All eyes are on you when you stand up to deliver a presentation – and first impressions matter a great deal. Your audience will make judgments about you within seconds and those judgments will be based on what they see. Do you look professional and in control? Do you look as if you are pleased to be there? Do you look like someone who has something useful and interesting to say? Remember, you get only one chance to make a first impression and poor first impressions are difficult to erase.


Make sure you dress the part

Think about how you would like your audience to perceive you – and dress accordingly. It’s traditional for the presenter to dress slightly more formally than the audience. This helps to boost your confidence as well as giving you a greater air of authority. Think too about the demographics of your audience. What type of business do they work in? What age are they? What level of seniority?

Wear professional clothes that you feel comfortable in and that won’t make you feel sweaty before the presentation. It’s not the time for a brand new shirt with a stiff collar or a pair of shoes that pinch your toes. Choose colours and styles that flatter you and that present a professional image. If in doubt, select classic-style business clothing and avoid wearing anything that is likely to take attention away from your message.

Use body language to positive effect

Your posture gives an instant visual message to your audience and affects how you are perceived. Posture also affects your voice, including how audible it is.

  • Stand up straight and aim for a natural, relaxed-looking position. (Standing may make you feel nervous initially, but it does give a feeling of authority over your audience.)
  • Your head should be up and slightly back; your shoulders relaxed and down.
  • Stand with your feet about hip width apart with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Don’t fold your arms across your chest as this makes you appear closed and disconnected with your audience.
  • Don’t place your hands on your hips as you will look bossy, as if you’re about to scold someone.


Use of gestures and movement

People attending my Presentation Skills courses often say they don’t know what to do with their hands when giving a presentation. My advice is to be natural and forget about your hands. Do whatever you normally do with your hands when you’re having a normal conversation.

  • Use hand gestures for emphasis and to draw attention to special features of your presentation.
  • Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Research has found that we tend to trust people more when we can see their hands.
  • Don’t fiddle with pens or jangle loose change in your pocket as this makes you look nervous and it’s distracting for the audience.
  • It’s good to move about during your presentation but avoid pacing up and down like a caged animal.
  • Make your movements definite and don’t ‘rock’ or sway from side to side.


Make eye contact with your audience

When you’re nervous you may find it difficult to make eye contact with your audience. It’s important you do though, because good eye contact is often associated with openness and trust. Also by looking at your audience you’ll be able to judge whether your message is getting through to them, whether they are confused, uninspired, bored etc.

A good tactic is to sweep your eyes regularly around the audience. (Sometimes this is referred to as the ‘lighthouse technique’). You should avoid looking at any one person for too long as they may feel they are being stared at. If you are presenting in a very large room, you may like to think of it as a giant letter M and look at people at different points of the letter. The audience will get the impression that you are looking at everyone in the room.

If you wear glasses, make sure that people to your extreme right and left know that you are making eye contact with them by turning your head very slightly in their direction when you look at them.

Facial expressions

Last but not least, remember to SMILE, especially at the start of your presentation. There’s no better way to build rapport and get the audience on your side. A smile indicates that you are confident, sincere and happy to be giving the presentation (even if you’re not!). It makes you come across as likeable and the chances are the audience will smile back at you, which in turn will help make you feel more relaxed. Of course it has to be a genuine smile, not a forced, artificial one.

In future posts I’ll be sharing further tips on how to deliver effective presentations.

Please contact me if you would like to find out about training courses or coaching on Presentation Skills.
Click here to view a sample Presentation Skills training programme.