7 expert body language tips for public speaking

If you fear public speaking, you’re not alone. Whether you’re nervous during your presentations or sharing in a group setting, we’ve got tips to help. 

Public speaking seems scary, but it’s pretty simple. It’s all about engaging your audience, and body language is key to keeping them interested. 

Direct eye contact, genuine gestures and facial expressions connect with audiences. But how can you naturally include these in your presentations?

Keep reading for seven tips to boost your confidence in public speaking and ensure success.

What is body language?

Effective body language is an invaluable tool for public speakers. Movement and gestures can express thoughts and feelings without using words. These nonverbal cues are vital in delivering a powerful presentation. 

While words are crucial to your presentation, you also want to show the audience what you’re talking about to increase engagement. 

Successful public speakers use various cues to express enthusiasm to connect with their audience, such as:

  • eye contact
  • facial expressions
  • hand gestures
  • physical movement
  • strong, upright posture

Remember to consider your audience when choosing body language. You wouldn’t use huge gestures in a one-to-one chat, much like you wouldn’t choose tiny hand movements for a big audience. Always adjust to who you’re speaking to. 

Why is body language important in public speaking?

Body language is crucial to a successful presentation. An audience will lose interest if you stand in one place, speak in a dull voice or lack expression. Once your audience gets distracted, it’s hard to win them back. 

Sometimes, standing still during a presentation can create anticipation. It’s up to you to decide when movement and stillness are appropriate.

Don’t underestimate the power of your body language in public speaking. Using the right nonverbal cues increases your chance of achieving active audience participation.

Transform your public speaking presence: 7 practical body language tips

1. Control your facial expressions

Most audience members focus on a speaker's face during a presentation. Facial expressions are vital for engaging listeners and communicating a message. 

Your facial movements can display a wide range of emotions. Without saying a word, you can express anger, happiness or surprise.

Something as simple as a genuine smile can make the audience feel more comfortable. 

The following facial expressions can enhance your presentation:

  • Raised eyebrows can express confusion, shock or surprise. Use this part of your face to show concern or react to skepticism.
  • Smile when sharing a positive message or expressing happy thoughts.
  • Frown to express anger, displeasure or concern.
  • A simple nod can emphasize agreement with the audience.
  • Active expressions keep you engaged in delivering the content to your audience. A poker face will make you appear detached. 
  • Match your facial expressions to what you’re talking about. If you’re telling a sad story, smiling creates a strange disconnect for the audience.  

2. Make direct eye contact

Eye contact can express sincerity, enthusiasm and confidence. 

Moving from person to person will keep people engaged and enhance your credibility. A good rule of thumb is to make a point, look at someone, make a point and look at someone else. 

This important body language skill is a powerful tool for:

  • Projecting confidence
  • Ensuring audience engagement
  • Making audience members feel important
  • Creating a deeper connection with an audience
  • Allowing audience members to provide feedback

Eye contact can help you deliver a message that resonates with your target audience. It provides immediate feedback, letting you know how people feel about your presentation. Just by looking at them, you can immediately tell if they’re happy, bored or interested.

Make eye contact with as many people as possible. Hold someone's attention for a few seconds before scanning the room and looking at the next person. 

Don’t maintain eye contact for too long, as it can make people uncomfortable. Skimming over the tops of people’s heads can imitate eye contact without being too intense. 

3. Move around the presentation area

Dynamic body language involves constantly moving around the presentation area. If you can see the space before presenting, check it out so you know what you’re working with. 

You can illustrate a change in subjects with natural, fluid movements. Moving to emphasize an important point can encourage people to focus on what you are saying.

Effective public speaking involves using your body to express emotions. Practicing these body language skills can improve your physical delivery:

  • Be intentional with your movements—avoid unnecessary gestures
  • If you stand still, use another movement to enhance that moment, such as hand gestures
  • Hold a relaxed, natural stance while keeping your posture strong to exude confidence

Dynamic body language skills can make you appear more interesting and trustworthy. Weaving in these options takes a lot of practice, so give yourself time to choreograph your presentation. 

4. Show empathy

Empathy can enhance body language and nurture an authentic connection with the audience. You will better understand their needs, perspectives and concerns. 

Being empathetic can help you identify any negative habits or behaviors. You can achieve a more compelling experience by adjusting your body language to reflect your true intentions.

5. Maintain good posture

Posture is crucial to effective body language in public speaking, as it can project a sense of self-confidence and authority. A slouched speaker may appear sloppy and lacking knowledge.

