It’s easy to spend a long time agonising over what to say when it comes to giving a presentation. However, it’s important to remember that a great presentation is about much more than just content. Elsewhere on the Future Skills Blog we’ve talked about the most important public speaking skills to have in general, but here we’re going to focus on body language.

Body language can make all the difference between a dull, static presentation and a dynamic, engaging one. Of course, body language has many different elements, and so we’ve broken it down into five categories:

  1. Facial expressions
  2. Eye contact
  3. Posture
  4. Gestures
  5. Position and movement

Some of these may seem like small details, but they have a big impact on how your presentation comes across. When your body language is working hand in hand with the other aspects of your presentation, such as content and tone of voice, then you’re sure to win over your audience.

1) Facial expressions

People will travel half-way around the world to meet one another “face-to-face” for a reason – when it comes to interacting with others, what we do with our faces is vital. We may not usually control our facial expressions in any conscious way, but there are times when we have to think about what our face is telling others, such as when giving a presentation. Study-body-language.com has produced a fun guide to facial expressions and why they matter.

The first and most obvious thing to remember is to make sure that you are using your face at all. Giving a presentation with a blank face, without any particular facial expression is like speaking in a monotone – no matter how great your content is, your audience will not be engaged. Even some simple steps from the outset, such as opening your eyes wider, raising your eyebrows a little, and smiling, can make a huge difference in setting the tone for your presentation. You can also “reset” at different points during your presentation to make sure that you haven’t fallen back into a dull resting expression and to re-engage your audience’s attention.

Of course, putting rehearsed facial expressions into your speech mechanically is never going to be effective, and what you do with your face should look natural. The important thing is to be attentive to what you’re saying. If your facial expressions are in line with the tone of your words, then the information you are presenting will come across more clearly, and you will seem more sincere. Remember that the expression you wear tells people a lot about how trustworthy you are. Don’t forget that the size of the room and the audience matters too – a bigger crowd requires bigger facial expressions.

2) Eye contact

Having thought about what your face is doing in general, it’s time to get even more specific and think about eye contact. This is crucial when it comes to communication, as explored in a recent Psychology Today article.

Just as with facial expressions and the other parts of body language we’ll be looking at below, the way in which you use eye contact and look at your audience depends on the size of the room and the audience. However, here are some general tips:

  • Make sure you look at everyone – Staring at the same spot throughout a presentation is visually dull and unengaging for your audience. Make sure that by the end of your presentation you have made eye contact with everyone at least once – that might mean every individual if you have a small audience, or every section of a crowd if you have a bigger audience.
  • Don’t be afraid of eye contact – Prolonged eye contact can make people nervous, but that’s because it’s so powerful. You may be perceived as aggressive or bullying. A brief glance, however, suggests that you are monitoring their expression as you speak to them, and thus that you care about how your message is being received. While it may be tempting to find a spot to stare at on the back wall, it is always better to try and make a more personal connection with members of your audience. But remember…
  • Don’t stare – No one wants to feel uncomfortable or that they are being put on the spot. Keep your gaze moving and engage as many people as possible.

Again, remember that different situations call for different approaches, but as long as you are consciously using eye contact, you’ll be well on the way to making your presentation as involving as possible.

3) Posture

We’ve talked about facial expressions and eye contact, now it’s time to look at the bigger picture: posture. Whether you’re sitting or standing, the way in which you hold yourself is incredibly important and sets the tone for the whole presentation before it’s even begun.

