Try these tips to command the stage next time you speak publicly

Your demeanor, before and during your talk, is every bit as important as the content of your presentation. Here’s food for thought.

As much as you might prep and plan, speaking in front of a group of people can be daunting.

You not only have to captivate your audience’s attention, but you must also come off powerful, polished and precise. Here are proven methods to get your executive swagger on the next time you have to enter and hold a room:

The grand entrance

Entering a room for the first time is crucial to setting the tone for how your audience will perceive you and then listen (or not listen) to you. Before entering, run a mental checklist:

1. Be bold. Many people walk into a room timidly, not wanting to appear presumptuous or self-important. No one likes arrogance, but an air of confidence reassures people that their time won’t be wasted. Walk in with pep in your step. You’re supposed to be there; act like it.

2. Hold your breath. Expand your lungs, and hold for a bit; then exhale upon saying hello or introducing yourself. This is an old stage trick that many use but few discuss. Upon exhaling, you draw blood to your face, giving a lively, confident appearance.

3. Don’t slouch. Show confidence by walking in with your back straight and your chin up. Try not to stick your chest out too much, or it will look like you’re posturing. Maintain your natural, correct posture, and you’ll add inches to your height and elevate your presence.

4. Do your homework. Do reconnaissance on the room in which you’ll be speaking. Familiarity puts our mind at ease. If you can’t check out your surroundings beforehand, try this: One expert says moving a few things around on a table or desk upon entering the room will tell your brain you have control over your surroundings.

The big show

You’ve made it to the stage or meeting room without any miscues. Now it’s time to dial up your presentation skills to engage your audience. Before you open your mouth, run a mental checklist:

1. Make eye contact. This is vital to creating a connection with people. Be engaging, but not overbearing. Don’t stare at anyone; you’ll just creep them out. Look into their eyes, occasionally glancing slightly to the sides. Divide your audience into sections, establishing eye contact with people in one area for a few seconds and then moving on to the next. Moderation is the key: Never breaking eye contact can be just as awkward as not making it at all.

2. Check your tone. Proper inflection is a must. Also, vary your pace to keep your audience engaged. Here is a great tip I saw online:

Practice using rhythmic builds. This is when you repeat the same words, in the same place, in three different sentences. For instance: “We have to strive for excellence in execution. We have to strive for excellence in service. We have to strive for excellence in profitability.”

Done correctly, your sound patterns will rise in intensity, making your presentation resonate while conveying your passion and power.

3. Mind your gestures. Gestures should relate to the message and not distract the audience. Be aware of your hands at all times; most people focus on them from the beginning. Keep your gestures within the physical width of your body; you’re creating a visual image of your concept, not hailing a taxi.

Similarly, wandering about will cause you to lose your audience, so generally stay within a 3-foot radius. Your body language is crucial to establishing a strong executive presence.

4. Avoid verbal tics. These include filler words, phrases and syllables, such as “um,” “like” and “you know,” as well as “up talk” at the end of a sentence, making your statements sound more like questions. Other phrases to avoid are “at the end of the day,” “to be honest,” “in my opinion” and “with all due respect.” Other tips to remember:

  • Keep your ideas short, simple and clear. Less is more.
  • When others have the floor, be present by actively listening and staying off your mobile devices. People are watching the behavior you are modeling.
  • When asking questions, keep them short, on topic and oriented toward “what” and “how,” rather than “why,” and toward the future or present, rather than the past.

5. Be confident not arrogant. When you seem arrogant, you’re probably overcompensating for some insecurity; others might read it as overbearing. To engage your audience, focus on them. People want to feel loved, appreciated, important. We’re drawn to those who show an interest in us. People are like mirrors. When we shine a light on a person, they reflect that light on us. If we shine a light on every person in the room, we end up being the brightest one there.

Joshua Miller is an executive and personal coach. A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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