 Tips for maintaining good body posture include:

  • Stand upright and keep your shoulders back
  • Maintain a positive open stance with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Face the audience to exude confidence and control
  • Tilt your body toward the audience while speaking 
  • Keep your hands down unless you’re using them to make appropriate gestures

Good posture can reduce physical strain, making it easier to deliver your message. A strong appearance makes a lasting impression and can improve the outcome.

6. Practice controlled breathing

Relaxed, deep breathing ensures your voice projects while maintaining power and control. Slow, steady breaths can help your pacing, reduce stress and limit nervous habits. Intermittent tactical pausing can emphasize key points.

Enhance your body language skills by:

  • Warming up your voice: Inhale for three seconds and slowly exhale for four seconds. 
  • Filling your lungs: Stand up straight to allow your lungs to expand fully.
  • Staying centered: Take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves before presenting.
  • Keeping confidence high: Maintaining relaxed breathing can help you project a confident voice throughout your presentation.

Controlled breathing techniques can help you pause or stop as needed. You can control any filler words or adjust your pitch and tone to convey your message confidently.

7. Control hand gestures

Hand gestures are a useful type of body language that can enhance your presentation and keep the audience's attention. Vary your gestures by incorporating your arms, hands and head. 

Improve your body language in public speaking by following these tips:

  • Have a natural flow: Use natural, genuine movements that coordinate with your speech. For example, if you like to stand with one hip out sometimes and it fits the talk, do it.
  • Emphasize important points: Use hand gestures to draw attention to important points.
  • Be intentional with your hand gestures: If you are talking about waiting five minutes, stick out your hand and show all five fingers. 
  • Keep your hands visible: Always keep your hands above your waist so audience members can see gestures.

Hand gestures can emphasize your story. This vital form of nonverbal communication lets others know how you feel.

Inappropriate hand gestures can decrease your credibility and undermine your presentation. Avoid touching your face, itching a body part, fixing your hair, pushing your glasses up or making a movement that sends the wrong signal.

Consider using a wide range of gestures to get your point across, such as:

  • Descriptive gestures to communicate size, height, movement, etc.
  • Emotional gestures to express feelings. Hands clenched together can imply pleading. Hands raised can show despair.
  • Symbolic gestures to communicate position, such as a raised arm to indicate stop. You can also use them for numbers, such as two fingers lifted to represent the number two.

Why is body language important when speaking to someone in person?

When a person speaks, they use words and vocal elements such as tone, pitch and speed to communicate their message. 

Combining words with nonverbal cues makes understanding your thoughts, feelings and intentions easier. This builds rapport, expresses emotion and avoids misconceptions.

Body language in public speaking can:

  • De-escalate tension and resolve conflicts
  • Build a relationship with the audience
  • Establish trust
  • Provide insight into the speaker's feelings
  • Better interpret the intended message

Body language should always work with your voice to emphasize your message. Since some gestures can be subconscious, practicing body language skills is crucial. This can help you control your movements during any presentation.

7 common body language mistakes to avoid

When you’re presenting, avoid these movements to reduce the risk of your audience losing interest: 

  1. Pacing can be distracting and make it harder for the audience to focus.
  2. Turning your back can make you appear rude and annoy the audience.
  3. Swaying can make audience members lose confidence in your ability as a speaker.
  4. Crossed arms can make you appear hostile, unenthusiastic or in a rush to finish.
  5. Rubbing your palms together shows nervousness, creating tension with the audience.
  6. A lowered head and shoulders suggest insecurity and lack of confidence.
  7. Appearing nervous can detract from a presentation. Don’t put your hands in your pockets, fiddle with your hair, stutter or use filler words such as 'um' and 'like.'

Key takeaway

Body language is nonverbal behavior that improves communication with an audience. It can boost your presentation skills and leave a lasting impression. 

Regardless of how good your content is, you will quickly lose the audience's attention if you’re expressionless. Great body language is essential to delivering your content effectively.

Focusing on your body language can make a big difference. It can make you feel more confident and help you develop an authentic connection with the audience. 

Public speaking takes practice, and working on presenting yourself effectively will help you win over your audience.

Now that you know how to use body language to your advantage, it’s time to craft excellent presentations. Storytelling is the next step. Along with confident body language, weaving amazing stories into your presentations is a great way to engage your audience. 

Need some help getting started? Get ready to thrill your audience with the help of our Storyteller Tactics Deck.

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