Confident Body Language

By Heather Baldwin

Everyone knows the Army’s method of attaining good posture: Chin up! Shoulders back! Stomach in! This might work if you’re a drill sergeant, but not if you’re a presenter. In fact, the Army’s posture recommendations are “not only exhausting, but also impossible to attain for many of us,” says Margo Krasne, director of the Speak Up! program and author of Say It with Confidence (Warner Books, 1997). “The trick to good posture is to think of it as a continual outward movement of all body parts; a relaxation of the muscles of the body.” Here are four areas to think about the next time you give a presentation.

Feet – Stand in front of a mirror and look at your feet. Turn them inward and outward to see the kind of image they project. If your feet are turned too far in either direction you’ll look either introverted or like a frustrated ballet dancer. Ideally, you want your feet pointing straight ahead and just slightly outward.

Hands – Think of your hands as punctuation marks. They should work as visual aids to reinforce the text, says Krasne, not upstage your message. Some no-nos when it comes to hands include clasping them in a wringing motion, keeping them fixated in front of your crotch (known in the speaking trade as the fig leaf position), hiding them behind you or leaving them hanging limply at your sides. To rectify any of these problems, practice your presentation with a small dumbbell in each hand. “By adding weight and remembering that your hands are meant to extend your feelings, you will begin to know what your hands should feel like even when empty, and you will start using them with controlled energy,” says Krasne. Here’s another trick: Put a couple ice cubes in two wine glasses, hold one glass in each hand and practice your presentation making sure you use your arms without allowing the cubes to make noise. The exercise helps you learn to control arm and body movements.

Lips – You probably don’t think too much about what your lips are doing when you’re not speaking, but their position can speak volumes. “Closing your lips tightly over your teeth may be more comfortable, but it usually looks as if you are judgmental, withholding information or withdrawn,” says Krasne. Ideally, you want your lips slightly ajar, which makes you appear accessible.

Voice – No doubt you already know the importance of having an energized voice, a wide range of intonation and a variety of inflections. How do you achieve these? Krasne recommends an exercise modeled after one done by Demosthenes, the Greek orator, who, according to history, once had a weak voice and speech impediment. To overcome it he went down to the sea, put pebbles in his mouth and forced himself to speak loudly and clearly over the roar of the waves. It worked. Instead of using pebbles, Krasne suggests putting all five fingers in your mouth and repeating the following sentence as clearly as possible, enunciating each syllable: This is a really difficult exercise to perform, but eventually I will get it. If you do this at least five times a day, Krasne says, your voice will sound stronger and your enunciation will be better.