When you are presenting it’s easy to just let your body move without thinking too much about it. After all, you’re trying to remember what to say, look into your audience’s eyes and interact with visual aids too.
It’s important to understand that your body movement sends messages to your audience that may help, and also hinder them listening to you and then getting the point. And it’s worth thinking about this, because the wrong movements can turn people off!
There are a number of gestures that were first noted by the family therapist Virginia Satir. These gestures or postures can create certain reactions or responses in your audience.
Characterised by a pointed finger, stabbing finger and often a forward body posture. This gesture can be seen as aggressive so it’s wise to use it sparingly. As a general rule, I recommend you open your palm to ‘soften’ the impact if you choose to use this gesture.
This is a symmetrical, open posture with arms outstretched and palms up-turned. I recommend you use this gesture when you want the audience to feel you are open to their point of view. For example: ‘What questions do you have?’
Characterised by one hand on the chin with the other arm folded across the chest holding the elbow. This is recommend when you want to either send a message you are thinking, or when you want your audience to think about something.
This is an asymmetrical posture, often ‘off balance’ and can be characterised by frenetic energy or lots of moving around. Overused this posture is as the name suggests, distracting. Used well, this posture can be entertaining and energising for the audience.
Another symmetrical posture. The Leveller is characterised by arms outstretched and palms open and facing downward. It often goes with an outward movement of both hands from the front of the body out to the sides of the body. It’s a gesture you should use when you are either making an important point or when you are saying something that is not for negotiation. For example you would say: ‘That’s how it must be’, with this sort of gesture.
Think about whether these postures should be used or eliminated when you next rehearse your important presentation. Remember, when you gesture formally you should consider three things:
- Practice in front of the mirror to refine the gesture
- Ensure there is lots of ‘air under your armpits’ when you do it!
- The gesture should reinforce your point. So take a minute to work out the best thing to do with your hands for each part of your message.