When it comes to presentation skills, you want your audience's motto to be "In Presenter we trust". Trustworthiness is a huge factor in any public speaking event- imagine giving a financial presentation to an audience who didn't believe you, or launching a new product to a crowd that's questioning your credibility. Impossible. So, of course, you practice, you prepare, you check and double check until you are ready to go.
And then your body betrays you.
Yes, our body can react in ways that make us appear less-than-truthful- even if we're being more honest than Abe and George Washington combined. Remember the ever famous Nixon/Kennedy debate of 1960? Nixon eschewed make-up, and ended up sweating profusely under the hot television lights. Here's a nice analysis of one of his more shiny moments:
A large problem (aside from the "ew" factor), is that we associate sweating profusely with nervousness, lying, or untrustworthiness. Certainly not traits you want to see exemplified in your president. It's interesting to note that historians have pointed out that those merely listening to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won, while those watching calm, cool, and collected Kennedy on TV found him to be the winner. The rest, as they say, is history.
Obviously, there are things beyond your control- wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just command ourselves to stop sweating, lower our heart rate, slow our digestion, etc? But the bottom line is this- there are physical reactions that are perceived as indicative of lying that we can do our best to tame. Because the last thing you want is for your chock-full-of-truth presentation to suffer a presidential-sized undercut.
1. Avoidance of eye contact: There's a reason that the old saying "look me in the eye and tell me that!" exists. Folks who are lying have trouble making steady, consistent eye contact- it's why we try to hammer the concept of eye contact as part of your presentation skills training into eveyone's brain. Some people are just uncomfortable with eye contact, even when they are being totally truthful. Unfortunately, their audience may not see it that way.
The Tamer: The Three Second Rule. As we've said before, maintaining eye contact for less than three seconds can seem shifty (and more than that is uncomfortable) so remember to continue trying to get comfortable with the concept by counting three in your head. If you're presenting to a large crowd and can't see too many individual eyes, try mentally divvying up the audience, then use the Rule with one "section" at a time.
2. Rambling or overselling a point: Doth the lady protest too much? If you feel you have to ramble or endlessly repeat any given point, your audience might think you're trying to sell them something that is not true. Unfortunately, nerves sometimes make us ramble, which can not only kill our trustworthiness, but lead us down a road of misspeaking. A slippery slope, indeed.
The Tamer: Pause, pause, pause. Once you've made your point, trust your audience and stop talking. Take a deep breath, and slow down. Also, bookending your presentation (telling them what you're going to tell them, telling them, then telling them what you told them) ensures that your point hits home enough times for your audience to receive it without being oversold.
3. Licking your lips: Lying can make the liar incredibly nervous and stressed out, and the body can respond with dry mouth. So what do liars do? Lick their lips. (Unfortunately, President Nixon fell prey to this in the great debate, as well.) Unfortunately, nerves and stress are also present for people when presenting. So what do nervous speakers do? Lick their lips.
The Tamer: Make sure to have water available to keep dry mouth at bay. There's nothing wrong with pausing for a bit of hydration! Need a little extra help? Dabbing on a tiny bit of a lip treatment like Carmex can keep your lips from drying without a high-gloss shine.
4. Sweating: The plague of President Nixon can be a result of anxiety like that discussed above, or a reaction to extreme heat. In either case, your audience might think it is a result of feeling uncomfortable with being truthful in the hot seat. It cost President Nixon an election- imagine what it could do to your presentation.
The Tamer: As we said above, it's impossible to force yourself to stop sweating. Combine hot stage lights with nerves, and you'll be a puddle in no time. While the rehearsal process and being thoroughly prepared is your best defense against crippling nerves, give yourself a little extra help by remembering to dress the part. Try to wear something just slightly lighter when you present, to give yourself some ventilation assistance.
The one-two punch of the rehearsal process and some informed efforts to tame trustworthiness underminers will keep audience trust in YOU. And that's the truth.