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It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s How You Say It
Given the considerable effort you’ve invested in carefully crafting your words for that upcoming important presentation, it may come as a surprise to learn that the impact you make on your audience goes beyond the content of your speech. It’s not just about what you say; it’s also about how you present yourself and how you are perceived by others.
While we often view communication as an intellectual, verbal exercise, it’s important to recognize that communication, particularly in public speaking, is a physical activity as well. When you step on that stage, it’s not just your words that speak to the audience, but also your body language, tone of voice, and overall presence. In fact, research shows that gestures alone account for a significant 55% of your impact, while tone of voice contributes 38%, leaving only a meager 7% for the actual words you use. This means that the non-verbal aspects of your presentation hold a whopping 93% of its overall impact.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
This leads us to a simple truth: when it comes to body language, actions truly do speak louder than words. Your body language can either make or break your presentation. Within seconds of seeing you on stage, the audience forms an almost instinctive judgment about whether they trust you as a speaker. This initial impression sets the tone for your entire presentation, and if the audience doesn’t trust you, it won’t matter what you say – you won’t be able to persuade them. On the other hand, projecting confidence and authority (without crossing into arrogance) can help establish trust and support your message.
Your body, from your eyes and mouth to your hands and head, reveals a great deal about your mental state. Turning your back to the audience or talking to the screen instead of engaging with them can make you seem disinterested. Excessive movement can be overwhelming and distract your audience. Remember the small circle of light on stage during TED talks? It serves as a subtle reminder for speakers to stay within a defined area, preventing aimless wandering. While gestures can be powerful in emphasizing key points, too many or exaggerated movements can come across as overbearing or aggressive. Certain gestures, such as touching your face or hair, or covering your mouth, can make you appear less trustworthy.
Facial expressions and overall posture are also vital. Your facial expressions convey your emotions and attitudes towards yourself and your message. Your posture reveals your confidence level. Avoiding eye contact, engaging in nervous hand gestures like scratching or touching your face, having an unsteady voice, or displaying poor posture are telltale signs of discomfort and even dishonesty – not the impression you want to leave on your audience. Remember: no matter how well-crafted your presentation is, your body language will ultimately overshadow it.
The Traits of Successful Speakers
Take a moment to reflect on some of the successful speakers you’ve encountered. They exude relaxation, confidence, and command without being overbearing. They seem authentic and “natural.” However, let’s not mistake “natural” for “improvised.” The effortless presentations we admire are the result of meticulous preparation, training, and rehearsal. A polished delivery that appears effortless is a testament to the hard work put into it.
While coaching, self-awareness, and rehearsal are essential in perfecting your presentation, it’s crucial to strike a balance. Avoid appearing overly rehearsed, stiff, or robotic. Your goal is to be authentic, natural, and sincere – not just a “communications pro” with a rehearsed routine and nothing meaningful to say.
Keys to Presentation Success
In order to master the art of presenting, it’s important to develop a range of skills related to movement, eye contact, positioning, and gestures. Here are a few key areas to focus on, which can serve as a foundation for further in-depth training if needed:
Posture: Your posture speaks volumes about your confidence. Stand tall with your shoulders back and chest out, projecting a positive mindset, energy, resilience, and confidence. Avoid slouching at all costs.
Eye contact: Maintain steady eye contact with someone in the audience. Wandering eyes can give off an untrustworthy impression and make you appear unfocused. Note that while eye contact is generally considered positive in North America and Europe, it may be perceived differently in certain Eastern cultures, particularly between genders.
Smile: A genuine smile can instantly put your audience at ease and establish a rapport. It makes people feel more comfortable with you as a speaker. However, it’s essential to align your facial expressions with the content of your speech. Smiling while discussing serious or somber topics would be inappropriate.
By incorporating a poised and clear voice (without any unnecessary “uhmms”), maintaining a natural and open demeanor, and paying attention to your posture, you can greatly enhance the success of your presentation. And don’t forget to smile.
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