As you rehearse and become better at delivering the content of your presentation, your visual communication becomes extremely important.
There are several elements to visual communication. Nothing will be perfect in your first presentation, but over time each element naturally improves.
The elements of visual communication I believe you should consider (in order of importance) are:
- Eye contact
- Body position
Making eye contact with your audience can be difficult at first because you are feeling so self-conscious. The trick with eye contact is to remember you want to have a conversational tone. Make your eye contact as natural as possible by imagining you are having a conversation with the people in front of you.
We should also consider why eye contact is so important.
Importantly, it builds a relationship between you and your audience. To re-use the example of your spouse trying to talk to you while you read; You’ve got your head stuck in a newspaper or magazine and your spouse is trying to ask you question or tell you about something. Given you’re reading, and not really listening, you’re not making eye contact. Because you’re not making eye contact there really isn’t much of a relationship or connection between the two of you at that particular moment.
Eye contact assists you to know when the audience is following along or if you have lost them. Imagine you’re not making much eye contact and half your audience doesn’t understand what’s going on. The fact you’re not making eye contact means you miss the visual cues you’d usually receive when people are struggling to understand something. Result? You disengage some or all of your audience.
Making eye contact is just a matter of glancing at members of the audience. You don’t want to look at any one person for too long for the same reason that fixed eye contact during a one-on-one discussion is uncomfortable.
Take care not to spend all your time looking over the audience at the wall behind them. This is perhaps worse than occasionally glancing down because it makes it clear to the audience that you want to avoid eye contact.
The rule for gestures is “be natural”.
Too often, texts on presentation skills tell the would-be presenter to match their gestures to what they are saying. This results in presenters practicing what gestures to do during their presentation. Can you imagine how un-natural this looks?
With gestures, don’t fake it. Refer to the conversational rule discussed earlier. Imagine you’re talking to a friend in the shopping mall or in some other social setting. As you talk to them and describe things you gesture with your arms to help explain and emphasize what you’re saying. Your gestures should be like this during your presentation.
Of course, if you say the number “three” it’s okay to hold up three fingers, or to count on your hand. However, it’s not okay to force yourself to hold up three fingers. If you are forcing yourself your audience will be able to tell. If your audience feels you are forcing yourself then it makes you look nervous and potentially your audience loses confidence in you.
When you think about body position, consider your posture, how relaxed you are, and how open you are.
Let’s start with posture. All through school your parents and teachers probably repeatedly told you how important good posture is. And it is important. Good posture is important to project confidence. Imagine a presenter with a body position that was a little bent over and hunched at the shoulders… no confidence there.
When we think about posture, it’s also important not to have a rigid body position. No matter how good your posture is, if your body seems fixed or rigid it will make you look nervous. It is good to have a confident posture but to also treat your body like jelly, ie. relaxed.
This brings us to being relaxed. The more fixed or straight up and down your body is the less confident you’ll look. Loosen up as much as possible before you take the stage.
Finally, try to be as open as possible. Having an open body position, avoiding crossing your arms in front of you or behind you, projects confidence. This single act alone when you first take the stage relaxes your audience because they instantly feel you are comfortable talking to them and have confidence.
Movement relates to how you move around the stage or the front of the room.
During your presentation standing in one position is okay, but it can make you look nervous. It can make you look nervous because prior to your presentation you’ve probably built up some nervous energy. Now that you’re in front of everyone you release it through movement. If you’re standing in one position it comes out as hand rubbing, rocking back and forward or your heels, or stepping from side to side.
Adding movement into your presentation style does two things: It makes you look like a professional presenter (for example, Steve Jobs never stood in one position while he was presenting), it also allows you to work off nervous energy without the audience realizing.