Skill Booster

Your Body Speaks

Presenting is a full-body sport.

Think about a time when you told a story to a group of people, either at work or with friends at dinner. You probably talked with your hands, stepped to the left or right, or wiggled a bit in your chair. Your voice rose and fell with excitement or annoyance.

We do these things naturally, without really thinking about them.

So feel free to do them naturally in your presentations as well! As long as you are looking at your audience and staying on point, you should feel free to use your hands and body to help tell your story.

Here are a ideas for you to think about, practice, or avoid.

Energy

In addition to the information you’re sharing, you need to convey positive, exciting energy to your audience. Otherwise, why should they listen, let alone take the action you desire?

You have everything you need to generate that energy using your eyes, voice, and body.

Eyes

We say so much with our eyes, so be sure your audience can see yours.

Think about all the video calls you are on each day and how distracting it can be when a colleague seems to be looking far off, or at anything other than you. Well, the same is true when a presenter seems to be looking off into the distance.

Make eye contact. This will make your audience feel you are talking directly to them. And that’s what you want!

It takes practice to become comfortable looking at an individual rather than trying to look out over rows and rows of people. This will grow easier the more you practice. We promise.

There may be moments when it makes sense to look away for a bit. If you have notes, go ahead and look down quickly. Or, you can make looking down at your notes part of the performance, “This point was so important, I wrote it down …”

Voice

We all use our voices to send signals. A high-pitched squeak will command attention (not always the good kind), while comfortable pauses can let an idea sink in.

Here are a few vocal mannerisms to be aware of:

  1. Many of us “drop” the last word or phrase of a sentence. This means we go down in tone or even volume. Sometimes, those final syllables are barely audible. Each word matters, so make the last words of a sentence as strong as the first.

  2. Ever notice people who lift their voice at the end of sentence? So everything sounds like a question? Even when it isn’t? This is called “upspeak.” Please don’t do this.

  3. Here’s another speech habit to avoid: “vocal fry.” What’s wrong with vocal fry? That low, crackly tone can make it seem like you’re not even interested in your own story. Check out the video resource below for a 2-minute explanation (and rant) about this way of speaking.

  4. Finally, watch out for filler words: um, yeah, so, right? We often default to these utterances to take up space. But there’s nothing wrong with a second or two of silence. So pause, and work on removing those fillers from your vocabulary. If you’re serious about breaking the habit, ask a friend to help you rehearse. Have them to stop you whenever they hear one of these words, and then you have to start again from the beginning. Over and over until you get it right. That will cure you!

A note about virtual presentations:

You may choose to have just your shoulders and head on screen. You might sit in a chair and have most of your body in the frame. These positions work, but we recommend standing up, even if the others on the call can’t even tell. (This works on a phone call too.)

The way you move and speak while standing will convey many messages and emotions.

Want to learn more?

If you’ve heard of “vocal fry” you’ll know it’s “a thing.” Here’s a video worth watching, about vocal fry speaking with Faith Salie of CBS Sunday Morning. It’s a humorous look at this annoying habit.

Also, let experience be your teacher.

When you watch other presenters, observe their body language, vocal stylings, and other mannerisms. Do you notice any pet peeves? Or qualities that make you say, “Wow, I wish I could do that”?

Better yet, pay attention to your own performances. What habits are you working to break or establish?