Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Every career, every job, every presentation's success depends on your team or audience trusting you and accepting your credibility.
Gary Oldman’s Darkest Hour portrayal of Winston Churchill is outstanding. Watching this masterpiece, you feel like you are there, watching history unfold. He’s not acting the role of Churchill: he is Churchill.
Every great actor/actress understands that their credibility, their success completely depends on the connection they make with the audience. No matter how wonderful their voice, how perfect their physical beauty and costume, the audience believes the body language. Not the script. Not the cinematography. Not even the music.
This is critical for you as a presenter. If people question your credibility, they will most likely reject your message.
Your presentation success does not depend nearly as much on how much you know as on how well your audience thinks they know you. All the PhD’s, titles, job experience, or letters behind your name cannot overcome the message you send via body language.
And the guide to body language, to audience trust, begins with the eyes. The recent death of Billy Graham led to a lot of film footage of him being shown on television. His eyes connect him to the audience like few others. There is no subterfuge, no cleverness, no barrier at all to him looking into the soul of each person in the audience. The intensity of his eyes conveys the intensity of his belief. They never contradict it. He conveyed love of mankind in a way that made people change how they felt: about life, about death, about themselves, their future, their hopes, their fears.
Oldman and Graham also understood how to match their vocal skills with their eyes. They combined the power of the voice with the credibility of their eyes to lead their audiences where they wanted them to go.
As wonderful a tool as voice can be, whenever it contradicts the eyes, the eyes win. You so often see someone looking down at the end of a sentence, gathering their thoughts as to what comes next. Or they look at the screen as they finish a thought. That action sucks all the energy from whatever they are saying. That move is usually, but not always accompanied by a reduction in vocal energy, usually a slight reduction in volume and lowering of pitch. Combine what the eyes have done with the voice and you have a surefire way to cut your credibility and lose the audience to their own thoughts.
Any repetition of these combined behaviors will assuredly wreck the presentation. You would be better off to give people a well written paper than to deliver your message with eyes and voice combining against you.
Presenting is a learned skill
Actors rehearse and get expert direction. Too often, presenters rehearse by themselves, see they have a good slide deck, go over the points they want to make, and consider themselves prepared. A few even speak their presentations aloud, hear themselves doing a pretty good job, and consider themselves ready.
Unfortunately, that practice doesn’t do much to make them terrific presenters. It takes a good deal of knowledge and clear application of best practices to climb out of that mediocre level of presentation that seems to dominate corporate America.
You and your team can radically improve your presentations. The keys are to improve the structure, content, and memorability of your presentation. More importantly, vigilant practice of your delivery will improve how you feel about presenting and reduce anxiety about it.