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5 Body Language Mistakes You Need To Stop Making In Your Presentations

 Dr. Gary Genard's Public Speaking Handbook, How to Give a Speech

To speak memorably, learn how to command a room—including physically! Here are 5 body language mistakes you need to stop making in your presentations.

How good is your physical expression in your presentations? For your answer to be positive, you have to understand and be using body language effectively. 

There's a ton of paint-by-numbers body language advice out there by "experts." You've seen it. "Whoa! She just tucked her hair behind her ear.  Here's what that means!" People whose profession depends upon watching body language understand that one isolated gesture means little. Paying attention to the context of what's happening at that moment is all-important. If anything, a single movement may be a reason to pay more attention to what was just said.

Body language for public speaking is a subject you need to learn! Discover 101 easy-to-learn skills for presentation success in my book, How to Give a SpeechOn Amazon.

Dr. Gary Genard's Public Speaking Handbook, How to Give a Speech

If you want to move with purpose for best results, you have to chuck all that free (and well worth the price!) advice. How many leaders do you know who hold themselves and move in specific ways because someone told them they ought to do so?

Instead, invest yourself in accepting this general rule: Do what you find natural in terms of movement. Make your physical performance spontaneous yet controlled. In other words, learn how to create natural movement and gesturesThat's what this post is about.

Performance Habits to Recognize and Avoid

Prescriptions for public speaking that purport to make you appear "natural" simply don't work. More helpful is learning how to avoid the mistakes that will brand you as an newbie. I discuss five of them below. Avoid them at all costs if you want your speech to be engaging, rather than one that elicits sly grins and rolling eyes (now there are some easy-to-read gestures).

Boost your stage presence through body language! Download my free cheat sheet"Body Language For Public Speaking: 6 Skills Building Exercises." Learn how it's done!

1. Poor Eye Contact with Your Audience 

You've seen this bad habit again and again, especially at the start of a presentation: the speaker splits his or her attention between the audience and their notes (or alternatively, the PowerPoint screen). It looks like this: A few words delivered to the audience, then a quick glance down at the page or the screen, some more words to the listeners, back to the page, another remark to the by-now suffering audience, then another glance tossed toward the screen, etc.

What's happening here? Is the speaker's name written on those 3 x 5 cards? Does he or she need to be reminded of the name of their company?

Of course not. The real culprit is self-consciousness. Notes or a PowerPoint deck are familiar objects in a sea of strangers—in fact, they can seem to be life preservers. But your opening is when you connect with the audience and establish rapport. Look at them 100% of the time.

Ready for the next level? Download my Free essential resource, "How to Start a Speech 12 Foolproof Ways to Grab Your Audience." Launch your talks powerfully every time!

2. Adopting a Weak or Unbalanced Stance

It's been a rule ever since orators starting strutting their stuff on stage: "How you stand affects your standing with an audience." In other words, posture is related to how well you command the stage, by showing you know the 12 ways to achieve presence and charisma as a speaker

The reason is that you're showing audiences much more than whether you can withstand a stiff breeze (which you probably wouldn't be able to do if you're standing with one leg crossed over the other). When you stand before a group, you're showing the world who you are, and let's face it, what you "stand" for. Before you utter a sound, audience members are making judgments about you. Sure, you can correct a bad first impression with a bang-up speech. But why not start the process early and deal yourself the strongest hand?

Discover ALL of the techniques for speaking dynamically in business! Visit my Business Speaker's Library. You'll also find it here on Amazon. Or click on the image below.

Speech expert Dr. Gary Genard's Business Speaker's Library

3. Closed Gestures: The Sign of an Insecure Public Speaker

Self-consciousness often causes us to "close" our gestures when presenting. After all, what ranks with speaking in public to make us feel exposed and vulnerable? So we have to protect ourselves, right? 

Just the opposite is true, of course. We need to open up and reach listeners, emotionally as well as intellectually. But feelings of unease and vulnerability make us begin to close shop. What those crossed arms and hands-held-together gestures are really doing, though, is alerting the audience that you're creating a barrier between you and them, and hiding behind it.

Learn more about mistakes like this one! Download my Free eGuide, Negative Body Language: The 7 Deadly Sins of Nonverbal CommunicationDon't be caught off guard!

4. Poor Use of Space (You Need to Command the Room!)

Leaders command the stage that is due them when they speak. They use the space that's rightfully theirs—whether it's a conference room, hotel ballroom, or convention stage. 

Shy or reluctant speakers, on the other hand, don't move purposefully. They may even try to diminish their presence, by folding in on themselves to occupy a smaller space. To have a physical impact, fill your space. How? Use most or all of it; approach your audience if you can; move toward your PowerPoint screen; and free yourself from the lectern where that's possible. 

5. The Tiger-in-the-Cage Syndrome

Finally, learn a lesson from the world of bad motivational speaking. If you're speaking passionately about something that concerns listeners, what you say will be exciting. You don't need to try desperately to generate excitement where none exists.

You've seen these performances, where the guru strides (or runs) back and forth across the stage, gesticulating wildly, shouting "Give it up!" or "Are you READY!" Personally, I always feel exhausted by these performances, even though I haven't moved an inch.

Excellent speakers stay grounded in reality, including on stage. It's true that you need a physical expression of what you're saying. (Learn more in my Free White Paper, The Body Language Rules: 12 Ways To Be A More Powerful Speaker.) But that starts with a secure stance and appropriate gestures, rather than pacing like a tiger in a cage. If you trust the honesty of your message and your efforts to "reach out" to your audience, your listeners will see it that way too.

Two final points. Remember that facial expressions are vital to being understood. It's a form of body language that often gets forgotten. In the virtual age, however, it's more important than ever, for the obvious reason that your face fills the screen. Speaking of virtual meetings, don't think that gestures don't matter. Provided you're not right on top of the webcam (you should be about 24 inches away), your upper body is still there for all to see. Gestures help you amplify, strengthen, or illustrate what you're saying, just as always. Use them in virtual settings!

This blog was previously published. It is updated here. 

You should follow me on Twitter here. 

Gary Year-End image

Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching  and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speakingwas named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership PresenceContact Gary here. 

Main photo credit: Francisco De Legarreta C. on

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