By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker
This is the second of a two-blog series on giving great presentations.
So you have a presentation to give, and you’ve figured out who your audience is. That first step has helped you to decide what order to put the pieces in and how detailed they should be. Now that you have those elements in place, how do you deliver? At the highest level, the answer for your physical delivery is the same as your content structure: you deliver for the audience. Luckily, physical skills are more broadly transferable across audiences than content organization.
The thing about body language is that it speaks so many more volumes than our actual words do. Words (the part you focused on already by organizing your content) make up only 7% of the audience’s experience. 23% is our tone of voice, and the rest (70%) is non-verbal cues like what our bodies say. Our bodies will speak whether we want them to or not. What we need is to get them to agree with our messages.
Don’t: Prioritize Your Comfort Over the Audience’s
The temptation is to say, “Well, I need to be comfortable when I’m delivering, so I’ll just do whatever feels comfortable to me.” Unfortunately, that’s also not a very constructive way to approach your audience. Most people’s comfortable positions look like they’re waiting for a bus. Often their weight is on one leg, with arms folded or hands clasped. None of that looks very professional.
Another aspect of the speaker-comfort school of thought is that it usually results in bad gestures. How many people do you know who, when they present, have just one gesture they repeat over and over? If you can easily do an impression of someone you know giving a speech, chances are, it’s because they gesture repetitively or only emphatically or randomly or all three. None of those patterns helps your message.
Do: Give Yourself a Clean Slate
Everyone is different. We all have different ways of acting nervous. Some people tap their feet, some people twitch their fingers or run through imaginary piano exercises. Some people shift their weight or flick their eyes to different corners of the room, or, or, or. You see where I’m going with this. It would take the rest of our lives to list all the different things people do that are not constructive to presentation. So instead, the first thing I recommend learning to do is stand still while speaking.
When the rest of your body is still, nothing distracts listeners from what you are saying. Furthermore, when you do make a gesture, it’s pure signal, with none of the nervous noise of your personal tics getting in the way. Just think of how still the top TED Talks presenters are.
Do: Give Your Audience a Clear Picture
So what kind of gestures deserve to be writ large on this grand, blank canvas of you standing still? Gestures that help your message. If you’re talking about a length of time or an amount of money, show us with your hands if it’s a big or small amount relative to the topic and your opinion. If it’s a list, show us in space the order or the chronology. Ticking things off with your fingers is not adding information. It’s just saying the number with your hands. It’s in the gesture that the number becomes meaningful.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what to gesture, or how to do it, go to lunch with a friend. I guarantee that in a relaxed environment, you make gestures that describe what you’re talking about. If you just can’t get yourself to do that in rehearsal or on stage, there are a few ways to jumpstart yourself.
Pick an axis to use every time you talk about time, lists, or progress, and make sure you place elements along that axis whenever you mention one. Don’t forget that forward and back is an axis, too! (Make sure you only use one for each concept, don’t confuse your audience by using the same one for many different concepts.) Also, gestures for people are a really quick and easy way to get started: “you,” “me,” and “us” practically gesture themselves.
Do: Go Big or Go Home
When you’re the presenter, you own all the space at the front. Act like you own it by gesturing at the right scale for the room. Of course, if you’re right next to someone in an elevator, that’s not the time to show off your wingspan, but at the front of a room, you have to be larger than life. Small movements lock you up and nullify the great advantage of gestures. If you have a room, move your arms from the shoulder, not the elbow (or worse yet, wrist!), and make sure people all the way in the back can see them.
Successful physical delivery rides on these few items. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Practice early and often, and harness that 70% for your message!
Is a new business presentation in your future? Download “The Pull To Become An Entrepreneur!” here.
Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.
Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.