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For decades, leadership experts, managers, and life coaches have instructed those who give presentations to project an image of power, competence, and poise under pressure. Unfortunately, in the process there is a tendency to overvalue those admirable qualities at the expense of demonstrating personal warmth. And warmth is a fundamental component of one of the key ingredients of believability, sincerity, and buy-in: trustworthiness.

Powerful, confident leaders often have difficulty adding warmth—and without warmth, it’s much more difficult to convey competence. They may feel warmth—but that attitude may not be apparent as they speak. In fact, powerful people frequently receive feedback that they’re “intimidating,” “aggressive,” or “overpowering.” However, to pass the “trustworthiness test,” both warmth and competence need to come through in your body language and in your speaking style.

Here are some tips to help you achieve that delicate balance in your presentations:

  • Avoid a rigid, stiff posture.
  • Keep a pleasant expression on your face.
  • Smile when appropriate. It will soften your tone of voice.
  • Ask reflective questions rather than making statements.
  • Modulate your speaking rate, tone, and sentence patterns. Avoid sounding scripted.
  • Avoid staccato, hand chops into the air.
  • Avoid pointing fingers.
  • Refrain from asking so many questions that listeners feel “cross-examined.”
  • Call audience members by name when you speak to them. Names add the personal touch.
  • Ask listeners to share illustrations and examples to help make your points.
  • Add humor and lighten up.
  • React to your audience and be “in the moment” by being less scripted and less formal.
  • Avoid putting barriers like a lectern between you and your audience.
  • Use outward, inclusive gestures rather than circular gestures toward the trunk of your body.
  • Move closer to your audience but, of course, not into their physical space.

In your presentations it’s important to demonstrate power, confidence, and competence. But it’s warmth that first attracts others and makes them want to trust and connect with you as a leader and an authority. If you can deliver both, you’ll gain the trustworthiness you need to effectively deliver your message and accomplish your goals.

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