When Words Come To Life

present with people Jan 16, 2023




Have you ever watched a recording of yourself giving a presentation? Did you notice your body language? If so, what did you learn?

A friend of mine regularly speaks in front of people. He became aware that he has a tendency to mess with his hair and realized it was a  distraction for his audience. He found a solution that worked for him: he started wearing a hat. He works in a casual context where wearing a hat is completely acceptable, and he wore it in a way  that did not block his face or cast shadows on his face. And that solved the problem.

Have you ever watched a speaker pace back and forth on the stage and were so focused on their movement that you had no idea what they said? Or perhaps the speaker was fumbling through their notes, dropped something, or knocked over the water bottle on their podium because they were waving their hands so much. It’s painful to watch, and more significantly, it’s distracting.

Mannerisms like rolling up your sleeves or adjusting your glasses can detract from the message you are communicating to your audience. Many of these mannerisms are done subconsciously and speakers may have no idea how often they are doing them.

That’s why it is so important to watch yourself present. Record yourself on video so that you can identify mannerisms that may be distracting your audience.  I once watched a presentation where the speaker was constantly hiking up their pants. A simple solution is to buy a belt. Once you are aware, you can make changes and improve your presentation.

Your body language can be a distraction. On the flip side, it can have the power to make your message leave a lasting impact on your audience.

Rosemary Ravinal, Founder of RMR Communications Consulting, says “Body language research found that gestures increase the value of our spoken messages by more than 65%, and that audiences are more easily persuaded by what they see rather than what they hear.”

Just as hand motions to songs like the Itsy Bitsy Spider or The Wheels On The Bus help children remember the song, hand gestures and body language can help adult audiences remember your presentation.

Let’s take a look at how we can use body language to enhance your presentation.




When speaking with – rather than at –  our audience, eye contact is crucial. Know your content so you don’t stare at your notes or visual aids. Rather than looking across the audience by making sweeping motions, stop and make eye contact. Push through the discomfort of locking eyes with individuals in the audience. Toastmasters recommends holding eye contact throughout the duration of the entire thought you are communicating before moving on to the next person.

If you are presenting over a video call, look at the camera or position videos of your audience on your screen near your camera. This will make it appear like you are looking at the others on the call.

Your eyes and facial expressions should reflect what you are communicating. Use sincere facial expressions. If your words and gestures communicate that you are excited, but your face and eyes communicate that you’re bored, then there is a disconnect.

Sometimes, we have to give a presentation, but we aren’t feeling it. We may have content that we’re excited about but we’re having a bad day. That happens. But that doesn’t mean you should look like you’re having a bad day.

Professor of Psychology Dr. Rob Currie uses the phrase “Act the way you want to feel.” He explains that we often believe we act a certain way because of how we feel, but that the opposite is true. Our feelings actually follow our actions.

Philosopher William James, known as the Father of American psychology, described this concept: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

You may have heard the phrase “Fake it until you make it.” To clarify, this doesn’t mean you should be fake and disingenuous. Rather, choose to take a step beyond your momentary feelings to the heart of your content, and make sure your facial expressions match your message.




Just as facial expressions should be genuine and match your words, so should your hand gestures.

Presentation Coach Diane Windingland writes about two main types of gesturing: beat gestures and iconic gestures.

“Beat gestures” are simple movements with no particular meaning that move with the rhythm of the speech or presentation. This is the type of hand motion we tend to use naturally while talking with someone, such as while we are on the phone and use hand motions even though the person we are talking to can’t see us. These spontaneous beat gestures actually help your subconscious to remember what you planned to say next.

“Iconic gestures” are meaningful hand movements that distinctly communicate a message, like a wave or thumbs up. It can be helpful to use your hands to illustrate your words, especially the verbs. When stating numbers, use your fingers. Find ways to use your hand gestures to make your talk visual.

Certain hand gestures demonstrate a sense of knowledge and authority. One example is holding your hands in front of you as if holding a ball. This round hand motion looks as if you hold the world in your hands and shows confidence and knowledge on the subject being discussed. Making a triangle or pyramid with your hands also communicates authority on your subject. These hand gestures signal to the subconscious of the audience that you are knowledgeable and can be trusted.

Another way to gain your audience’s trust is to avoid putting your hands in your pockets. Keeping your hands in view provides a sense of safety for your audience because the primitive part of the brain subconsciously raises a flag of caution when we cannot see a person’s hands. This is why one of the first things a police officer asks is for a person to show their hands; they want to make sure the person isn’t holding anything dangerous. Though a speaker likely won’t have anything harmful in their pockets, the audience members’ subconscious may still raise those flags of caution.

Keeping your hands open and palms facing out toward the audience is a welcoming posture that will help the audience feel comfortable and more open to listening to your presentation. This posture builds trust between the presenter and the audience. This is especially important if you are presenting over a video call.

When you are not using your hands for beat or iconic gestures, simply leave them at your side. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you practice, this stance will become more natural.




Keep your body opened and facing toward your audience. You may gesture to a visual aid, but never turn your back on your audience. Don’t cross your arms – this is a protective or defensive posture which will likely be off-putting to your audience.

Pay attention to your posture. Stand up tall. Be confident. Slouching makes presenters look unprofessional, apathetic, and incompetent.

Even if you are presenting over a video call, or a phone call where your audience cannot see you, standing up will likely help you present with more confidence. Just be aware of where your microphone is.

If you have a podium, some communication coaches recommend never touching it. If you start touching the podium, you might soon find yourself leaning on it, adding unnecessary movement and distraction. It also increases the chances of knocking over the podium or items that are on the podium.

Don’t stay tied to the podium. Utilize the stage. Move towards the audience when you ask questions or share something personal. When changing topics, or if you are contrasting two points or views, step to the right for one point or side of the argument and step to the left for the other.

Watching yourself give a presentation is an excellent way to learn if you show any nervous tendencies like shifting weight back and forth. Any movement you do during a presentation should be intentional. Pacing and other random movement makes you look unsettled and can become a distraction. Move with purpose.

Use your movement, hand gestures, and facial expressions to bring your words to life. Dynamic body language will make your presentation memorable.


By Caitlyn Neel - Content Director