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Presenting with confidence: Ten tips for hands free presentations

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Ten tips for hands free presentations

Ten tips for hands free presentations

by Moyra Mackie on May 17, 2013

I’ve lost count of the number of clients who come to me for presentation skills coaching who ask:

“What am I supposed to do with my hands? I feel so awkward.”

If you’re going to be a great presenter you need to stop worrying about what you do with your hands.  You’re not directing traffic or carrying out brain surgery.  You’re talking to people.

When you talk to people in the office, at home, in a bar, do you worry about your body language?  I’m guessing that for most of us, outside of a first date or important interview, the answer to that question will be “no”.

And why don’t we worry?

Because we’re engaged, we’re part of a conversation.  Great presenters view presentations as the beginning of a conversation.  Their number one focus is engaging the audience.


So how do you create a connection with the audience?

Before I dive into my top tips I’m going to assume that you have read – and followed – my tips on honing your message and preparing your visuals.

Why? Because presenters are not actors

The other day one of my clients was rehearsing his presentation  and after a great start he began to ramble and to “um and er”.  So I stopped him and asked:

“Did you put that slide together?”

No prizes for guessing that the answer was “no”.  You need to believe in the slides you are presenting otherwise you inner voice will tell you:

“that’s not my slide…it’s too complicated…I’m not sure the audience can read it…”

Most of us are not great actors. Our inner voice will always be heard.  And seen.

Ten tips:

1. Never try to memorise your presentation

Unless you’re a professional stand-up comedian or an actor in a one-person play, memorizing twenty minutes of dialogue is a skill none of us needs to master. It’s time consuming, adds pressure to an already stressful situation and is unlikely to be delivered with the appropriate amount of conversational flair.

2. Practice out loud

Especially if you have written out a speech, you need to hear the words.  You need to adjust your vocabulary from what looks good on the page to what sounds good to the ear. The more times you say it out loud, the easier it will be to speak fluently under the spotlight.

3. Arrive early and scope the room

Wherever possible test your technology, check that you can be heard at the back of the room and that your slides can be seen clearly from there too. Don’t be afraid to rearrange furniture or adjust blinds and lighting.

4. Think powerfully

Presenting is a performance sport.  You need to be your best despite the pressure.  So visualize success.

Think of the space you will be speaking in as your kingdom.  You will own that space and your job will be to invite people into that space and make them feel at home.  Just like a good host, you will be responsible for making the audience comfortable.

5. Understand that nerves are normal

Presenters are consciously nervous, audiences unconsciously anxious.  Both sides want the thing to go well.  Presenting is the art of controlling our survival instinct – the urge to fly, freeze or fight.  Aiming to not feel nervous is just adding unnecessary pressure.

6. Step into the room

You might have seen presenters rock back on their heels or shift their weight side to side – this is the flight response. Make sure that you step towards the audience as you speak your first words. This determined step acts unconsciously on the audience – you are not fleeing or freezing.  It helps dispel some of your (and their)  nervous tension.

7. Seek eye contact

The smaller the audience, the more important this is.  But even in a big room, you need to focus on connecting.  Find someone expressive who looks friendly and speak to them first. Connect to a different person with each phrase or sentence you speak.

8. Don’t hide in plain sight

Unless you have to use a static microphone, there is no reason for you to either hide behind the lectern or to shrink into yourself until you resemble a guard outside Buckingham Palace.  Being still is not natural.  You will make the audience anxious and you will lock the nerves inside yourself.  So move around.  Heaven forbid, even use your hands.

9. Add drama

A presentation is a dramatic conversation.  The larger the audience, the more drama you need. If you move, make it a large confident step, not a shuffle. Move your arm, don’t flap your hand.  Slow your delivery, use pauses. Vary the pace and intonation.

10. Practice, practice, practice

If you don’t consider yourself to be a good presenter the only way to improve is to start presenting. Seek out opportunities at work, in the local community or join an organisation like Toastmasters.

I promise it won’t take 10,000 hours. Each time you will get better, feel nervous for a shorter space of time and soon you will not even care about what you are doing with your hands.

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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