Body language carries a lot of meaning. We create meanings out of first impressions, and as a trainer it may be the first time a group has seen you ‘perform’. Within seconds snap decisions are made as to whether you are liked, trusted or credible. Initially, the group is more likely to believe what they see rather than what they hear, which is why special attention must be paid to body language.
In James Borg’s seminal book “Body Language: How to know what’s really being said” (2011, Pearson) he suggests others will pay attention to two key areas:
- Out apparent comfort or discomfort
- Whether we are exhibiting open or closed body language
Try to avoid closed body language; this is a collection of gestures, movements and postures that bring the body in on itself. Examples for trainers are:
- Poor eye contact
- Looking down a lot
- Crossing arms
- Not being square with the audience
- Hands in pockets
- Hands running through hair
- Looking very serious.
If the audience begins to recognise and notice some or all of the above, they will start to make meaning from the cluster of information they are seeing- this will instantly reduce your credibility. Very quickly, the audience may stop listening, switch off or worse, feel sorry for you.
If you are comfortable, you will be displaying open body language:
- Hands usually in view
- Relaxed posture
- Feet shoulder width apart
- Gestures naturally supporting your words
- Having a smile playing on your face
- Soft eye contact with the group- don’t stare at someone for more than a couple of seconds and move to peripheral vision to take in what is happening within the whole group.
Avoid looking at:
- Visual aids
- The floor
- The ceiling
- Your notes
- The most senior person present
- The friendliest person present
- Or even out of the window.
We recommend starting off with hands either by your side or softly placed upon your stomach; this is known as the resting position and should be adopted for the first 30 seconds or so of your introduction. This position will soon focus the audience on what you are saying; most TV presenters adopt a similar position if they are not holding a script. Avoid holding your notes- this will reduce credibility amongst the group.
Some people naturally use many gestures and others do not. Make sure gestures support what you are saying; make them slightly exaggerated. For example, if you are talking about the global impact of the economic downturn then use your hands in a large arc to indicate the world.
If you want to increase credibility, then use palms down. Studies of audience reaction show that when the palm is turned to face downwards, you will immediately project authority. However, be careful with the pointing finger as this creates negative feelings in most listeners.
Finally, depending upon the area, you can use the presenting space to good effect:
- Walk towards someone who asks you a question to create a sense of intimacy
- Walk to the screen to highlight a slide that is particularly relevant
- Use various parts of the presenting area to anchor responses in the audience. For example, you may talk about the past, present and future. It is a good idea to use different parts of the stage to represent these time zones.
Do you have anything to add to this? We would love to hear your views.