Strategies for Public Presentations: Nonverbal Communication

The majority of face-to-face communication is nonverbal. The way you sit or stand, your hand gestures, and tone of voice all convey a message about your attitude and emotions and can create trust or confusion in your listener.

What can you do help successfully deliver your message beyond using words?

  • Stance: Stand comfortably and alert, shoulders back, with your hands at your sides. If seated, sit forward and erect. If seated at a desk, keep your hands above the desk. If sitting on a couch or casual chair, don't clasp your hands in your lap. Don't tap the table or chair with your hands or bounce your leg.
  • Tone and Pace: Make sure you aren't speaking too fast and that your voice doesn't sound strained or blocked. Practicing your presentation in advance will help calm nervous jitters that may affect your normal speaking voice. Avoid speaking in a monotone as this conveys boredom and disinterest.
  • Eye contact: Eye contact, or lack thereof, can communicate many things, including interest, friendliness, hostility or deceit. Eye contact with your audience increases your credibility and will also help you gauge the audience's reaction to your presentation. Don't shift your eyes when answering questions because it connotes that you are trying to avoid an issue.
  • Gestures: Use purposeful and deliberate hand gestures to convey confidence. Don't fidget with your hands or play with clothes, hair, pens or other objects. Pay attention to nodding your head—if you nod your head when listening to a question or another speaker, it may convey your agreement.
  • Clothes: Consider the formality of the event to decide on your clothing. You want to strike a balance between showing respect for your audience and appearing too stiff. If you are doing a TV presentation, dark clothes look the best, and avoid patterns or other designs which can cause problems with color TV images. Avoid large, jangling or reflective jewelry. For more detailed tips, check out AAAS TV and Radio Interview Tips.

As an example of good use of gestures, watch this video produced during a AAAS Communicating Science workshop at the University of Maryland, College Park. Note how her hand gestures emphasize the points she is making verbally.