With this in mind, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to posture during a presentation:

  • DON’T slouch – In almost all presentation situations, your posture should be upright and open. This will make you look and feel more confident, and it will invite your audience in rather than pushing them away. If you are not sitting or standing upright it suggests that what you have to say is not particularly important to you. If you suggest to your audience that what you have to say is not really worthy of your attention they are unlikely to pay much attention either.
  • DON’T be tense – It’s important to look and feel relaxed during a presentation. If you’re standing upright but look rigid, it won’t make a good impression. No matter how nervous you may feel, a speaker who seems to be afraid of his audience will not win their trust. Pause and take a deep breath before you begin, and remind yourself to relax at different points throughout the presentation. Pausing and giving your audience time to think about what you have just said is a good thing to do anyway. You can take that time consciously to relax and re-set your expression and posture.
  • DO think about your audience – A formal presentation to the board of a company is very different to an interactive talk with schoolchildren. While you still need to be upright, open and relaxed in all situations, remember that different situations require different levels of formality. Do you want to be interrupted if someone has a question for example, or will you only take questions at the end of your presentation? Adapt your posture to be more open or more formal accordingly.
  • DO be adaptable – If you are sat down or have a lectern for your presentation, don’t hold onto them for support or let them get in the way. You should have an open and communicative posture no matter what the specific set-up is. Be prepared to adapt to unexpected situations. If you are addressing a large audience or being recorded you may need to use a microphone – this may mean you have to remain at a lectern, or you have to hold a microphone in one hand, which can restrict your gestures. Try to find out beforehand, but if things are not at you expected, adapt quickly to make the best of the facilities provided.

In addition, Ethos3 also gives some very helpful advice on how to improve your posture for a presentation.

4) Gestures

Varied facial expressions, eye contact and a good posture will put you well on the way to presentation success, but if you stand still without moving any other part of your body, it can create a very strange impression. On the other hand, over-rehearsed or exaggerated hand gestures can be off-putting and look unnatural.

A happy medium is needed. Remember that the purpose of using gestures when giving a presentation is to make your message clearer and more interesting. In short, your gestures should mean something. For example, if you are making a contrast between big and small, you can use hand gestures to represent this. If you are giving a numbered list, you can show the numbers with your hand so that both people’s eyes and ears are engaged. Alternatively, if you want to address the audience directly, you can gesture towards them (but try not to point aggressively as though you’re accusing them of something). If you have a PowerPoint slideshow or other visual aids, use gestures to draw people’s attention to them. If you have a particular point which is one of the key messages of your presentation you may want to make your gestures more exaggerated as you work up to that point – in this way you can communicate to the audience which of the things you have to say matter most to you.

The Science of People blog’s article on hand gestures gives some great insight into this aspect of presentation along with some further ideas. Remember that whatever happens, gestures should look relaxed and natural. If you are struggling with this, remember that practice makes perfect – film yourself presenting or ask your friends to give you feedback. Also, as with all the other aspects of body language we’ve been talking about, you’ll need to adjust things depending on the size of the room.

5) Position and movement

This last area is more variable depending on the specific set-up of your presentation. It will be clear straight away whether you have any flexibility over where you position yourself or if movement around the space is even possible, but it’s always worth considering.

For example, if you are giving your presentation on a big stage, a bit of movement around the space can help to create visual interest and keep different parts of the audience engaged. Likewise, if your presentation has interactive elements, you could move closer or slightly further back from the audience depending on whether they’re involved or not. The golden rule is that any movement should be clear and directed – you should never look like you’re just wandering around the stage. You may, for example, want to engage your audience early on in your presentation by moving to the front of the stage and asking them a question – “Who can tell me…”, “Put your hand up if you have ever…” – this not only enables you to make some judgements about how much your audience already knows about what you have to say, it also engages them and suggests that you care about their experiences. Most people are much happier if they feel a speaker is “talking to” them rather than “talking at” them with no concern for their opinions.

The five topics above give an overall sense of how you can use body language to make your presentation clearer, more engaging and more powerful. Remember that body language is not something you apply later to a pre-written script, but a core part of how you present. It should go hand-in-hand with every other aspect of the presentation, such as the content and the tone of your voice, to create a compelling overall experience for your audience. Good luck and happy presenting!

Writing a CV… sooner or later, we all have to do it. However, trying to craft the perfect CV can seem like a daunting challenge. People worry about how much information to include, how their CV should be presented, and how to stand out from the crowd. What’s more, different people seem to have very different ideas about what a good CV should look like.

