T-SQL Tuesday – body language

This is my contribution to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, this time hosted by Andy Yun.

I was sitting calmly in a session at PASS Summit 2016 listening with only one ear. I was using only one ear as I was busy contemplating the many ways the speaker’s presentation skills could be improved. Teaching and presentation skills go hand in hand, but there are several examples of speakers having one but not the other – the result is predictably somewhat lacking. The more events I attend I can conclude that presenters generally know their technical content VERY well (most often to a downright scary degree) but many can improve on both their presentation design and their presentation skills.

Despite being an introvert guy I love the thought of sharing and teaching. At a party I’m an awkward wallflower, but put me on stage and I become another person.

When it comes to presentation design I subscribe to the “keep it clean” design philosophy. This could be a blog post in itself, but I’d much rather point the reader to Boris Hristov’s site as he is not only very skilled at presentation design but also a former SQL Server MVP. He has managed to come at presentation design from a technical viewpoint that I applaud.

My contribution to this T-SQL Tuesday will thus be concentrated to a few tips on body language as it relates to presentation technique. Let me dive right in.

There is a saying that is applicable on many things: “fake it ’til you make it”, and it can be equally applied here. It doesn’t matter if you feel confident on stage or with your material as long as you look like you are. It becomes somewhat of a loop – if you look confident you will feel confident, and if you feel confident you will look confident. Lather, rinse and repeat. This is how the brain works – it does not have the capacity to discern between external and internal stimuli. This fact that is one of the cornerstones in many forms of cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Posture

Be proud and straighten your back (I *know* how hard this is as I’m a sloucher myself).  Chin up, pull in the stomach, keep your feet parallel to each other.

Use your own body to point with. If possible, skip the laser pointer that every self-respecting nerd is equipped with. By pointing to the screen with your hand, you become message, not the presentation shown on the screen.

Speaking of open body language, keep yourself turned towards the audience. Nobody wants to listen to a presenter talk to the screen or to a nearby wall. Your audience is there to listen to you, so the least you can do is to actually speak to them.

Oh, one more thing with regards to posture: ignore everything you read about “power posing”. It doesn’t work.

  • Using your hands

Take your hand out of your pocket. Right now. You want your body language to be as open and inviting as physically possible.

Use your hands in a relevant fashion. There are many ways I can describe presenters I’ve seen: full rabbit, fork lift, preacher or double fists are rather graphical examples. There are so many ways of holding your hands and the absolute majority of them won’t help your cause at all.

If you’re not using your hands, just let them hang at your sides. That’s it; don’t do anything else. They should not distract the audience and should just hang neutrally at your sides, ready to be come into play when needed.
When you do use them, use functional gestures and make sure they are distinct. Examples of functional gestures include pointing at an attendee with your hand (never your finger!), drawing something in the air or counting on your fingers.

  • Useful eyes

The eyes are extremely powerful instruments for captivating your audience. They also tend to be underused. Sweep your gaze over the audience, making sure to look at all of them- don’t ignore for instance the folks in the back-left corner. From time to time, make sure to look at specific attendees. It can feel scary to meet the eyes of a gazillion people in the audience that you’ve never met or talked to, but there is a trick – don’t. Focus your eyes on the bridge of their nose. You don’t meet their eyes and will not risk losing yourself in them, but the audience won’t know the difference. Try it!

In conclusion

Most presenters know their technical stuff but most presenters could benefit from improving their presentation technique. I realized there at the Summit that I could help, and so the idea for this blog post was born.

The only way to get better at presenting is practice. The best way of becoming aware of your body language is to record yourself presenting. By reviewing yourself with a critical eye you can find and correct whatever flaws you find. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else for a second opinion. Andy is more than happy to help new speakers out, as am I. Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help in any way. Good luck!

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