Have you ever sat in the audience and felt uncomfortable as you watch the speaker? Chances are, it is not the content that the speaker is sharing; it is their body language – their posture and how they are moving.
When a speaker is moving or standing in a way that looks awkward, that is a sign of nervous body language.
If you are feeling nervous, your body may stiffen, making you appear glued to the spot with a frozen ‘deer in the headlights’ appearance.
What you can do instead: Record yourself and watch out for the parts of your presentation where you look frozen: is it at the beginning of your presentation as nerves are high?
Remember to breathe and smile. Stand tall and allow your shoulders to move away from your ears. Plan, prepare and practise so that you feel comfortable with the words and delivery.
When you lack confidence, or you are not committed to the words that you are saying, you may take small steps backwards as you speak. Even a slight movement is enough to look as though you are retreating, and your message becomes less believable.
What you can do instead: When you watch yourself on video, pay attention to any backwards stepping. Instead of stepping backwards, when you have an important point to make, you can use forward movement to help add emphasis.
If you stand with your weight on one foot, then transfer it to the other and back again, you may look uncomfortable. While we want to avoid appearing rigid, it is equally distracting to watch a speaker who is constantly swaying.
What you can do instead: Practise positioning yourself with a stable, grounded base as your neutral position. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes so that you can stand tall and poised.
This can be not very reassuring for your audience. Any repetitive movement such as playing with jewellery; clicking the top of a pen or jangling keys can is fidgeting and irritating to others. Taking action to eliminate this bad habit will improve your delivery.
What you can do instead: Avoid having anything unnecessary on your person is a temptation to fiddle. Try to have your hands soft and relaxed by your sides and raise them to gesture when it feels natural to do so.
If you have lots of energy, you may pace from side to side. While it is a good thing to have some purposeful movement when you speak, avoid random pacing.
What to do instead: Practise remaining quite still and poised, standing tall and balanced. If you feel the need to pace, then take a few deep breaths, anchor your thoughts, and try and resist. As you start to embrace speaking and build your confidence, this trait will disappear.
A final telltale sign of nervous body language is frequently looking back to a screen. If you are not comfortable, you may look behind you as a way of avoiding all eyes on you or to read from your slide. Your screen is not going anywhere!
What you can do instead: Try your presentation without a screen. Some of the best speakers either don’t use PowerPoint or use it sparingly. Set up your equipment so you can see it without looking back. Practise making eye contact with the audience members so you will be able to engage with people.
With practice, you can eliminate these nervous body language moves so that you can speak with confidence in front of others.
Lisa Evans, director and chief storyteller, Speaking Savvy