting them in pockets or letting them dangle behind you or–gasp!–over your crotch gets tiring, so let this work to your advantage. When your arms get tired you’ll naturally be inclined to gestures that support what you’re talking about. For example:
- Mime what you are saying with your arms
- Point to the audience
- Raise your hand yourself if you want the audience to do a show of hands
Walking the walk
Walking on stage may seem like a strange thing to do, but if you observe very effective presenters you’ll notice that they rarely stand in one place throughout the entire presentation. Instead, they make the whole stage their domain.
This has to be done with purpose and intention, and of course is not the case when using a podium (although if you have a whole stage or the entire front of the room, why use a podium?!). Adjust as needed, but when you can, movement can add a lot to the audience experience.
Why we do it:
- It is visually stimulating. Watching someone talk on stage can get boring, so it helps to have a moving target to follow.
- It helps the audience process important parts of your speech. After making a major point in your presentation, moving to the next subject too quickly doesn’t give your audience the chance to catch up and fully appreciate what you’ve said. The fix? Give them time to process and turn a verbal transition into a doubly powerful physical transition by walking through it. Make your point, and then walk to another part of the stage as it sinks in for everyone.
- It gives a larger portion of the audience an opportunity to connect with you. Have you ever been watching a presentation when suddenly the speaker makes direct eye contact with you? If you weren’t tuned into what they were saying before, that shock of person-to-person connection will snap you out of your daydream. As a speaker, when you’re addressing a large audience, walking to different parts of the stage will give you a wider range of eye contact opportunities and allow you to connect with the entire room.
How to do it right:
- Don’t move just to move. While walking can be a great way to keep the attention on you, do it with intention. It’s not about venting your nervous energy, it’s about moving with purpose at pinnacle points in your presentation.
- Incorporate your full audience. As noted above, moving on stage helps you access a larger portion of your audience, especially on a big stage. Take full advantage of the connection your movement can provide.
Talking the talk
The last part of on-stage physicality is how you talk. So far we’ve focused on nonverbal aspects of physical communication, but remember that your voice is a physical attribute as well. Strategically using your voice makes a big difference in how your presentation is perceived and helps snap your audience to attention when it counts.
Why we do it:
- To make sure everyone can hear you. If your audience can’t hear you, they’re not going to get much out of your speech. It’s important to make sure your voice is audible not only from the back of the room but from all angles. One trick for corporate speechwriters is to place an executive’s team around an auditorium during rehearsals, to give the exec practice projecting to every corner of the room.
- It appeals to our animal instincts. It is human instinct to listen for and detect variations in sounds. In the wild, this helped us survive by perking up to hear warnings from fellow humans. In modern life, when we strategically raise and lower our voice during a presentation, or use strategic pauses, the audience’s instincts make sure they tune in and listen closer.
How to do it right:
- Learn to control your voice. If you don’t know how to physically manipulate your voice properly, it will be difficult to take advantage of the benefits. Working with a presentation coach or vocal instructor can help. They will help you project your voice so you can have adequate volume without sounding like you’re shouting, and to draw power out of your chest instead of your throat or mouth, which prevents damage to vocal cords.
- Use different volumes. Our animal instincts cause us to pay attention when we hear sound variations, which means that when you raise or lower your voice, you get an extra boost of audience focus. Lower your voice to get the audience to lean in conspiratorially, or raise it to emphasize a point.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Repetition is a valuable tool for public speakers. It conveys that what you’ve said, twice, is an especially important point, and gives the audience an extra chance to catch that piece of information.
- Embrace the power of the pause. You know the phrase: pause for dramatic effect. It’s true. Nothing freaks people out like silence, and that’s the power of the pause. When you want a point to really hit home for your audience, leave them waiting an extra beat or two before the big reveal.
Get physical, get heard
You have a lot to say, so it’s time to make sure you’re being heard. Use these tips to harness your own unique physicality and up your presentation game today.
If you’re loving these tips and want to go deeper to expand your presentation skills and become a better communicator, reach out to us today. We help leaders like you refine your communication skills and maximize the impact of your presentations.