The most important element of the presentation is the speaker him/herself and how they “deliver” the content and interact with the visual aids. The presenter can control the delivery in three areas:

Body Language

Voice

Language


Body Language

Mehrabian (1971) showed that 55% of our liking of a person comes from their body language. We can use our eyes, face, hands & arms (gestures) and posture to communicate information.

Which body parts are most important when making a presentation? On the picture below, rank the parts of the body in order of importance when making a presentation. Click here to see the answers.
Man

Eyes

EyesYes, the eyes are the most important part of the body when making a presentation. The eyes were once thought to be a window into a man’s soul. By using your eyes in a presentation you can hold the audience’s attention and engage them. If you look away from the audience or your eyes flitter about then you will lose them.

Body part Rank
Body posture  4
Face  2
Eyes  1
Hands and Arms  3

How should I use my eyes?

Good presenters “hold their audience” by looking directly at them and maintaining this. They look at one person first, then move to another then another, and so on. Each time you look at someone you open up a channel for communication. The eyes say “I want to communicate with you”. Strong, steady eye contact is the most effective way to hold the audience’s attention.

How long should I look at one person?

About 5 to 8 seconds. If you are in a bar and stare at a stranger for longer than 3 seconds then the stranger will think something is wrong. However, during a presentation, the audience is within the social zone and you can look at one person for up to 8 seconds. After that, move to another audience member and keep eye contact with them for 5 to 8 seconds.

Mona Lisa

Face

The face signals how confident you are. Even if you are feeling awful inside, try to present a relaxed and confident facial expressions. Smile if you can.

The face is also a tool to complement what you are saying. Use different facial expressions to illustrate the point you are making.

Look at the five facial expressions below. Can you guess what type of human emotion each face is suggesting. Click here to reveal the answers.

Five faces

Gestures (Hands and Arms)

If you video-record yourself doing a presentation and then look back at the video, you will probably be surprised at how much your hands and arms are moving about. Sometimes you might be scratching your head, touching your nose, or putting your hands in your pockets.

During a presentation, the aim is to convert these random and nervous gestures into positive and meaningful messages.

The first message you can make with your hands is the steeple gesture shown below. This is the staring position for the presenter. It suggest you are confident and ready; enthusiastic and positive.

Steeple Gesture

Some people find the steeple gesture awkward; it feels unnatural and pretentious. But it is the best gesture to start the presentation with. Hands behind the back looks too stiff; by your side too loose; leaning on a chair or wall, too relaxed.

Of course as you start to speak you will want to make gestures that complement what you say. Normally the gestures you make will be on the key words, the words that you want to stress and emphasize. Here are some of the gestures you can make:

Gestures

Delivering an Utterance

Let’s look at how you can add gestures to an utterance. Below you will see the gesture frame of a speaker delivering a single utterance. Look at how the gestures complement the utterance. Words that are stressed in the utterance are given an emphasis with a gestures, while words that are not stressed just have the default steeple gesture.

Gesture Frame

Posture

Your body posture can also signal how you feel about the presentation. A nice relaxed upright posture is best. Leaning on a chair or a wall is a no-no because it suggests you are too casual about the presentation. Equally a rigid posture can signal a very formal presentation and the audience may find it difficult to relax.

What message do each of the following body postures suggest? Which  do you think is most appropriate for delivering a presentation? Click here to reveal the answers.

Postures
What message do these body postures convey?

Using Your Space

A good presenter moves about from time to time to “use the space” and convey certain (non-verbal) messages to the audiences.
When making an oral presentation, you do not have to stay rooted to the same spot throughout your presentation. You can move to other positions, and in fact good presenters make use of their space in order to convey certain messages.

As with hand gestures, however, you do not want to wander about aimlessly all the time as this will send the wrong message and distract the audience. Instead, you need to move to certain positions at certain times in order to convey clear and unambiguous messages. Let’s use the game of baseball as an analogy. (Read on >> PDF Document)


Voice

This is one area which students find difficult to master. The voice refers to anything that comes out of your mouth. A good presenter will try to put some emphasis into key words and to vary the pace and intonation. In general, you should aim for a slow, clear delivery through your voice.

Each utterance can be delivered differently according to:

  • pausing: breaking up the utterance into chunks
  • intonation: varying the rise and fall in the pitch of the voice
  • stress: putting emphasis on key words in the utterance

Take the sentence below:

  • The key point I want to make is that global warming is an issue which affects us all

This sentence can be broken up into chunks. At the end of each chunk, the presenter would pause momentarily before before uttering the next chunk.

  • The key point I want to make
  • is that global warming
  • is an issue which affects all of us.

Language

See the main page on language.