Presentation Body Language Mistakes That Kill a First Impression

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I recently found a great article on LinkedIn from Inc. about body language making bad first impressions (14 Body Language Mistakes That Make a Bad First Impression) and I found that many of these business interaction mistakes also apply to presentations. You don’t want to make these presentation body language mistakes.

6 Presentation Body Language Mistakes

  1. Not Smiling – Unless it would be inappropriate to smile because of your topic or the situation, I recommend showing your personality, smiling, and having fun when you present. Your audience wants to get to know you and most people enjoy a seemingly conversational style of presentation. As the adage goes, smile when talking on the phone because the person on the other end can tell — you definitely want to smile when your audience is looking at you.
  2. Lack of Eye Contact – Great presenters make the audience feel like they are talking directly to that audience member. That feeling is only achievable with solid eye contact. Usually, poor eye contact is due to a lack of preparation and fear. If you have to read notes or the slides, you can’t engage your audience. Additionally, you’ll calm your nerves by being better prepared and contrary to what you may think, making eye contact with your audience actually reduces your nervousness too.
  3. Slouching – Bad posture and hunched shoulders show a lack of confidence and it constricts your lungs making it harder to project your voice to the back of the room. Your audience may also perceive your slouching as a lack of interest.
  4. Crossed Arms – When a presenter crosses his or her arms, it shows your audience that you don’t care and, to me, it isn’t a natural posture. It also means you’re closed off to what others think and that is a tough perception to overcome even for a lecturing speaker. Additionally, people feel uneasy when they can’t see someone’s hands.
  5. Fidgeting – One way to show the audience that you’re nervous is to fidget. Some speakers will click a pen, jingle the keys and change in their pocket, or make odd hand gestures. The best ways to overcome fidgeting is to come prepared and to video your practice to see if you have any “nervous ticks”. (You can also have friends or colleagues watch your presentation rehearsals or live presentations to give you honest feedback.)
  6. Pacing – Although some see pacing as “working the stage”, it is annoying to the audience because they watch the presenter bounce back and forth like they are watching a tennis match. Pacing is usually another sign of nervousness and a seasoned presenter will work the stage by going to a spot on one side of the stage and speak from there, then move to the other side and plant his feet and speak from there for a few moments. (I go into much more detail about pacing in a recent blog post –  Are You Doing This Annoying Public Speaking Habit?

Bonus – The Inc. article also cites raising your chin as a turnoff to others, but I haven’t seen that as an issue for presenters.

Each of these presentation body language mistakes can be overcome with proper presentation preparation, through repetition (during practice and doing speeches), and most importantly, the awareness that you’re doing them.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.

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