”What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” —Emerson
One of the most frequently asked question of presentation coaches is “What do I do with my hands or eyes” and How do I use gestures to connect or hurt my performance ? The worst thing you can do is to try to think about what you’re saying and figuring out at the same time how to gesture, move use your hands, where you need to stand etc. One of the most important things to understand about presenting is that being yourself which includes aligning gestures with words and intent must be natural if you are going to be perceived as open, trustworthy and authentic.
My advice is to review a video of yourself presenting and you will quickly see how you come across to people. Any habit used to often in a presentation can become a distraction to the audience. For example, finger pointing or moving around the podium randomly will diminish your effectiveness and impact. Now let’s look at some Non-Verbal communication tools that support and amplify “sticky” message
Handshake. Firm and palm-to-palm contact is important for demonstrating confidence and sincerity. The fish shake with the tips of the fingers of the hand signals insecurity and lack of confidence. The handshake can leave either a good, poor or weak first impression and of course, comes into play to signal agreement or goodwill at the end of a meeting.
Eye contact. The eyes are the most powerful part of our body language, and can express everything from happiness, annoyance, interest, boredom and frustration. Consistent and frequent eye contact using the technique of presenter communicating one thought to one person is a powerful way to build rapport and is usually perceived as the speaker being warm, honest and engaging. Darting eyes and looking over the heads of the audience is interpreted as nervousness, aloofness or disengagement by the audience.
Gestures: Hands, Arms and legs position. Folded arms or crossed legs, perhaps turning away slightly, indicates a lack of interest and detachment. Later uncrossed arms and legs may be a sign of acceptance of your position or terms. An expressive presentation style will have toes pointed out and hands open when gesturing. A less dynamic and shy presentation style will point at members of the audience and keep their toes pointed in. None of these come through as positive gestures to the audience.
Posture and Movement. If you are trying to appear confident and authoritative, stand erect with shoulders back and legs about 12” apart with one leg further forward than the other . A slumped position usually indicates insecurity, nervousness and uneasiness.
Facial expression. A critical message delivered with a smiling face will have a totally different impact than one delivered with a stern or frowning face. In ability to smile or laugh sincerely makes you appear to be robitic or stiff as a presenter. Think here Al Gore or Mitt Romney who demonstrate that stiffness doesn’t work, because the warmth and sincerity is lost.
One last tip do not try to choreography or structure nonverbal behaviors. I’ve seen far too many presenters attempt to illustrate their narrative with specific gestures and wind up looking like buffoons. Instead, use your hands, arms and movements as you do naturally, to illustrate what you are saying. However, I do recommend one gesture: to extend your hand and arm periodically, bridging the gap between you and your audience with your hand in handshake position or palms up signalling openness to comments and feedback