by Theodore May

Does your audience trust you and your body language?

Apr 24, 2018
CareersIT Skills

How does your body language during a presentation change the perception of your audience?

Credit: Thinkstock

In an earlier post, I addressed the role of body language in business presentations: Do you speak body language?

Concerns over body language are one of the top concerns of nervous presenters. Many presenters are afraid of losing control over their presentations and that begins with a feeling they have lost control over their own bodies. They are afraid they will tremble, wave their arms, or pace nervously about. 

As previously noted, general presence, position, orientation, quiet hands and arms and moving through space are the basics. But a presenter’s detailed use of body language has a direct effect on how they are perceived by the audience.

It’s interesting to observe that many of the physical communication habits described, in a helpful infographic on body language from Daisy Hartwell, as being indicative of dissembling or evasiveness, are the very same behaviors that often manifest themselves in nervous presenters: Body Language – From Common Signs to Spotting Lies.

So, an audience may perceive the presenter as being dishonest when in fact, they may simply be nervous or unaware of good body language usage.


It’s a natural impulse of the fearful to try and avoid movement entirely; keeping all their nervous energy bottled up inside. This is not helped by the fact that we are increasingly encouraged to step back and rely on technology to engage our audiences. We add video, audio and a variety of slide animation techniques that give our presentation decks a life of their own.

We may opt for an online presentation, synchronous or asynchronous, and avoid appearing at all. Presenters are effectively being encouraged to outsource their presentations in this way to technology.

But absence of body language is not the answer.

A presenter has to move in order to be perceived.

  • The human eye is attracted to motion. When there is no change, the eye will become distracted by something else. Moving captures the attention and holds the focus of the audience. When you have a something important to say, give it physical emphasis.
  • It is universally accepted that it’s never good to be a static “talking head.” Presence is full bodied. And even on television there is rarely more that a few seconds without some change in pixels. Television used to be characterized as sound and motion.
  • Physical engagement is action-oriented. As managers we are called to do something, and it’s important to communicate that the audience should do-as-I-do and not simply listen to what I say. As a presenter you are generating energy and attempting to incite a physical response from your audience.
  • Many presenter’s want to hide behind a podium or pick a spot in front of the audience and hold that position. They are only too eager to accept or create a box for themselves. But movement — strong choices — demonstrates that you are capable of living outside the box. Go where you need to go, do what you need to do to engage the audience and keep them engaged. Don’t just think outside the box, act outside the box.
  • Moving outside the box, makes you appear powerful. The audience can’t do this. They are stuck in their seats. Only you as presenter can do this. If you move with purpose, confidence, and economy, the audience will follow you with their eyes, ears, hearts and minds. They will cheer you on.

Demonstrating competence

If nervous energy fails to find release, it recycles and builds up inside. It’ll begin to leak out in nervous ticks that can undermine your confidence and make you appear less trustworthy. A presenter needs to move in order to transform nervous energy into positive energy and radiate that energy into the audience. 

If you are stuck in one place, it’s easy to fall prey to moments of acute self-consciousness. Why am I here? What am I doing? Evidently you are not doing enough. Move! Take ownership of the space you occupy.

This is how we demonstrate managerial competence. Physically demonstrate competence. That is something an audience will put their trust in.