Speak Silently

What makes one presenter persuasive and powerful and another weak and ineffective? Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not the content.

In his book Silent Messages , Albert Mehrabian reveals three elements that most influence an audience when discussing feelings and attitudes, likes and dislikes. Mehrabian ranked these elements in order of importance to the audience. Here's what he found:

Your verbal ability, or your content and knowledge about your topic, counts for only 7 percent of the audience's perception of you.

Your vocal ability, or how you speak, including your tone, pitch and inflection, counts for 35 percent of the audience's perception of you.

Your visual presence, or how you physically look while presenting, counts for a whopping 55 percent of the audience's perception of you.

This means audience members may make snap decisions about your credibility and level of expertise based on how you look and sound, not entirely on your spoken message. Amazing! That means your physical conduct and how you manage your body while communicating can have more of an impact than what you actually say.

Granted, body language can only take you so far, and if you want people to be engaged with your presentation long-term, you will need to say something meaningful and your content will matter. But since body language sets up the initial perception, you need to know the following rules to communicate strong body language to your audience. Mastering these skills will give your message more meaning and impact, leading your audience to act faster than ever before.

For the following guidelines, the assumption is that you're standing as you present; however, you can still use these guidelines if you are giving your presentation from a seated position. Simply modify them as needed.

1. Choose one person from the audience and look at that person for a complete thought when you make an important statement. Avoid looking down at your hands or at your notes; instead look at the individuals in your audience for at least three to five seconds to really connect. Once you have connected with one person, gradually redirect your gaze to another person and repeat the process.

Take your time working your eyes from one person to the next. Slow decisive eye contact communicates confidence. It also helps you think more clearly and slows your speaking pace, which makes you sound more authentic, and allows your body to gesture naturally.

2. As you're looking at someone, completely physically address that person. We refer to this as "squaring up" to the person you are talking to. Make sure your toes, shoulders and hips are all facing the person you're addressing. You want your body in total alignment with one or two people. When you first attempt to square up, it may feel a little robotic and stiff, but as you practice this new skill it will become more natural and will enhance your overall physical presence. This stance sends the message that you're confident, strong and in control. When your body is facing the person you are looking at, it also becomes easier to gesture naturally.

3. Stand tall with your weight even on both feet. Shifting your weight from leg to leg or slouching sends the message that you're unsure of yourself. Standing tall tells the audience you believe in what you are saying. It also helps your upper body stay relaxed and open, which promotes more-natural gestures.

4. Avoid leaning on things such as a table, the wall or a lectern. Stay away from any behavior that could be perceived as distracting, such as playing with change in your pocket. It is best to keep your hands free from holding objects such as notes or a pen. When your hands are free they are available to gesture naturally, which helps you convey your information with more conviction.

5. If you choose to walk while you present, that's fine. Once you've walked to address a person, stand still and speak a few sentences without moving so that you create a sense of command and power with your body language. You may choose to walk across the room or take one step toward a person. Just remember to address the individuals in the room with your whole body.

6. When you walk, walk with a purpose. There are only three reasons to walk during your presentation: 1) walking to the computer so you can change slides; 2) walking to your screen to point to something important; and 3) walking toward an audience member so you can address that person directly. All other forms of movement typically aren't necessary.


Strong body language indicates confidence in your content, so practice these six guidelines and watch your audience's perception of you improve dramatically. Once people see that your body language is confident, your message will have a higher impact and move your listeners to action more quickly and easily than ever before.

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