While CV writing can seem like a minefield, we have some handy Do’s and Don’ts to help you through the process:

DO:

  • Tailor your CV
  • Give relevant detail
  • Make it look good

DON’T:

  • Overload your CV with irrelevant information
  • Be boring or repetitive
  • Let anything slip through the net

These Do’s and Don’ts are broken down below to help you create the perfect CV for your situation and catch the attention of the people you need to impress.

1) DO tailor your CV

The most important thing to remember is that when it comes to writing a CV, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A good CV shouldn’t just be unique to you, but also to the application you’re making. What information you choose to include should relate directly to what the person reading you CV needs to know. The sifting of CVs into piles labelled “no” and “maybe” can be done very quickly so make it sure you provide the employer with all the information he or she needs to make the right decision. If a job requires you to have a degree for example, you must make it clear that you have one, or are expecting to have one by the time you start work.

Obviously, there are some core facts which are relevant to every CV, such as education, especially any university courses or postgraduate qualifications or your most recent grades from school if you have not completed a degree If you do not provide information, such as the class of your degree, an employer is likely to assume the worst.

You will also want to list the jobs you have held so far, and your current job. If you’re applying to be the CEO of a multinational company, you probably don’t need to include the Saturday job you had as a sixteen-year-old. On the other hand, if you’re a university student applying for a retail position, that Saturday job might be a really important part of your employment history. It is important not to leave any gaps – if there was a time when you took a “gap year” for example, say so. How much further detail you include depends on how relevant the experiences you had are to the post you are now applying for.

For each version of our CV, you need to make a judgement about which information is relevant and which is not – CV Library offer some handy tips on how to do this. The main thing is to remember that your CV should always to be tailored to a specific situation.

tailor your CV

2) DO give detail

Many people will tell you that a CV should not be too long or have too much information – this is very true, as we discuss below. However, this does not mean that a CV should not be detailed, and the last thing you want is for your CV to just read like a list of facts.

As with choosing which information to include, choosing how much detail to go into is a personal judgement which depends on what the CV is for, but here are some general tips:

  • Spell it out – A job title doesn’t necessarily explain what you did in a particular role and it certainly doesn’t cover any additional unique responsibilities and opportunities you had. The same goes for university courses. Explain these things clearly.
  • Think about who’s reading – Don’t assume knowledge on the part of the person reading your CV. Consider what they might not know and also what they do know, so that you can include or leave out details where necessary.
  • Give more detail when it’s relevant – If certain details are particularly relevant to the position, course or opportunity you are applying for, then it makes sense to include them. Some posts will require you to have obtained certain qualifications or to have picked up a certain set of skills from earlier employment. If so, make it quite clear how you meet these requirements.
  • There are some skills that are relevant to many jobs – if you had to deal with members of the public in a previous job, emphasise that – even if the new job doesn’t require this you will be meeting a lot of new people and an employer will be pleased to see that you are the kind of person who will not be worried about that.

Giving detail in your CV is really important because it allows you to show something of your individuality and unique experience. The trick is to be constantly aware of your audience when deciding what to include and what to leave out.

3) Make it look good

The content of your CV is obviously vital, but so is the presentation. In fact, the importance of having a well-formatted, stylish CV cannot be overstated. Remember, most CVs are read at speed, and so the information needs to be instantly accessible and clearly categorised. What’s more, a polished CV makes a great impression on whoever is reading it.

What does this mean in practice? Here are some pointers:

  • Don’t leave lots of blank space – Not only will you CV look fuller and more exciting, but the reader will be able to take in more information more quickly.
  • Use different font sizes – Larger font sizes or bold text are useful for section headers (g. “Employment History”) and for key information. The most important facts should stand out clearly to someone who is scanning the document. Remember that people reading CVs are not expecting to be entertained, so avoid “comic” fonts,anything that is too quirky or attempts to make people laugh. You want to stand out but in a good way.
  • Use consistent formatting – Present information in the same order and format every time. For example, don’t write “27/1/2018” in one part of the CV and “3rd July 2018” in another. Likewise, you should not switch between fonts in one document or between font sizes in a passage of text. Keep the House Style consistent.
  • Simple is effective – The best-looking CVs are simple but clear. Use a font and a font size which make the CV easy to read while also allowing you to pack lots of information in. Monster.co.uk offer some helpful tips on how to achieve this.

