The basics of body language
At presentation skills training it’s always drilled into you that it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. So you could be delivering the most brilliant speech ever, but if it’s done badly – mumbling, monotone, no eye contact, etc – then you may as well be reciting a nursery rhyme for all that your audience will take away from their experience. Perhaps a little extreme, but one aspect of delivery is body language. It’s a key part of how you present yourself, whether it’s in a speech, an interview or presentation. Every eyebrow twitch, hair twirl, eye movement or leg-crossing can indicate something about you.
Whilst we’re certainly not experts on the subject, we’ve done some research to offer you some top tips on understanding body language so that you can hopefully make it work in your favour.
1) First impressions really count. When first meeting people it’s vital to make a good impression – make sure you have a firm (but not too firm) handshake with no sweaty palms; make proper eye contact (but don’t stare); be alert, if sitting down make sure you have a relaxed but upright posture.
2) Learn the art of ‘mirroring’. This is when you pick up gestures and tone from a person and ‘mirror’ what they are doing. When done in a subtle way this is often said to make people feel more comfortable in your presence as it’s often something that occurs between close friends and family members. Don’t be too obvious though as otherwise people might assume that you’re making a mockery of them.
3) Be ‘arm aware’. What are your arms and hands doing? Crossing your arms across your chest can be viewed as defensive, expressing opposition or being insecure; if sitting at a table, folding your hands in your lap or having them under the table can be viewed as untrustworthy; wringing your hands can be seen as a sign of nervousness; and when presenting an idea or talking be wary about being too wild in your gestures.
4) Respect personal space. Never get too close to someone, especially in a workplace situation, unless you know them really well. People can really take offence; it can create nervous tension and create a negative atmosphere.
5) Are you flirting with me? Women especially can have a minefield to manoeuvre round when it comes to body language being interpreted as flirtatious behaviour, for example stroking your neck (nervous) or fiddling with your hair (anxious). Be wary of this, especially when dealing with people of the opposite sex.
Another tip worth noting is for doing presentations and speeches – film yourself practicing and then play it back without any sound. You will notice any nervous ‘tics’ or repetitive actions as well as what works.