Thanks to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, we know that changing your body language can affect your confidence. Her 2012 TED talk on power poses has inspired thousands of speakers (including me!) to stand like Wonder Woman in the bathroom before a presentation to feel more confident.
But how can you keep yourself feeling powerful during a presentation? Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to deliver your entire talk in the Wonder Woman pose. Instead, there are several small changes you can make to your body language that will help you both look and feel more confident.
1. Balance your weight.
Many nervous speakers stand in front of a crowd the same way they’d stand in line at Starbucks, with their weight balanced on one hip that’s jutting out to the side and the opposite leg out at an angle. Go ahead, stand up and give it a try. This stance may feel natural, but it doesn’t look confident, nor does it really make you feel that way. The Starbucks Stance leads to tired hips and frequent weight shifting, which makes you look and feel unsettled.
Now try this instead: Stand with your weight evenly balanced over both feet, with your feet roughly hips’ width apart. See how powerful and grounded you feel? I guarantee that you look more confident too. Start cultivating this stance on a daily basis, whether you’re presenting to your team or, yes, even in line at Starbucks.
2. Stop fiddling.
I can’t tell you how many times a well-meaning client has said to me, “I’m nervous and I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I think I’ll just hold a pen or a clicker.” Danger, Will Robinson! Holding onto a security item might seem like a logical way to calm your nerves, but it gives you something you’re very likely to fiddle with. This is a fast track to looking and feeling more nervous. Same goes for twirling a ring, a watch, or a bracelet.
Instead, use your hand movements to highlight your words and animate your speech. When you’re not gesturing, let your hands rest lightly at your sides, which looks great but takes some practice. If that feels too unnatural, let your hands rest together Iightly (no tight clenching!) at waist level. As you let go of fiddling and adopt more confident gestures, you’ll start to internalize that confidence too.
3. Make bigger gestures.
Nervous speakers often restrict their gestures, moving their hands but keeping their elbows glued to their waist lines. Give yourself a surge of confidence by opening up your gestures and moving your arms and hands further out into space. In general, confident gestures fall above your waist and beyond your shoulders -- I call this getting air under your wings.
If you’re someone who’s used to small gestures, these bigger gestures will probably feel wildly awkward at first. Here’s my challenge to you: Try videotaping yourself delivering the first 60 seconds of your talk with normal gestures. Now try again, focusing on broadening your gestures and letting there be air under your wings. Looks good, right? Over time, it will start to feel good too.
4. Look people in the eyes.
This is the most counterintuitive confidence-building advice out there. You may be thinking, “If I’m nervous, why would I ever want to make it worse by looking at the people who are freaking me out?” But here’s the thing: fear is often most powerful when it’s vague. When we don’t make eye contact with people, the audience feels like a terrifying, amorphous blob. But when we do make eye contact, you see that this big scary audience is actually made up of people who are human just like you.
As you make eye contact with one person at a time, your presentation becomes a series of individual conversations with real people instead of a fear-inducing performance in front of a faceless, judging mass. Not only that, but in Western business culture, people trust you more when you look them in the eye. By looking people in the eyes, you build your confidence and your credibility at the same time.
If you’re feeling butterflies in your stomach before a big presentation, try making a few small changes to your body language. Not only will you look more confident on the outside, but you’ll start to internalize that confidence too!
These tips are a great place to start. If you’re looking for more ways to overcome speech anxiety and present with confidence, click below.