You’re sitting in a conference waiting for the next speaker to come up. From the way they move and their very first words, you know this presentation is going to be good. You put your phone away, and give them your full attention.
By the time they’ve finished, you’re somehow wiser. Because that speaker has achieved what every speaker should aim to do: move their audience forward in some way.
How do we know, within the first few seconds of a presentation, whether it’s going to engage us or not? How do some speakers get us to hang on every word, while others fail to capture the attention they deserve?
A speaker you want to listen to has presence. They have poise. Their voice draws us in – as does their body language. And they deliver a message that resonates.
The 7 – 38 – 55 breakdown
Psychology professor Albert Mehrabian was a UCLA academic who conducted research in the 1960s into the importance of non-verbal communication. Put simply, here’s what he concluded:
- 7% of the meaning of a presentation is down to the content, or verbal language
- 38% is down to our delivery (our tone of voice, emphasis and rhythm)
- 55% of meaning can be attributed to our non-verbal language.
Whether you agree with him or not, I believe he had a point.
It’s not just what you say – it’s the way that you say it.
Your content may be rich and interesting and well researched. But if you don’t speak with energy and passion the delivery falls flat, and the impact – and probably the message – is lost.
So if you have something important to say, how do you say it with impact? By focusing on how you present. And by presenting with presence.
Confidence without arrogance
You may have heard of Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Harvard University lecturer who gave a now famous TED talk, “Your body language may shape who you are”. In her talk, she argued that “power posing” – standing for two minutes in a confident posture – can boost confidence levels long enough to improve your presence, and performance at crucial moments (such as pitches, presentations or job interviews).
Amy Cuddy demonstrating her “Wonder Woman” power pose
In her book, ‘Presence – Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges’, Amy Cuddy refers to presence as “confidence without arrogance”. Which I think sums it up nicely.
But what if you’re not a confident speaker? What if, like so many other people, you suffer from public speaking nerves? And the last thing on your mind is how you present – you just want to get it over and done with.
Presence is totally something you can work on.
It’s all about being yourself. Relaxed, instead of rigid. Flowing rather than frozen. It’s about building a bridge to the audience so they get what you’re saying.
It may sound easier said than done, but start applying these 3 tips and you’ll gradually transform your presentations.
How to present with presence
1. See the audience for who they are
Remember why you’re there in the first place. You have something to share with your audience. You know your subject, otherwise you wouldn’t be presenting it.
Break the audience down into individuals who are simply there to learn something – not to judge you – and speak to them one at a time. And remember that you may be quaking on the inside, but the audience can’t see it.
2. Convey positive words with positive body language
The impression made by body language is instant, so be very aware of the non-verbal language you use. Practice making eye contact from start to finish of your presentation.
Use fluid, natural gestures. And own the stage by moving and using the space, rather than remaining rooted to the spot.
3. Your voice is a fantastic presentation tool – use it
Experiment with your voice by changing speed: slow down to deliver key words and your key message, speed up when you want to get your audience excited. Make sure you speak loudly enough, and vary the volume depending on your content.
Don’t forget to breathe! How many business presentations have you seen when the speaker rattles through their text at 100 miles an hour? It’s impossible to take in what they’re saying, and the message is almost certainly lost forever.
Deliberately building in pauses gives you time to take in some much-needed oxygen – and your audience time to digest what you’re saying.
Be yourself – your authentic you
As Amy Cuddy says, “The more we are able to be ourselves, the more we are able to present. And that makes us convincing.”
Speaking with presence comes from being yourself, your authentic you. From being clear about your message. And from trusting your power and capacity to deliver that message.
By presenting with presence, you’re ensuring your message is not just heard – but truly listened to.
Ready to work on your presence? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
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