You’re on stage, ready to utter the first word of your presentation. When all of a sudden, someone veers up from the first row and calls out ‘STOP!’
He asks the audience to write down what impression they have of you. What do you think will be on their papers?
This may seem quite far-fetched, and yet each one of us does this on a subconscious level. The minute we see someone, we make a judgement about them: Is this person kind or standoffish, reliable or not, professional or amateurish…
Before having spoken your very first words, your audience will have already formed an impression of you. This cannot be stopped. What you can do is influence which impression this will be. How so? By becoming aware of the signals your body is sending out.
But does this first impression really matter that much? Yes, of course! It will make your audience listen up and trust you, and encourage them to engage with you during or after your presentation.
Does this feel familiar?
Let me give you eight examples of body language that I witnessed over the past couple of weeks. Not just on stage, but also during meetings. Some of them may feel very familiar.
1. Sweaty armpits
What impression do you make? You appear stressed. The larger the sweat circle, the more concerned your audience will be about you.
Our advice? Wear light clothing. Certain fabrics make you sweat less. And opt for black clothes if you can, to hide any possible stains.
2. Limp hand movements
What impression do you make? Making limp hand movements makes you look unmotivated and as if you are utterly bored by it all.
Our advice? Make firm hand movements, as if you would be discussing a topic you are very excited about.
3. Constantly running your hands through your hair
What impression do you make? You appear nervous, chaotic, or vain. You are likely doing this repetitively, which distracts from your message. Is your hair covering your eyes? This distances you from your audience.
Our advice? Tie your hair together or use a hair clip, which will help suppress the urge to run your hands through your hair. Or hold a slide changer with the hand you would use to run through your hair.
4. Cracking your fingers before starting
What impression do you make? You appear nervous and are clearly getting some excess energy out. Be especially careful with any microphones around you, because they could send those finger cracks resonating throughout the entire auditorium.
Our advice? Hold a slide changer in your hand or start your talk by presenting an object to the audience.
5. Rocking back and forth
What impression do you make? You remind everyone of a child giving a class presentation that cannot stand still.
Our advice? Practice standing solidly on both feet, with about 6 inches between your feet. You may move around, but keep this to a minimum.
6. Fingers stretched out
What impression do you make? It looks odd to see your fingers stretched out the entire time you are talking. You come across stiff and tense.
Our advice? Relax your fingers.
7. Looking up, down or outside
What impression do you make? You appear insecure, unprepared or uninterested in the audience.
Our advice? Practice your talk beforehand to make sure you know your content well and won’t have to dig too deep into your memory to find the right words. Make eye contact with your audience while talking.
8. Hands in your sleeves
What impression do you make? You come across insecure and somewhat helpless. While doing this, you are probably also raising your shoulders, making you appear even more unsure.
Our advice? Avoid wearing loose sleeve clothing for you to hide your hands in.
What is your body saying?
Want to find out what signals your body is sending out? Ask your partner, family members, friends or colleagues about their impression of you speaking to a group of people. Ask for their honest feedback.
Or why not record your presentation using your smartphone, for instance, while rehearsing? It may be confronting to see and hear yourself talk, but this is exactly what you are giving your audience, after all. Find your points of improvement and tackle them.
You do want to make a good impression, don’t you?!?
Find more tips on body language in our book ‘The floor is yours: because life is too short for bad presentations‘.
Or follow our workshop Presenting with impact.