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Public speaking TIPS – Body Language

Your Posture. Don’t slouch. Stand tall, stand proud (sounds like an anthem or something.) Good posture projects confidence. Slouching makes you look unsure of yourself and by extension the material you’re presenting. You shouldn’t cross your ankles, cross your arms, lean forward on one arm, or hang on to the podium for dear life.

Stop touching your hair…it’s gross. Usually only women do this. Again, it looks unprofessional and it’s annoying. I once counted how many times a female speaker touched her hair during her speech and after 27 times I stopped counting. I had also stopped listening to her speech. I just didn’t take her seriously anymore.

Don’t clench your fists.  It makes you look nervous, and then the audience gets nervous, because they’re wondering what the heck is wrong with you. Are you pissed off? Are you about to punch the podium? It also makes you looked STRESSED OUT. All of which is not conducive to a naturally relaxed atmosphere. Also don’t clench the podium tightly. What are you holding on for? It’s not going anywhere.

Stop rattling the change in your pocket. Men do this all the time, and it’s noisy and distracting. Also, why do you have all that change in your pocket? Who carries change anymore?

Do not sniffle! If you have a stuffed up nose or sinus issues, use a tissue, but do NOT sniffle. Super annoying and makes you look unkempt. Blow your nose before you speak, have a box of Kleenex beside you and after your talk use some hand sanitizer. You’ll usually have questions after your talk or people wanting to meet you afterwards, and if they’ve seen you touch your nose, all they’re thinking about is the germs on your hands now.

Don’t play with pens/papers. If you can’t handle having a pen beside you while you speak because you’ll play with it and move it around making noises, then don’t have a pen there. Simple. Also, do not rattle your papers. And don’t tap your fingers on the podium. The audience can hear that. IT makes it seem as if you’re rushed and need to go right away. Like, did you double-book yourself or something?

Make eye contact.  Who are you speaking to?? I’ve listened to speakers who’ve never made eye contact with anyone in the room, it’s the most bizarre feeling, and everyone notices it. They’ll speak to the side of the wall, the back door, the clock, their notes, the room, the teleprompter, the projection screen, but never anyone in the room. One quick trick I’ve used over the years is to make a mental box in my mind and then I start speaking in a zigzag manner. I’ll speak to the back left row first, then jump to the back right row, then move to the middle left, than top right and so on and so on. You can also think about drawing an “X” in your mind and speaking to each quadrant (left, top, right, bottom).

Do not, under any circumstances apologize. Hey Ladies! Do you hear me? Do NOT apologize. Don’t apologize for the projection screen breaking down, don’t apologize if you’ve lost your place in your notes, or your notes are out of order (Psst, don’t have your notes out-of-order). Don’t apologize if you’re nervous, and for the love of GOD (I’m actually an atheist, but I’d like to think she watches out for nervous speakers) do not say “Oh, I’m so nervous speaking in public,” OR “I’m not the best speaker, so bear with me.” OR “I hope you’ll be a good audience, because this is my first speech ever.”  Ahhhhhhhhhh. Why would you say those things? Have you ever in your life heard a man say that? When in doubt, state the facts, take emotions out of it, and never, ever apologize.

Turning your back to the audience. Oh. My. Goodness. Have you ever listened to a speaker who reads the PowerPoint with their back to the audience? This happens all the time and it’s horrible. I’ve asked speakers to move from the front of the projection screen because I can’t see the slide and I’ve also had to ask speakers to TURN AROUND because there’s an audible drop in volume when you’ve got your back turned to the audience. Remember, you’re speaking to the audience, not the wall. Speak directly to them, engage them, and keep their attention, that’s your job.

Hand Gestures! –Are you signaling the planes to land? Are you an air-traffic controller? If not, what the heck are you doing with your arms? Now, hand gestures when used appropriately can really add a dynamic moment to your speech, but when taken to the extreme they can make you look scattered. Don’t do any severe chopping gestures, save that for Iron Chef contestants. Don’t swing your hands widely from left to right, and don’t continuously do the same gesture.

Noisy Jewelry. I love jewelry! Wow, do I love a good statement necklace or chunky watch or sparkly bracelets. But if your audience can HEAR your jewelry then you’ve got a problem. I figured this out during an exam for my students. I thought I had a terrific outfit on, and then… I was answering their exam questions I quickly realized my bracelets were banging together and disturbing the room. Jewelry is meant to be seen, not heard.

Smile! Please. You need to smile, especially right at the beginning. Don’t ever start a speech without looking directly at the audience and smiling. It just sets up the right tone. Now, you may not want to do this if you’re conducting a eulogy, but for anything non-death related, smile. It’s the 1st impression the audience has of you.

Stop fidgeting.  Don’t fidget with your clothes, hair, jewelry, your papers, your glasses, your water bottle, your microphone, etc. I once listened to a female presenter who wore a scarf and she adjusted and re-adjusted her scarf so many times, I started wondering where she got that scarf from, because I liked it. Then I started thinking about shopping, making a list of errands I needed to run after work, and guess what? I completely stopped listening to the speaker because I didn’t take her seriously anymore. Fidgeting can distract your audience and once you’ve lost an audience it’s difficult to get them back.