Project Presence As A Speaker

Studies show that audiences are influenced by visual and vocal imagery more than by the words that are spoken. These images must be as deliberate as our content if we are to convey a strong message. Here are a few considerations for creating presence as a speaker.

  • Use your Voice. First, know and develop your own voice by hearing it recorded. In some cases formal voice training is valuable. For most, paying attention to such aspects as volume, rate, projection, articulation, and inflection is enough. The most debilitating vocal shortcoming is a boring monotone voice (see Use Your Voice Effectively, below at page 18).
  •  Use Strategic Pauses. Pauses are to speaking what space is to images and graphics are to text. They direct attention. Pauses also add vitality and variety to speech. Some say silence implies knowledge and authority. Pauses provide spaces for your message to sink in. They keep audiences engaged and interested. (see Use the Compelling Power of the Pause on page 18).
  • Show A Positive Posture. See discussion of good posture below in Use Positive Body Language at page 19.
  • Using Notes. Notes are OK if you don’t depend on them. Use key words (words, names, points) not whole text. Use colored highlighting to emphasize crucial point or ideas. Make your notes large enough to be seen in a glance. Use 4 x 6 cards. Number them in order. Minimize their visibility. Don’t shuffle papers or notes at the lectern.
  • Incorporate Gestures and Movement. Gestures and movement are important visual cues. (See discussion below at "Use Positive Body Language" at page 9)
  • Use Props and Visuals. Visuals and props can tell stories effectively, especially with modern audiences more attuned to visual imagery. Audiences retain more if they both hear and see the message. Visuals can serve many discrete purposes. They can add interest, shorten presentations by summarizing material, direct attention, clarify complex ideas, rest the speaker, and eliminate the need for speakers’ notes. Use visuals that are relevant, clear (in content and visually), attractive and always with a purpose.
  • Make Eye Contact. American audiences accept that eye contact conveys purpose, confidence, and sincerity. Spread eye contact around the audience (including the back rows). Don’t dart around too rapidly. Hold each contact for about 5–10 seconds. Try moving your eye contact among audience members after making a point or completing a thought rather than while you are making a point. Eye contact can help build your own confidence. Look into the eyes of people you know or like or who are nodding approval or smiling at you. Smile back or nod in acknowledgment of their support. If you feel someone is uncomfortable with eye contact (some people do) do not take it personally, just move on.
  • Dress comfortably, but always appropriately. Like it or not, some people read a lot into the clothes you wear. Dress as close as possible to the audience or its expectations. Ask what the audience will be wearing or what they expect in speaker attire. Avoid the flamboyant, extreme, or unusual unless your clothing is a prop or costume (and even then have an exit strategy from the costume). Within these loose guidelines, wear what makes you feel comfortable. Comfortable clothes that we like adds to our sense of poise and confidence. Pay particular attention to shoes both as to appearance (clean well-polished) and above all, comfort.
  • * Getting Better with Practice. It’s hard to think about visual and vocal aspects during a presentation. One technique is to print reminders of what we need to work on a card and keep it on the lectern (e.g. "Slow Down", "Look Up", etc.). These skills can be developed by practicing before a mirror, reviewing videos, and watching other speakers. Be conscious of how you naturally use these skills in our everyday conversations. This provides a regular opportunity to sharpen them.

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