How your CV looks is not just a superficial matter, but absolutely vital in how it is received. A well-formatted CV not only creates a good impression, but also allows the reader to access the most important information quickly and easily. Make sure too that the employer knows how to get in touch with you – be sure to provide an e-mail address and a telephone number where a voicemail can be left if you are not available. If an employer cannot reach you to invite you to an interview, they may choose someone else. If you do get an invitation to an interview, respond promptly; again if an employer doesn’t hear from you they may assume you are no longer interested and look elsewhere.

Make it look good

4) DON’T overload your CV

Your CV needs to give a wide range of information, from education to job history to special skills and experience. However, as mentioned above, it also needs to be concise so the person reading will not waste any time on irrelevant information.

A good rule of thumb is that your CV should not be longer the two full pages of A4 paper. If you’re young or if you don’t have much experience yet, one side of A4 is fine, while if you’re more experienced and applying for a high-level position, you may need to go onto a third or fourth page. However, two sides of A4 is a good size to aim for in general.

You should also make the language you use on the CV concise. For example, when describing your responsibilities at a particular company, it is more efficient to say “I was responsible for online marketing” than it is to say “My responsibilities included administering the company’s online marketing strategy”. Never forget that CVs are usually scanned very quickly – get to the point swiftly and clearly.

5) DON’T be boring

While it is a good idea to make your content as efficient and concise as possible, that doesn’t mean your CV has to be matter-of-fact and dull. Creating a CV that stands out from the crowd is important if you want to make sure your unique qualities come across to potential employers.

With this in mind, here are a few ways to spice things up:

  • Use dynamic language – There is a big difference between, “I was involved in improving the company’s growth” and “I boosted the company’s growth”. Make yourself sound active and positive.
  • Sell yourself – Some people worry that they will sound arrogant if they emphasise their achievements, but that is what a CV is all about. Don’t be afraid to big yourself up a little and talk confidently about your unique qualities. Biginterview.com have some useful advice about this which can apply to writing your CV.
  • Beware templates – Using a CV template is often a very good idea, but it is only a starting point. Don’t slip into using ill-suited generic formats or clichéd phrases.
  • Include something interesting or unusual – A good CV is always concise and to-the-point, but it is also a good idea to include something interesting or unusual about yourself to catch the reader’s attention. Make sure that it isn’t too strange or irrelevant, but anything where you can show that you worked as a team with others or have taken the initiative to change things for the better, whether at work, or doing voluntary work, or raising money for charity for example, can show that you will be the kind of person who will be good value to an employer. Hobbies too may be relevant, but only if they are related to the kind of job you are applying for.

6) DON’T let anything slip through the net

This may sound obvious, but people often forget to do it: read your CV, re-read it, and then read it again and again to make sure there are absolutely no mistakes. These could range from spelling and grammar issues to inaccurate information, and they create a poor impression for the person reading the CV. It is also a good idea to get friends and colleagues to proofread your CV, as there will always be things that you miss when checking it yourself.

Speaking of incorrect information, it is also vitally important to keep your CV up-to-date. When you tailor your CV to a specific job or opportunity, you also need to make sure all the details are still accurate and that you continuously include the new skills and experience that you have acquired. Don’t be tempted to invent experiences you haven’t had. You may be caught out at interview or when an employer checks your references.

Applying for that dream job might be the moment to tidy up your social media profile – a Twitter feed related to your area of professional interest can be mentioned on your CV and may help you to land that job. Public Facebook posts showing you and your friends behaving badly or using inappropriate language may have the opposite effect.

As mentioned earlier, there is no fixed set of rules for creating the perfect CV. Every situation requires something different, and you will need to make judgements on what information is required or what format is most appropriate. However, following the above Do’s and Don’ts is a great way to get you on track to crafting the best possible CV for your unique circumstances. Good luck!

DON’T let anything slip through the net