It's 3 pm on a Tuesday afternoon and you're delivering an important presentation to one of your company's most prestigious clients.

Things get off to a good start, your audiovisual equipment is working and there's no need to refer to your notes; you know this speech inside and out. You're a little nervous but that's to be expected. Besides, you have your trusty podium to hide behind between PowerPoint slides. You know it's important to connect with the audience so as you go through your presentation you glance at the picture on the back wall every so often – a little trick you picked up – to look like you're making eye contact.

Ten minutes into your "awesome" presentation you ask a question and no one responds. You look up from your PowerPoint show and glance around the room only to see bobbing heads, glazed-over eyes and…hey, the president of the company has dozed off. Oh no, it looks like instead of "knocking 'em dead," you've knocked 'em out!

The Real Challenge...
Unfortunately many people think that once they've organized all the information they need for a presentation, their work is over. In reality preparing is only half the work. The real work is holding people's interest long enough to get your point across. You can write the greatest speech in history but if you can't keep your audience's attention, how will they ever know?

To ensure your message is received loud and clear, try paying attention to body language – both your own and that of your audience.

Beat Boredom
You can greatly improve your presentations by simply paying attention to the messages you send your audience with your body language. Are you standing in the same spot for the entire presentation? Is your voice flat and uninteresting? Or maybe you aren't using any hand gestures to get your point across. All of these things can make a presentation a little boring.

Celeste Sulliman, Assistant Professor, Communication at UCCB, says one of the keys to keeping your audience interested is making eye contact with your entire audience, not just one or two people. "This draws the audience into your presentation and allows you to make an interpersonal connection with them."

Remember to move around! You don't have to do cartwheels, but do shift from one area of the room to another periodically. You might also try moving forward so you're closer to your audience instead of hiding out behind your podium. 

Don't speak in a monotone voice as if you're reciting your speech word for word. Sulliman suggests that you be enthusiastic and animated. Speak to your audience in a conversational manner just as you would to someone in a business meeting.

Decoding the Silent Signals
You can also improve your presentation by noticing the messages your audience sends back to you through their own body language. Check out their reactions to what you're saying. Are people nodding their heads in agreement or are they just nodding off? If they look puzzled, stop and allow them to ask questions.

Watch for signals of boredom or misinterpretation. Are they leaning toward you to listen or are they sitting back with their arms folded? When members of your audience are slouched back in their seats letting their eyes wander it usually means they're uninterested in what you're saying. But if they're sitting back with their arms folded across their chest, staring at you, they may have been offended by something you've said. If you're paying close attention, you can catch this and clarify your statement without any negative feelings.

The best speakers make you feel as if they're having a normal conversation – not spewing out a memorized speech. So relax and remember these tips – they may just help you avoid turning your presentation into nap time.

To learn more about body language, visit:

Celeste Sulliman, PhD. Assistant Professor, Communication, University College of Cape Breton. Personal communication. December 7, 2000.

1. Source: Merriam-Webster Collegiate Webster Dictionary (Online). 2000. 

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