Vary your words and your tone, speed and gestures
Presenters spend a lot of time choosing their words — as they should. You should also spend as much or more time on thoughtful delivery, including attention to speed, inflection and physical gestures. Together, the words and how they’re delivered add up to communicate meaning.
As an example, consider how the meaning behind a simple word like “okay” changes depending on how the teenager in your life delivers it. “Okay!” said crisply with a slight upward lilt at the end communicates excitement and enthusiasm, as in “Okay, you can drive me and my friends to the movies.” Or “okay” can be dour and evasive when delivered with a dragged out “ay” and downward inflection, as in, “Okaaay, I’ll empty the dishwasher.”
You project the same variations in meaning with your tone and inflection when you present, so think about your core message and what you want to communicate. Is your subject serious or inspiring, humorous or emotional? Map your intention and use these techniques to emphasize them:
- Make eye contact. Look at members of your audience while you speak, as you do when having a conversation. Maintain eye contact with one person for two to five seconds before moving to another. If stage lights or distance make it hard to establish real eye contact, use focal points instead. Learn your material well enough that you don’t need flash cards or notes on a computer screen, all of which put distance between you and the audience.
- Use physical gestures. Choreograph physical moves to correspond with the words and emotions in your presentation. When conveying excitement or enthusiasm, integrate big gestures and animated facial expressions. When communicating serious or grave information, stand still and keep your gestures small. Regardless of context, make physical movements intentional and avoid absent-minded “ticks” like flicks of your hair or glances at your watch.
- Alter your tempo, volume and emphasis. Variation encourages audience members to pay attention, so take pains to change your tone, speed and inflection to match your meaning. When telling a story, speed up during moments when your characters are moving quickly and slow down when they stop to think or weigh consequences. Stress the most important word by raising your volume or saying it more slowly than average.
Read more: Build a Winning Investor Pitch Presentation
Use visuals to complement — or don’t use them at all
Great presentations don’t require visuals. Well-chosen words and effective delivery can be all you need to enthrall an audience.
Speakers who want visuals should use them to complement or emphasize their message, not distract from it. One rule of thumb is to remember that visuals are just that: Visual. They can be photographic images, graphics, video clips, animation, data representation or other media. Words as part of slides should be kept to a minimum — audience members can either listen to you or read, and you don’t want to give them any reason to tune you out.
For visual best practices, remember to:
- Get the facts right. When sharing research or data, make sure you understand the method and findings and communicate them accurately. Visualize data in charts (not tables) for clearer meaning.
- Marry facts with insights. Don’t stop with facts. Share why the audience should care about a fact or finding and provide ideas or examples of what they should do about it.
- Provide visual aids. Help people grasp difficult ideas by framing them in words and visuals.
- Explore video and audio. Video and audio are rare additions to verbal presentations, yet they’re an effective way to reset audience attention. Video lets an audience witness the same places or events you describe with words. Audio can create ambience or provide validating evidence from an expert.