Secret to Presentation Success

What research can teach us about presentations success

The first thing to realize about an effective presentation is that, more than anything else, you are the message. Even though you may spend a lot of time preparing your written materials, visuals, and PowerPoint slides, they are no substitute for you. The main focus of your presentation is still you. You are the vehicle through which your message comes alive, or dies a sudden death. But what is the secret to being a more effective you? Do the quiz below and find out.

Below, you will find three different elements that make up a successful presentation. Fill in the blanks, with percentages that indicate what you believe to be the most important factors in a successful presentation.

My Estimate
Choice of Words ___________%
Tone of Voice ___________%
Body Language ___________%
TOTAL 100%

Make sure you have jotted down your answers before reading further!

Now compare your numbers with the average percentages shown below, based on a number of communication studies from around the world.

TOTAL 100%

Were you surprised? As you can see, research reveals that members of an audience are much more influenced by what they see than what they hear. This means that your words are only a small part of your message. It means that your non-verbal communication or body language, including posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and walking patterns, need to be even more fine-tuned than your verbal abilities.

Why are these non-verbal skills more important than the content of your message? Because as you walk up to the stage and before you even open your mouth, the audience is already forming an impression of who you are. As you begin to speak, the way you stand, how you move, where you look, what you do with your hands, whether you stand still or move about — all of these non-verbal clues are communicating a message to your audience about the quality, authenticity and effectiveness of the presenter, who is you.

Still not convinced? Try this exercise. In your mind, switch roles for a moment and think back to the last time you attended a lecture, seminar, meeting, conference or presentation of any kind. Even in those few seconds before you heard the first words, hadn’t you already started to form a mental impression about what kind of speaker he or she was likely to be? About whether you would be bored or interested by what the speaker had to share? Weren’t you already making judgments about the speaker’s credibility, honesty, or authenticity? And as the presentation proceeded, were your initial assumptions confirmed? How did you reach these conclusions? How were you able to gather so much information so quickly? From the person’s body language.

All kinds of wordless signals are broadcast, not only as you walk up to the podium, but throughout your presentation. These signals can build trust, interest, or connection. They can also invoke negative reactions, such as distrust, disinterest, or confusion. They can strengthen the message you are trying to convey, or undermine it completely. So, the first place to start when improving your presentation, is to learn how to control and command your body language. By transforming your non-verbal communication or body language into something powerful, energizing and positive, you will predispose your audience — at a community barbecue, a board meeting, or an international conference — to expect the best from you.