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Considering Presentations

Considering Presentations

Tomorrow, I will stand in a room of people at Bar Camp Boston and talk about content networks. The audience will be primarily really technical people, who know more about networking, hacking, developing, engineering, and everything than me. They will be looking at me with eyes that all engineering crowds give me at presentations: “Who are you? What do you know? How can this be useful to me?”

I owe them a good performance. This post is some of the mental workings that I think are important to consider before giving a presentation. My goal in presenting them to you is that you’ll think about these same points before making your next presentation.

Step One: Consider the Ending– When this presentation is over, I want the people in my audience to be energized, happy, engaged, and thinking about my material. I want them to be excited to think about building content networks themselves. I want them to seek my guidance and participation in helping them form content networks.

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With that in mind, I know this: I don’t have to SELL people anything. I don’t have to ask for money. I do have to talk in big vision terms. I do have to give them “call to action” points, such as asking them to visit a certain website, give me email addresses, site addresses, things like that. I have to convince them that I’m intelligent and useful to their plans. Thus, I’ll build my presentation with those themes in mind. I’ve started at the ending. (Hmm… “Habit 2: begin with the end in mind”).

Step Two: Consider the Venue– There are 150 total attendees. I don’t think they will all be at my presentation. I’m guessing 30 or 40. This means I’ll have a decent sized room, but not an auditorium. I can move among them. I won’t have to be stuck to a podium. Should I bother with PowerPoint? I might not.

The venue determines the toolkit. Think of it as a setting for a movie. If you’re watching Jaws, you don’t expect flying saucers. It also determines how I can lay out the presentation’s “feel,” the ambiance of engaging these people to tell them a story. If you think presentations shouldn’t fit the rooms where you give them, reconsider that thought.

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Step Three: Consider the Audience– Of course the audience is the most important part of the presentation. You didn’t know that? My audience will be smart. They’ll have their bull$&!t detectors on full blast. They won’t appreciate my natural “not so many diagrams” style of presenting. I’ll have to win them over with being funny. Luckily, when I’m nervous, I’m very funny. (You should see me at a hospital).

The presentation must fit the audience, and you have to really consider what their ears and eyes are trying to pluck from it. If they’re highly technical, tell them in three-letter acronyms how the thing will work, “We’ll use RSS over SOA to make the CMS really drive CPM.” If they’re marketers, tell them, “This content network idea will really add stickiness to sites, drive more interaction and click-through, and push brand value further into the customer base.” Big difference, wouldn’t you say?

Step Four: Build the Presentation– I’m going to be nervous. They’ve alloted me 30 minutes. I know the crowd will be skeptical of me because I’m not a name brand. They’ll wonder if I’m worth their time. I’ll worry that they are going to get up and leave.

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With this in mind, I won’t stick to a static PowerPoint presentation. I will use it for some fact-pointing, and I’ll use it for some really colorful backgrounds. I will use humor above all else to try and keep them engaged. But I’ve got a secret weapon. I’m going to hand out parts of my presentation to people in the room (as per a recent post I made here to that effect). I will get them to be part of my act. Build your presentation to take into account everything you’ve considered in the first three steps.

Step Five: Test it Out– I’m far better at improv than I am rehearsal, so I won’t lie to you about that. I like going up there cold turkey and just making the words happen. Sometimes it works really well, and other times, people just stare blankly at me, and I worry that I’ve slipped into another language.

Try at least running through your slides, your notes, whatever you’re going to use as “panic props” for the presentation at least once before you give the presentation. Oh, and if you’re doing something really interactive like a web-based demo, have a backup. Have slides with screenshots that you can use to walk people through. Have all kinds of backup plans in place.

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Step Six: Bring Down the House– People love to be reflected in a mirror. I’ve used this trick in nearly every presentation I’ve ever made, and it works every time without fail. Tell them about themselves, and praise them in the process, and you’ll have allies. For as many people that think they’re being played or had or whatever your term, plenty more will be saying, “Wow, Chris really understands me.” I’ll take it.

Be genuine about that. Don’t pretend to love these people. For the duration of the presentation and the follow-up, LOVE these people. Give them every bit of your fiber in this presentation.

Lastly: Q&A– The absolute worst parts of a presentation can be the presenter saying, “Any questions?” and then the wave of tumbleweeds blowing through. Make your way past this disaster-in-the-making by doing one of a few things. Try seeding your audience with a plant or two. “Chris, can you tell me how you fit into the content space?” (Thanks, Mom!) Or, have a few pre-set questions that you can say, “People who’ve heard this presentation before have asked me whether or not to keep their existing blogs. Here’s what I’ve told them.” This will grease the skids a bit, and help with the anxiety of the “spotlight” being suddenly turned on the audience.

And, if you use ANY of this, let me know how it turns out, okay?

–Chris Brogan has written about presentation tricks at Lifehack.org before. In fact, he writes lots about presentation for a guy who doesn’t do it for a living. Drop us a line at tips at lifehack dot org with your best presentation tricks, or visit our forums and chat it up a bit.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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