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You may notice that the speaker standing in front of the room is nervous when they show visible signs of nervous body language. 

Feelings of nervousness can manifest in the way that we hold our body. There are give-away clues that people may spot, such as; wringing of hands, rubbing or excessive touching of clothes, fiddling with a pen, watch or bracelet, and the more apparent signs of closed postures and shrinking to make oneself small. 

When the speaker in front of you looks awkward and uncomfortable, how does that make you feel? The chances are that you may feel awkward and uncomfortable too. And we don’t want that. 

One of the skills of effective public speaking is the ability to make an audience feel comfortable. We want them to feel like they are ‘in good hands’. We want to look confident, credible, approachable and genuine. We may ordinarily possess those qualities, but if our words and our body language are not aligned, people may perceive us as incongruent, and our audience is likely to disconnect.

Put your best self forward every time you speak in public, by using these five power tips to help you avoid nervous body language.

Presence

Presence is about understating the importance of now. No past. No future. Only this moment, and your focus on this presentation, right now, with this audience. 

The golden rule of public speaking is – it’s not about you. The message that you have to share is the critical part; you are the messenger. 

When you are fully present in a room, you will connect and engage on a deeper level.  Effective eye contact with your audience will allow you to be present in the moment. 

It starts with developing rock-solid confidence and a firm belief in yourself. 

You can ask yourself ‘How can I give value? How can I contribute today?”. 

Remember, you are not fully present if you are reading aloud, or if you have memorised your talk as then you will focus your energy on recalling your words. 

Preparation

The work you do behind the scenes will give you the results you want on the day of your presentation.

Set aside enough time to plan, and then do the work. Spend as much time on the delivery of your talk as you do the content. Aim to be relaxed and comfortable with your material, and avoid memorising or rote learning your content as that often comes across as robotic and inauthentic. 

Prepare your mind and body for the task. Mindset is key. Visualise yourself delivering the best version of the presentation that you want to give, and making a difference to those you are there to serve. Ensure you are adequately hydrated, nourished and you have warmed up your voice.

Posture 

The Confidence Gap by Dr Russ Harris is a valuable resource. Harris talks about the Cycle of Confidence and how the Actions of Confidence come before the Feelings of Confidence.  

We can choose to act confidently with open postures, even if we don’t feel that confident on the inside. The feelings will gradually come, if you are willing to do the work. 

Think of it as being ‘in training’. When you choose to hold your body in an upright, open position and with a powerful positive stance, you are likely to feel more confident than when you shrink and make yourself small (watch Amy Cuddy’s TED.com talk)

Avoid nervous body language and train your body to choose open and strong postures such as;

  • A solid stance with your feet hip-distance apart and your feet firmly grounded.
  • Your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears and your head up and chest out – this will ensure you have full use of your diaphragm and lung capacity. 
  • Arms are resting at waist height or by your sides, bringing them up to use when you speak but not waving them around aimlessly. 

Positioning

When you are speaking in public, try to be in front of the audience rather than behind the lectern. You will be able to build rapport faster. A lectern serves as a barrier between you and those in your audience. Try to remove any unnecessary barriers wherever possible. 

If you are using slides, then avoid standing in front of them. It sounds obvious but surprisingly, I see people do this often. The ideal position for you to stand if you are using slides is to the side of the screen and the audiences’ left. 

It is an option to use the space to move intentionally as this helps anchor your talk. When you want to indicate a timeline, use the area to the left (your right) to indicate the past, the middle position for neutral statements or a step closer to the audience for a power statement. Finally, use the space to the right (your left) to indicate the future. The use of space is useful for a talk that has a chronological timeline – past-present-future. 

Proxemics 

Proxemics is the study of people’s territory and the implications of space in relationships with others, developed by Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist. 

The space between the speaker and the audience can influence the interpretation of the message.

Aim to make your talk an experience to be remembered. Get out from behind the lectern, and use the space between you and your audience to deepen the connection. An important consideration with any body movement that you do is to make it purposeful. Sometimes with excitement and nervousness, it is easy to pace, rock or fidget.  Aim for intentional positioning and to use proxemics appropriately. 

With practice, you can eliminate signs of nervous body language, and as you choose to change the way you hold your body, you may notice that you feel empowered and more confident. Public speaking and the ability to project confidence, authenticity and trust is a learned skill and a skill worth learning.


About the author

Lisa Evans helps professionals to craft compelling business stories and become exceptional speakers. Lisa is a certified speaker coach, TEDx speaker coach, four times author, NLP practitioner, graphic recorder and visual storyteller, and improvisational actor. 

She has coached thousands of leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales as well as not-for-profit and community associations. 

If you wish to take advantage of a complimentary session in order to chat about how you can become an exceptional and successful speaker with a stand-out brand, then use this link to book a time to chat.

Here’s how I may help you

My services include:

Business Storytelling Coaching – together we can get started to create your suite of stories.

Executive Speaker Coaching – if you have an upcoming guest speaking opportunity, funding pitch, conference talk or you want to be an outstanding speaker, we can work together on your technique. You will see the results after one session.

Tailored Workshops – I can come to you, or we can host a workshop offsite for your team. From half-day to two-days immersive, this customised workshop is an ideal way to kick start your business storytelling strategy and get the whole team telling stories.

Keynote/Guest Speaking either in person or via virtual means at your next conference or event.