Presentation fire! How to use body language to make your point

Feb 10, 2023 by Mark Baines Category: Marketing

If you, like me, regularly interface with clients, mainly on Teams/Zoom but post-pandemic increasingly face to face, then this will be useful to you.

It’s important as you want to be able to get your point across and read what other people are thinking.

Nevertheless, it’s vital to understand that ‘Content is King’: in other words, if your content is no good, no amount of clever presentation tricks and body language will disguise it. But it’s a well known fact that in a presentation, people recall less than 10% of what you actually say, the other 90% being made up of appearance, body language etc – so you need to get it right!

The examples I’m sharing with you are useful for video calls as much as public speaking, as they can be made to appear on screen by holding your hands high, in camera. So make sure your hands are up! It’s also a good idea to wear a dark top, so the flesh-colour of your hands is easily visible against it.

Body language can express three main things: competence, confidence and credibility:

  1. Competence – you need to know your stuff.
  2. Confidence – you need to look happy with your grasp of the subject. Remember the ‘five Ps’ – Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
  3. Credibility – does your audience believe you, and what you’re saying?

Body language to look for around these includes:

The clenched fist – aggressively making a point;


The finger point – essentially a softened fist gesture, but it can also be used very aggressively too;

The-finger-point – essentially-a-softened-fist-gesture-,-but-it-can-also-be-used-very-aggressively-too

The downward finger point – a gesture that highlights the importance of what you are saying, especially if you do it with both hands simultaneously;


The karate chop – projects your point and can also be used both hands simultaneously for extra impact;


The ‘pinch of salt’ (tip of thumb against tip of index finger) – shows that you have considered something very carefully and believe it to be important;


Hand gestures improve comprehension, but your hand movements must be congruent with your points or they will just distract listeners and not add any value to what you are saying.

Both fists clenched shows that you are ready to go into combat over the subject matter!


The palm/flat-of-hand stop sign shows you want the other person to stop talking so you can make a contrary point;


Moving hands, or ‘timelining’ can be vertical or horizontal depending on what you are referring to, and they show that you have a well-structured point, or series of points, to make;


Beware: ‘nervous’ body language looks bad and can be very destructive.

Ring fiddling is a sure sign of nerves and can really worry a listener.


As can fiddling with a pen. These two ‘fiddles’ are known to psychiatrists as ‘displacement activities’;


Own your space! In other words, look confident and comfortable in yourself, not hunched and nervous. That way, people will have more confidence in you.


Final thoughts

It’s also important not to speak too fast, or people won’t be able to keep up. This can be achieved by taking a few seconds before a presentation to slow yourself down and breathe deeply. Count slowly to ten – it helps you focus and oxygenates your blood so you don’t get out of breath and have to rush to reach the end.

You should also research your audience before giving a presentation to ensure you are dressed appropriately; under or over-dressing can have a negative impact, so make sure you get it right!

In my early career (and writing as a man) I was always warned to wear a suit, as ‘no-one spends a million pounds with a man in jeans!’ Then along came ‘dress-down Fridays’ (remember them?) and I several times found myself in an embarrassing situation. Then we men abandoned neck-ties which was a big relief, but you felt slightly stupid if the people you were presenting to were all wearing ties. Now hardly anyone even wears a suit, other than in the financial sector, so we are at last released from our bondage – though in reality it’s made it even more difficult to get the dress code right!

Finally, here’s a useful tip for how to interrupt someone who is talking too much: call out their name! Okay, so it’s best to follow it with a compliment and then move on to your point. But saying their name will stop them in their tracks and give you the floor. Result!

Mark Baines

My thanks to Martin Brooks of CIM for his Webinar ‘How to effectively use body language in clear communications’

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