4 body language tips for speakers

Standing at the lectern, you are well aware of your body language. When you’re not the focus, though, audience eyes are still on you, so take care with your demeanor and facial expressions.

If you watched the Super Bowl, you may have noticed Eli Manning’s marked lack of enthusiasm when his brother Peyton’s team, the Denver Broncos, scored a fourth-quarter touchdown and clinched the victory.

Manning’s gaffe should remind professionals that even when you are not speaking, audience members may be watching, so you should be aware of your facial expressions and overall demeanor.

Here are four specific situations speakers should be consider:

1. When you are being introduced

You are standing off to the side as your presentation is being introduced. Even though you are not at the lectern and speaking yet, audience members will be looking at you.

The moments just before you go on stage to speak can be nerve-racking, and this anxiety can come across in your facial expressions. Make sure you don’t project nervousness; instead, convey confidence by smiling and looking at the speaker or out at the audience as you are being introduced.

2. When you are being asked a question

Speakers often look defensive or stern when they are put on the spot in a Q&A session, job interview or interview with a reporter.

To avoid these expressions when you are searching for a good response, practice pausing, taking a sip of water, smiling, and thanking the person for the question. This will buy a few seconds to formulate your response and to come across as cool and collected when you are speaking off the cuff.

3. When you are on a panel and someone else is speaking

Vice President Al Gore famously rolled his eyes and sighed when his Republican opponent, George W. Bush, was speaking during their first presidential debate in 2000. (Gore’s behaviors were later spoofed on “Saturday Night Live.”)

Though few speakers will ever participate in a televised debate, many find themselves on panels with experts who hold contrary views. As Gore learned, looking annoyed or disdainful about someone’s contentions can make you appear unprofessional and immature.

In such cases, maintain a neutral facial expression while you listen courteously; try taking notes on what the other person is saying—and writing down your counterpoints.

4. When you are the subject of a toast or receiving an award

Being the center of attention can be awkward and uncomfortable for many people. Avoid looking at your feet out of embarrassment or glancing at the ceiling impatiently, so you don’t come across as rude or ungrateful for the accolades you are receiving.

When someone is toasting or honoring you, look at the speaker and out into the audience with a smile that conveys appreciation and humility.

Christine Clapp, president of Spoken with Authority, trains professionals to achieve a personal best every time they present. She is the author of “Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts.”


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