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Body Language Mistakes: Gestures, Movement, Posture & Facial Expressions
by Gilda Bonanno

Non-verbal communication, or body language, is an important part of public speaking.  Your body language includes your posture, movement, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and voice.  At the very least, your body language should not distract the audience and with a little practice, it can help you convey confidence and help the audience see your message more clearly.

Here are the most common gesture, movement, posture and facial

expression mistakes:  

GESTURE MISTAKES

  • Not using gestures at all.  If you keep your hands locked at your sides, you will look nervous and your presentation will lack the visual element to accompany and enhance your words.

  • Keeping your hand in your pockets.  This position leads down the slippery slope to slouching and a sloppier posture.  And you also may unconsciously start playing with the keys or change in your pocket (yes, I've seen – and heard – it happen!).

  • Fidgeting with your hands.  Be aware of what your hands are doing, such as "washing" each other, grasping each other tightly, fiddling with your watch or jewelry, etc.  One of my public speaking coaching clients rolled and unrolled his shirt sleeves while he presented (we solved that problem by having him wear short sleeves).  If you must hold something, such as your notes or the PowerPoint remote, be conscious of how you are holding it.  Too often the item becomes something for you to play with unconsciously, or in the cause of notes, a crutch that prevents you from looking at the audience. 

  • Holding your hands behind your back.  This gesture usually resembles that of a child reciting a poem at a school assembly. When not gesturing, your hands should be in the "neutral position," hanging loosely at your sides. 

  • Pointing at the audience.  Yes, your mother was right – it's not polite to point.  Try an open-handed gesture instead.

  • Folding your arms across your chest. Even if you are only doing this because you feel cold, this gesture will most likely be interpreted as your closing yourself off from the audience.

  • Gripping the podium. This gesture is usually accompanied by the "deer in the headlights" look.  If you're using a podium, place your hands lightly on the top of it or in a relaxed hold on the edges.

  • Using stilted gestures.  Your gestures should be natural and flow smoothly rather than looking forced or robotic.  

  • Using overly rehearsed gestures.  I once saw a speaker fall to his knees during his speech, which was unnecessary and struck the audience as melodramatic and insincere.

MOVEMENT MISTAKES

  • Moving without purpose.  Most of the time you should stand confidently in one place rather than pacing back and forth or walking aimlessly.  If you do need to move, it should have a purpose.  For example, walk confidently to the front of the room before you begin speaking and walk with purpose to the flipchart or to the computer.

  • Shifting from your weight from one foot to the other.  Many people do this unconsciously and sometimes because their feet hurt (hint: wear comfortable shoes!).  Instead, stand with your feet firmly planted on the floor, with your weight equally distributed on both feet.  

  • Hiding behind a desk, podium or flipchart.  If the room configuration is set up so you are partially obscured behind something, then you have to rely more heavily on your voice and facial expressions to convey meaning.  If you are nervous and feel exposed when there's nothing between you and the audience, practice, practice, practice – in front of the mirror, on video, in front of a friendly group of colleagues.  If you must stand behind something, do so with assurance and not as if you are shrinking from the audience.

POSTURE MISTAKES

  • Standing too stiffly.  Yes, you should stand up straight but it should be natural, not like you are frozen at attention.  Keep your shoulders back and hold your head up so you can make eye contact.  This posture conveys confidence and helps you breathe more fully.

  • Slouching and keeping your head down.  Not only does it prevent you from looking at the audience, but it also conveys nervousness and makes it harder for the audience to hear you.

FACIAL EXPRESSION MISTAKES

  • Not smiling, ever. Unless you are delivering horrible news, it is appropriate for you to smile, even in a business setting.  Smiling will relax you and, in turn, relax the audience. 

  • Smiling too much, especially when delivering bad news.  You may be smiling or even giggling because you are very nervous, but it undermines the seriousness of your message and your sincerity.  If you smile broadly or giggle while announcing mass layoffs, for example, your audience will interpret it as a sign of your lack of concern.

If you eliminate these body language mistakes from your presentation, you'll come across as more confident and sincere and you'll be able to communicate more effectively.Your body language will reinforce your message to the audience rather than distract from it.

 

Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.

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