The Eyes Have It, And They’re All On You…and Your Gestures
The most important visual is you. Let’s start with one simple truth: The most important visual in a presentation is not that dazzling animation or PowerPoint slide overflowing with data. The most important visual is you. And when presenting, a large part of the “visual you” is conveyed in your body language. Study after study confirms that gesture, movement, and facial expression contribute significantly to helping your listeners grasp what you say.
One study, done several years ago at the University of Chicago, examined “the spontaneous, ephemeral, made-up-on-the fly” gesturing we do every day. It concluded that at least half of language is imagery and that body language gives form to that imagery more than spoken words.
The tricky thing about body language is that you are usually unaware of the messages you’re conveying nonverbally. When presenters see themselves on videotape, they’re often surprised to see that their body language conveyed an entirely different message from the one they had intended. For example, some people actually shake their heads “no” when they say “yes.”
Effective body language supports the message and projects a strong image of the presenter. Audiences respond best to presenters whose bodies are alive and energetic. Audiences appreciate movement when it is meaningful and supportive of the message. The most effective movements are ones that reflect the presenter’s personal investment in the message.
Anyone can utter a series of words; it is the presenter’s personal connection to those words that can bring them to life for the audience. Presenters who care deeply about their material tend to use their entire bodies to support the message. Their gestures are large enough to embrace the room full of people. They stand tall and lean into the audience right from their feet, as if trying to shorten the distance between their message and the ears of the audience. Their faces express their passion while their eyes connect with the audience, focusing on one person at a time.