Have you ever been to a boring presentation? Most of us have, and most of them are boring because there is no life or passion in what the speaker is saying. People remember more of what they see and hear as opposed to what they read. But to be really memorable, we need to add some life to what we present.
So how can we add life to our presentations and wake up the audience?
In a sense, getting nervous before speaking is a good thing, if you know how to properly channel that nervous energy and use it productively to energize your presentation. Think of yourself as a steaming, boiling pot. You have two choices. You can either try to keep the energy inside, or you can unleash it and use it to help vitalize your presentation, essentially, letting the steam out of the pot.
All too often, presenters choose to burn off that nervous energy by fidgeting, holding or grabbing on to things, and walking or rocking back and forth.
Learn how to dispense this energy in a productive way. This will make you feel more comfortable and will help you look better. You’ll also start to enjoy giving your presentation, you’ll relax, and the audience will feel it.
Working from the bottom up, let’s start with your feet and a balanced stance.
Balancing Your Stance
The first thing is to adopt a stance that both appears balanced and also allows you to keep from needing or wanting to rock or pace back and forth. Presenters often rock back and forth, lean towards one side, or pace around the room in an unconscious attempt to burn off all that extra energy that the flight-or-fight syndrome had filled the body with. Because the glutes and the quads are the largest muscle groups in the body, the brain knows that by moving these muscles, the body can burn off the most amount of excess energy per unit time. Unfortunately, none of these movements helps your cause. All they do is distract from your message and telegraph to the audience that you’re really nervous. That’s not the message that you want to convey.
You don’t have to be like Yul Brynner in “The King and I” with your feet way apart, or drag in like John Wayne. Consider instead a comfortable, balanced stance.
That means hands comfortably down to the sides (neutral position) with feet slightly apart and weight evenly distributed on the balls of the feet. Use your knees like shock absorbers supporting your upper body comfortably. This will help you to avoid favoring one side over the other, and “rocking” back and forth.
Pacin’ the Cage
Can you take a step forward or back occasionally? Yes, but don’t start dancing or rocking (We call this the hula-hoop). Try to stay in one place without appearing like a tree rooted firmly in the ground. Pacing back and forth constantly, for no apparent reason, typically drives the audience crazy. Yeah, a few overzealous motivational speakers or mid-night TV kitchen appliance hawkers may get away with it, but it generally doesn’t fly in the business world.
On the other hand, if you’d like to pause and take a few steps forward to elaborate on that special point or take a step back to reflect and consider something, that’s O.K. But constant non-purposeful movement is weak.
Using Hands Appropriately
Then, decide what you are going to do with your hands and learn to gesture from the shoulders, not the elbows. Use your hands to describe and emphasize. Drop your hands down to your side (neutral position) when you’re starting your speech or when you’re done gesturing.
When you gesture from the neutral position, your gestures become more emphatic. If everything comes from the middle magnet position it looks like you are stuck in a phone booth. Dropping your hands down to your sides is for many difficult to do without constant practice. With most people, the hands immediately come back together like magnets or start grabbing things like clothing, various body parts like your face, or they jump back into your pockets.
If you are talking about an increase in sales, show us by raising your arm up. If you mention something about reducing costs, again, show us and make sure that the gesture is different than the one you used for an increase in sales. It’s amazing how many presenters will use the exact same gesture for an increase as they will for a decrease. That’s confusing.
Keep in mind that gesturing helps you think. Have you ever noticed some-one talking on the telephone? What do they do with the other hand that’s not holding the phone? They gesture and they gesture continually. Why? Because it helps them think and it helps them find the right words. Gesturing helps you relax and find the correct dialogue. And, you have something to do with those darned arms!
Finally, you certainly don’t want to appear robotic, but most of us need to think about how we will gesture for whatever concept we’re presenting, and how we will bring our emphasis to life with appropriate hand movement. It takes time and practice, and it needs to be well thought out.
Peggy Noonan is fond of saying, speaking of the audience, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Appropriate gesturing, getting your whole body involved in the delivery process, is the easiest and most emphatic way of showing your passion for your topic.