Enhancing your presentations with effective body language

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By Goke Ilesanmi
Body language, otherwise called “visual skills” refers to the use of gestures, eye contact, body movement, facial expression, etc. Whether you are trying to persuade your organisation to increase your salary, address a top management meeting, give a sales presentation or persuade the electorate to vote for you as a politician, you must ensure that you enhance your presentation with effective body language. “The speaker who stands and talks at ease is the one who can be heard without weariness. If his posture and gestures are so graceful and unobtrusive, that no one notices them, he may be counted as truly successful,” submits Dr Ralph Smeadly, the founder of Toastmasters International.

The reality is that when your words and body language are properly connected, your presentations will be outstanding. However, if your podium behaviour includes mannerisms that are not related to your spoken message, those actions will attract attention to themselves and arrest audience’s attention away from your presentation,

You need to get rid of distracting habits so that your presentations can become enjoyable. Therefore, avoid vocal and visual impediments such as finger-tapping, lip-biting or -licking, gripping or leaning on the lectern, adjustment of hair or clothing, head-wagging, etc.

According to Lenny Laskowski, an international professional speaker and the author of “No Sweat Presentations – The Painless Way to Successful Speaking” and many other publications, these have two things in common: they are physical manifestations of simple nervousness and they are performed unconsciously.

This is because when you make a verbal mistake, you can easily correct it, because you can hear your own words, but you cannot see yourself, so most distracting mannerisms go uncorrected. Therefore, you cannot eliminate them unless you know they exist.

Laskowski advises that you can videotape yourself. The first step in eliminating any unnecessary behaviour is to obtain an accurate perception of your body’s image. This should include posture, gestures, body movement, facial expressions, eye contact, etc.

The next step is to free yourself of all forms of physical behaviour that do not enhance your presentations. This can be accomplished by simply becoming aware of your problem areas. After you have videotaped yourself speaking, review the tape several times and compile a list of all the distracting mannerisms noticed.

Review your tape the first time without looking for mannerisms. Just listen to the presentation as if you were watching it for the first time and evaluate the overall impact you experience from watching the tape.

Review your tape a second time (with the volume turned down) and look for visual distractions. Take notes on what you observe.

Once you have made a list of both your distracting mannerisms and your more positive points, you are ready to have one or two family members watch the tape with you. Get their initial impression and ask them to be honest.

Once you have completed these reviews, go over the list of all the distracting mannerisms seen. The next time you are having a conversation with someone you know well, try to notice whether you use any of these distracting mannerisms even in casual circumstances. Tackle each of your negative points one at a time.

Building self-confidence

The truism is that the most important rule for making your body communicate effectively is to be yourself. So concentrate on sharing of ideas not on extreme performance target. Strive to be as genuine and natural as you are when you speak to family members and friends, educates Laskowski.   Many people say they feel comfortable whenever they are within a small group of people but nervous when they are in front of a larger group. The only difference between speaking to a small informal group and to a sizable audience is the number of listeners. To compensate for this, you need only to amplify your natural behaviour. Be authentically yourself, but amplify your movements and expressions just enough so that the audience can see them.

Allowing your body to reflect your feelings

If you are interested in your subject, truly believe what you are saying and want to share your message with others, your physical movements will come from within you and will be comfortable saying what you are saying. By involving yourself in your message, you will be natural and spontaneous without having to consciously think about what you are doing or saying.     For many speakers, this is not as easy as it sounds because it requires them to drop the mask that shields the “real self” in public. To become an effective speaker, it is essential that you get rid of your mask and share your true feelings with your audience. Your audience wants to know how you feel about your subject. If you want to convince others, you must convey your convictions. Speak from the heart and to the soul.

Self-confidence through preparation

Nothing influences a speaker’s mental attitude more than the knowledge that he or she is thoroughly prepared. This knowledge leads to self-confidence, which is a vital ingredient of effective public speaking.

Taking note of how you speak

Whenever you speak to people, make an extra effort to notice how you speak. Observe, too, whether the facial expressions of your listeners indicate they do or do not understand what you are saying. Before calling to request something on the phone, plan and practice what you are going to say. Even this is essentially a short presentation. Another exercise is to prepare a 90-second presentation about yourself. Describe whom you are and what you do. Record your presentation and review it using the steps described above.

Since you are talking about yourself, you do not need to research the topic; however, you do need to prepare what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Plan everything including your gestures and walking patterns.

To be continued

PS: For those making inquiries about our Public Speaking, Business Presentation and Professional Writing Skills programme, please visit the website indicated on this page for details.


GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.

Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng

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