2011/IRL: How Do Geeks Undermine Their Presentations and Conversations with Body Language

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Many geeks are uncomfortable interacting IRL with clients or audiences but you don’t have to be. There are some simple physical tricks to keeping an audience (of 1 or 1k) engaged and not undermining your skills and yourself.

Speaker: Sarah Novotny

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Talk by Sarah Novotny, @sarahnovotny

Open with a question or a divisive topic - the goal is to engage people right away.

  • Tailor your personal appearance to your audience
  • take up space, move around the stage, make eye contact with the whole audience at various timrs
  • stand squarely so you don't look like you are walking away; keep your head straight; don't use a rising tone at the end of sentences
  • point your feet at the audience and keep them under your shoulders
  • make eye contact as opposed to scanning the audiences - 3 - 5 seconds per person
  • try not to look down or use "thinking words" when you are thinking (like "um") - but do not obsess about it because people usually do not notice that stuff
  • use your hands

At a party when two people are talking, the larger the angle between one person's feet and the other's the more inviting to appear to engaging someone who walks up. Pointing your own feet apart as opposed to apart can help you appear more confident.

Try to dress to look a little bit more professional than your audience - but not too much or you will turn people off. The level of dress formality is between the levels you would choose for interacting with clients versus peers.

Be you, only bigger.

Positions of power are areas on the stage where you present yourself best. Standing behind a podium is not one. Move around the stage. At a user group those might be at the front the room, standing up, or possibly at the back of the room. The long side of a table and choosing a position facing the door also work well.

Clenched hands give an impression of anxiety. Holding a remote can give off a false positive in this result. Leaning forward is an agressive posture, but leaning back is bad for the opposite reason.

Blinking helps the audience identify with you. Not blinking very often or keeping your eyes too wide open is likely to have the opposite effect.

How can you read your audience over a video conference? It is difficult. You can practice the talk in advance with an audience that is physically present. And remember to look at the camera, not the screen, so that it looks like you are looking directly at your audience.

If you find you need to plan your presentations in careful detail, try taking an improv class to practice being more extemporaneous.

Use slides without a lot of text. Focus more on diagrams, images, visual langauge in general. Slides with just code are good for technical talks. Your audience should not be trying to read while they are listening to you.