Between what you have to say and what your audience perceives as your message, there is a significant variable that can help or hurt you – your style.

How you present is much bigger than what you have to say.

  1. Close to 56% of the impact from an oral presentation is visual – facial expressions, meaningful hand gestures, body movement, and one-on-one eye contact with individuals in the audience play a significant role.
  2. 36% of the impact comes from the sounds you make: your tonality and vocal variety using changes in pace, projection, pitch, and pauses are empowering.
  3. What does it leave for the content? It is 8%.

Q: Does what you say matter if content weighs only 8%?
A: The answer is yes, of course – your belief, heart, passion, conviction, preparation, depth of knowledge, and credibility in what you have to say make the other 92% possible. So, the quality of ideas, depth of understanding & learning, and sound preparation are essential.

Q: If you are passionate about your topic and have prepared the content well, would that help with the other 92%?
A: Yes, it is pivotal to your success and a great start. However, it isn’t automatic: you still need to work for 92% so that your audience receives the message in your intended spirit.

Body Language

Body language – what you convey with posture, tonality, voice inflections, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and movement – plays a crucial role.

VIDEO ONE: Helpful tips for incorporating body language in your presentation.

The following are ten ideas we discussed in class through various workshops. Think about them, try them, explore them, and play around with them at toastmasters. You will develop your style over time. Ask one of our coaches if you missed our workshops and need a refresher on any of them.

Emphasize specific words in your presentation – words you think are critical or pivotal for your message.

A few tools:

  1. Stretch technique: Stretch a word in the sentence to add meaning or to emphasize.
  2. Vary your projection to highlight a word – remember that it doesn’t always have to be louder. Sometimes lowering your projection can also draw your audience to your point.
  3. Have a long pause before or after the word.
  4. Lower your pitch while saying a specific word. It is an effective technique. Work on it.

Action item: identify 5-7 words, highlight them in your prep, and practice saying them out loud to try and explore these techniques.

Practice, practice, and practice.

Stair-steps technique: imagine and practice your tonality going up or down the stairs (rather than staying flat all the time.)

Action items:

  1. When you start developing a point or are setting a stage for it, practice your tonality of “going up the stairs.” When driving a key takeaway, practice your tonality of “going down the stairs.”
  2. Try the opposite of #1 on the list. While setting the stage for a point, practice your tonality of “going down the stairs.” While delivering a key takeaway, have your tonality “go up the stairs.”

Lower your pitch when you articulate the essence of an idea or a key takeaway.

Action item: Try combining variants of pitch variation and stair-steps technique. Examples:

  1. Your tonality can go up while the pitch gets lower, or your tonality and pitch can both go high in tandem.
  2. Your tonality can go lower while the pitch gets higher, or your tonality and pitch can both go lower in tandem.

Engage in one-on-one eye contact with individuals in the audience. You make eye contact with an individual long enough for a meaningful exchange. I think 2-3 seconds is all you need for eye contact, and then switch to the next person. When you practice speaking like this, public speaking is one-on-one speaking to all in the audience, one person at a time. It will do wonders for your comfort level and ability to reach and engage your audience and open floodgates to unlock facial expressions, hand gestures, and emotional engagement.

If you sense they aren’t comfortable with the eye contact, move away from them to a different person.

Action item: Identify five individuals in the audience and have one-on-one eye contact with each of them at least once. Visualize in your mind doing it, and explore/try it. Tell your friends maybe you are doing that and seek their feedback after the presentation.

Avoid unnecessary movements and pacing of any kind: they drain energy from your presentation and dilute your impact.

Be aware of nervous expressions such as putting hands in your pockets, nodding your head excessively, using filler words like um and ah too often, pacing back and forth, or rocking from one side to the other. Learn to control these mannerisms. They can distract your audience and sap energy from your presentation.

Action items:

  1. Ask your evaluator, friends in the class, or coaches to look for those at the toastmasters session and give you feedback when they see distracting movements.
  2. Ask a fellow toastie or one of the coaches to record your presentation and watch it at home. Practice what you want to eliminate a few times and give the presentation again. It is the fastest way to learn and improve.

Hand gestures:

  • Avoid folding your hands, keeping them in your pockets, or keeping them behind you.
  • Keep your hands by the side or above waist level. Avoid moving them without reason. You will develop your style over time.
  • Put your words into action using gestures.
  • Make your gestures wide when you use them.
  • Think of integrating a few gestures in your presentation and practice them for prepared speeches.

Action item: Think of five instances in your presentation where you are developing an important point. Explore and play around using hand gestures in those moments and practice repetitions of the sentence to try these hand gestures. Watch VIDEO ONE above again. It has some ideas to identify and incorporate hand gestures in your presentation.

Whether it is an impromptu table topic or one of your points in a prepared presentation – develop the message in your own words as it flows naturally (with table topics, you don’t have a choice anyways.)

Avoid reading your message from paper or a phone. Bring handwritten flashcards with only a few words written in big fonts – use them as reminders of what is next in your presentation.

Thinking on your feet and allowing the message to flow in your natural words plays a pivotal role in developing the body language and maximizing the impact & reach with your audience.

Techniques that might come in handy for you while developing a point.

  1. PREP: Point – Reason – Examples – Point
  2. Point – Story – Point
  3. Develop two sides to a question or a viewpoint, and then close it with your takeaway

VIDEO TWO: Techniques to develop a point.

Take time to think on your feet, and be comfortable in silent moments when you speak.

When you pause, your audience is waiting, trying to anticipate what comes next. Pauses are powerful. Incorporate them in your presentation. Get used to them. Enjoy them. Practice them.

Action items:

  1. There is a beautiful thing at the end of every sentence – the period. Use it to inhale and pause.
  2. Avoid connecting sentences with and, so, and so, but, etc. – it will drain your energy, take you away from your natural breathing pattern, and limit your ability to think. It also makes it difficult for your audience to follow you.

Breath. Remind yourself to let breathing happen.

Use the breathing technique we practiced several times in our classes. Exhale as you speak so that if you put your palm in front of your mouth, you will feel a continuous puff of air on it while speaking. Visualize and observe your tummy going in as you speak. Air is the fuel for your sound, and you are using it as you speak.

Pause and inhale at the end of every sentence to refuel.

Action item: Practice saying a paragraph from your presentation out loud and exaggerate pauses to take deep breaths.

Once you play around and become comfortable, ask your coaches about body movement. You can move around with purpose, and it can add impact.

In the meantime, if you’d like to move from one spot to another, take at least two and a half steps (and not just one or half a step), stay in the new sport for at least 30 seconds, and move again if you like.

Again, focus on the first nine ideas of this article first.

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