Monday, 18 June 2012

King Creon's 4 point masterclass in mannerisms and body language for Business Presenters

Last Sunday afternoon I was passing the National Theatre on the South bank of the Thames and went inside- just on the off-chance of attending a performance.

 Luckily there were still  the last few tickets on sale for their matinee performance of  the play "Antigone"  by Sophocles in a new version by Don Taylor.

The skills of the National Theatre players are so impressive.

They can teach us all who have to make business presentations as well. 

To hold an audience's attention on a  lazy Sunday afternoon straight from the start is a challenge.

The staging of this production of Antigone was done in modern dress. There were no obvious costumes and props for King  Creon   e.g. no crown or robes- but in this production, the actor Christopher Eccleston, was dressed in an ordinary suit and tie - occasionally with his jacket off.
National Theatre , London
For all intents and purposes he was dressed like a typical business executive that you would see in an office or at a business conference this week across the world.

Yet he became ( for me he was) the powerful king through his masterful use of mannerism , body language and voice.

I was seated in the very back row of the 1000+ seater Olivier theatre but could both hear and see clearly the performance.

Seeing Creon played in a contemporary suit ,Mr Eccleston got me thinking how powerful a skilled presenter can look in standard business attire.

 Clearly the skills of an ator are developed over many years of apprenticeship and hard work. Part of the acting craft includes of course getting feedback and taking direction from theatre coaches and performance directors - in this case of this staging of Antigone from Director Polly Findlay.

In business presenting we don't have the time to go through the years of learning that professional actors undertake, but there are ways to observe and work on our mannerisms and body language in our business presentations.

In a poem dedicated to a louse by the the great Scottish poet Robert Burns there is a line

"...O would some Power the gift to give us

To see ourselves as others see us !"

The poet was inspired to write the poem being bored and distracted from a Sunday church sermon as he watched a louse crawling over the bonnet of a young lady he was sitting behind in the church.

For all we know Burns' lack of concentration might have been switched off by the  mannerisms of the minister preaching.

Many business presenters like ministers can have mannerisms and nervous gestures which they are unaware of and switch off their audiences.

View of St Paul's Cathedral from
a  balcony at  the National theatre, South bank, London
Being made aware of these mannerisms enables us to correct them in order that we present a confident unselfconscious image.

We must look confident as King Creon - even if hopefully we make better political decisions than Creon!

VIDEO Recording your presentations
A great advantage of video recording of your presentations when rehearsing is that you will be able to analyse for yourself the image which you present to your audience. 

If you notice any mannerisms which you would prefer to avoid, you will be surprised how easy it is to eradicate them when you work at it.

What video recording helps us with is the point that our audience cannot see our palpitating heart nor can they hear the noise of your knees knocking.  If you appear confident and composed the audience will assume that this is exactly how you feel.

Let's look at some of the messages which our non-verbal behaviour can give to our audience.

As Mr. Eccleston played King  Creon I realised that his performance was built on the Posture, Stance, Hands and Eye contact of his court.

So it is for a business presenter where the court you hold is your audience.


Stand tall like a confident king - you will look and feel much more confident.  Raise yourself to your full height - no matter what that height is.


Stand firmly with your feet slightly apart and with one foot a few inches behind the other.  Switch the weight from foot to foot when necessary, but avoid constant shuffling which can be distracting.  Moving backwards and forwards, or walking to and fro like a caged animal, will convey the message that you are nervous and lacking in confidence - you may well be so, but don't let your audience know it!

This does not mean that you must stand nailed to one spot throughout the presentation, but it does mean that when you do move, it must be a definite movement which looks to have been made for a purpose. Develop a stately stance of a powerful king.

The problem of what to do with your hands is one which is faced by almost all business presenters.  The truth is that nothing you do with them will seem entirely natural as you are in an unnatural situation - standing up in front of a group of people who are looking at everything you do. 

 Aim therefore to find a solution which is comfortable for you yet which does not distract the audience or convey unfavourable non-verbal messages.

One of the most common solutions is to put the hands in the pockets. 

Most audiences' reaction to this is that it could be interpreted as casual, sloppy or even arrogant. 

For this reason unless your presentation is very informal or you know your audience very well, try to avoid putting your hands in your pockets.

Practise clasping your hands lightly together in front of your waist, where it is easy to use them to make the gestures which, if used well, will bring added life and interest to your presentation.

Forecourt to the National Theatre
with its giant lounge furniture ( chair, sofa and lamp stand)
If you find it more comfortable, you may prefer to let your hands rest at your sides or to clasp them behind your back.

But above all AVOID:

·         scratching

·         fiddling with jewellery, pens or anything else which may come to hand
·         folding your arms
·         wringing your hands in despair
·         jingling coins in your pockets


The reason that eye contact is so important is that it is essential for a presenter to establish a rapport with the audience.  You will not be able to do this unless you look at them.  The difficulty is that if you stare at them, or at one of them, this will make the recipient of your gaze most uncomfortable.

All too often presenters will find some excuse for not looking at their audience. 

 For this reason they will often use a multitude of visual aids, such as PowerPoint slides.  The more detailed they are the better.  This gives the presenter a great excuse for looking at the screen rather than at the audience.

If you find it difficult to look into the eyes of your audience, break yourself in gently - start by looking at their noses or at their foreheads - they will think that you are maintaining eye contact.  Once you have overcome the initial awkwardness of looking into their eyes, work to improve the quality of your eye contact.  Practise looking at everybody in turn for two to three seconds and you will soon find that eye contact comes naturally to you, just as it does when you are talking informally to a small group of your friends.

Now that you are able to maintain eye contact you must consider what message your facial expression is conveying to them.  It is through our eyes and facial expression that we can convey our mood whether it be one of enthusiasm, excitement or boredom. Your body language must be aligned with both the context and content of  the message that you are delivering.

 Learn to match your facial expression to the message you wish to convey and work at speaking not only with your mouth but with all of your facial muscles. 

Above all, smile! 

 Most people have a pleasant gentle smile around their lips in normal conversation, but in so many cases this disappears and is replaced by an iron mask when making a presentation. 

Don't be fooled into thinking that because you smile you will be thought to be less serious about your subject.  What you will be doing is looking more natural, more approachable and warmer than if you appear grim faced. 

This may seem a small point, but it is a vitally important ingredient of the message which your body language conveys.

 As as Robert Burns observed

O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

Sophocles would no doubt have agreed  with Burns.

Related Links:

Antigone is playing now at the Olivier Theatre June 18,19,20 and July 3,4,18,19,20 and finishes July 21st 2012
National Theatre Box Office

Tips to control nerves  at business presentations

Use of VOICE in Effective Business Presentations

Tips on presenting with PowerPoint in business

Presentation Skills

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