Understanding

January 5, 2010

The objective for most business presentations to is educate and influence people, while at the same time providing some entertainment to keep them interested.

To achieve this, the audience must understand what you are saying.  There are three aspects to understanding what someone is saying:

  • Vocal
  • Verbal
  • Visual

The standard percentages that are often quoted in relation to public speaking, are that 7% of the information is conveyed verbally, 38% vocally, and 55% visually.

These percentages are not only misleading, they are wrong.  The origins of these figures are two separate studies, one conducted by Albert Mehrabian and Susan Ferris (1967) which compared vocal tone to facial cues, and the other by Mehrabian and Wiener (1967) which compared vocal tones to single words. 

Mehrabian himself says ‘My findings are often misquoted.  Clearly, it is absurd to imply or suggest that the verbal portion of all communication constitutes only 7% of the message’

However, that said, the way you say something has a tremendous affect on the way the words are received and the visual stimuli have yet another affect.  What you want to aim for is all three communication mechanisms, verbal, vocal and visual to be in line with each other and to re-enforce each other.

Verbally

Are the words that you are using easily understood by your audience?  Try to avoid jargon and slang.  Follow the KISS principle, decide what your main message should be and stick to it.  Do not confuse the issue with a number of smaller less imported side issues, which do not support your main theme.  They may be interesting points but if they are tangential to the rest of your presentation, they are best avoided.

Vocally

Can your audience hear you?  Are you talking loudly enough?  Are you talking too loudly?

Talking too loudly can be as frustrating for the audience as someone who talks too quietly.  I remember one sales training presentation I attended where the speaker felt he had to shout to make his points.  The first couple of times he shouted everyone paid attention, the next couple of items people started to become irritated and from then on, everybody switched off and did not listen to a thing he was saying.

As well as the volume, try to enunciate clearly and do not mumble.  Put some feeling into your voice rather than just reciting information in a monotone.  By varying the pitch, tone and volume of our voice, you will capture people’s attention and they will understand you better.

Practise by reading young children stories from their books, if you are unsure of how to put that sort of feeling into your voice.  Most people become more animated when reading children’s stories aloud.

Visually

What the audience sees has to reinforce what they are being told, and how they are being told it.  If you were told by the managing director that the company was doing really well and was destined to break all its targets, while he was slouching about with a face as long as a wet weekend.  Would you believe him?

If you are speaking from the heart, with conviction and truth, you need not worry whether the visual, vocal and verbal aspects of your presentation are all in sync, they will be. It is only when you are trying to cover something up that the three elements of a presentation get out of sync and highlight your insincerity to your audience.

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever

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