Presenting at events, such as an industry conference like CeBIT, is beneficial for two big reasons: it positions you as a thought leader within your industry, and it’s a great way to network, which may eventually lead to profitable partnerships or sales.
Whatever it is you hope to achieve through the presentation – whether it’s to persuade or to make connections – both these things are predicated on trust. In order for your message to be convincing, and in order for people to feel comfortable enough to want to connect with you, they need to trust you. If they don’t, it can be highly detrimental – we see it all the time with politicians. One of the problems that plagued Hillary Clinton during the last American presidential election, and ultimately contributed to her downfall, was the lack of trust from voters.
As social psychologist, and proponent of the power-pose, Amy Cuddy says, “Trust is the conduit for influence; it’s the medium through which ideas travel. If they don’t trust you, your ideas are just dead in the water. If they trust you, they’re open and they can hear what you’re offering. Having the best idea is worth nothing if people don’t trust you.”
Trust, however, can be a difficult thing to engender, particularly in a presentation setting where you’re trying to connect with not just one but tens or even hundreds of people at the same time. While using words to frame your message in the right way is of course important, what is equally important is the body language you use while you’re speaking. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re giving off signals all the time, and these cues can determine how trustworthy people think you are.
But you can use this in your favour. By simply being mindful of these cues and making some subtle shifts in your body language, you can gain people’s trust, thus allowing you to make the most out of the opportunity at hand.
Here are 5 ways you can use body language to build trust during presentations.
1. Be more open
Public speaking is nerve-wracking for many, and it’s understandable that this is usually reflected through body language. People may hunch their shoulders slightly to appear smaller; they may wring their hands or tap their feet to relieve nervous energy; or they may tilt their head slightly. Unfortunately, the message this gets across to their audience is not simply that they’re nervous about the presentation itself, but that they’re unsure about their message. And if the speaker looks unsure about their message, the audience isn’t going to be on board either.
It’s important, therefore, to adopt more open body language. This can be as simple as standing tall, with your shoulders back and head slightly lifted. Trying to keep your arms open and hands visible can also make you seem more inviting, and therefore make people more willing to trust you.
If you’re particularly nervous, it might be helpful to assume a ‘power pose’ for a couple of minutes beforehand (think Superman or Wonder Woman, standing with feet wide apart and hands on hips). Evidence has shown this simple stance can have a postural feedback effect, making you feel more powerful and confident internally.
As Maya Angelou wrote, “Stand up straight, and realise who you are, that you tower over your circumstances."
2. Convey warmth
While most people are focused on coming across as confident, it’s not everything. In fact, too much confidence can come across as off-putting, undermining the trust you’re trying to build.
What is just as important as confidence is warmth. Warmth breeds likeability, and if people like you, they are far more willing to trust you. Warmth tends to be hugely undervalued, though, particularly in corporate environments. However, if properly harnessed, it can be an incredibly powerful tool, especially when properly balanced with displays of confidence and competence.
Warmth, however, is not something that can be contrived. People can tell from a mile away whether someone is acting genuinely or not, and if they get a sense you’re being disingenuous, it can be extremely repellent. That is why is important to find an authentic place from which to derive your warmth. This, of course, can make it more challenging for the presenter – challenging, but not impossible.
One tried and true way to convey warmth is with a natural smile. To ensure that it’s genuine, try weaving in a personal anecdote about your family or a special memory into your presentation – something that will make you naturally light up. Thinking about things that make you feel relaxed and happy beforehand will also help to put you in the right frame of mind, allowing you to better convey these feelings to others.
You can even short-circuit this feeling by using a feedback effect, in a similar way to power posing. Forcing yourself to smile by holding a pen or pencil between your teeth, thereby forcing the contractions of the same muscles that you use when you normally smile, can actually make you feel happier and warmer internally, so that you can more genuinely project these feelings when you’re on stage.
3. Make eye contact
Eye contact is extremely powerful when it comes to effective communication. It not only helps to establish assertiveness, it also helps to communicate empathy, and foster connection. It signals that you’re being receptive to your listeners, which in turn makes them more receptive to you.
While some might suggest focusing your attention on one or two people in the room, it is actually better to try to engage as many people as possible, by spreading your focus around the room. Executive communication coach Erica Bagshaw calls this exercising “eye democracy”.
4. Stay grounded
In order to connect with the audience, and convey a sense of calm and authority, it is necessary to feel these things within yourself. One simple technique that can help with this is grounding yourself. Distributing the weight evenly through your feet will make you feel more grounded, more centred, and therefore more calm, allowing you to project strength.
5. Be prepared
You can use all the body language tricks in the world, but at the end of the day, it is important to be thoroughly prepared. Be sure to put yourself in the audience’s shoes, and ask yourself, “How can my presentation be of value to them?” If you’re actively trying to solve your audience’s pain points, they are going to be much more interested in what you have to say, as opposed to if you’re just bragging about all your recent successes.
Make sure you also rehearse your presentation thoroughly, ensure your technology is properly set up and working beforehand, and you are on time – all these things signal to your audience that you respect them and the time they have given up to be there, which will in turn encourage them to respect you and what you have to say.
When you feel confident that you are giving a presentation worthy of people’s time, and you feel sure that you are adequately prepared, this will naturally be reflected in your body language, allowing you to convey a sense of put-togetherness that will make people happy to trust you with their business.
Trust can be a highly potent weapon when harnessed correctly, so don’t underestimate it. By simply being aware of the signals your body language is giving off, you can take some broad steps towards fostering trust, and building influence.
With these techniques, you’ll be raking in the leads at your next event. But how do you then convert those leads to sales? Our Ultimate Guide to Converting Event Leads to Sales can help. Download it now – it’s free!