Sep 152014

What is more important: how you deliver your message or what you have to say?

Most people would say that the content of a presentation is the critical concern and delivery holds secondary importance.  Is it 80/20?  Could it be 50/50?  Or even 20/80?  Professionals in corporate communications and public speaking coaches debate the relative importance of three key factors in an effective presentation: content, tone and body language.

A recent controversy arose online among communication professionals about the critical percentages of words, tone and body language in a speech.  Clearly everyone agrees that words alone will not suffice in a presentation.  Public speakers need to consider the effect of their intonation, gestures and physical presence.

In my work with clients I stress the point that content — words and ideas — will be only as effective as the dialogue a speaker establishes between him/herself and the audience.  With this idea in mind, is it surprising that intonation and body language hold such importance in the estimation of communication professionals?

What are the critical elements in establishing the dialogue between speaker and audience?  Good speakers know they must establish a rapport between themselves and the individuals in their audience.  Note I said “individuals.”  An audience may consist of ten, a hundred or even a thousand people, but a good speaker considers them as individuals and tries to connect through intonation, tone and gesture.  The best public speakers are those who possess “charisma,” which comes from making a connection with the members of the audience.

Charismatic speakers display self confidence by using a natural voice, appropriate hand gestures, and body language to draw the audience to the speaker, instead of making a separation between them.

So when planning a speech or presentation of any kind, take time to consider and practice what you will say.  Remember, you may be an expert in your field but your effectiveness will be measured by how well you communicate what you know.  Your delivery has to connect with the individuals in the audience to make your efforts worthwhile.  While there may be no universal percentages, effective presentation skills as well as knowledge of your content remain critical to establishing the dialogue between you and your listeners.


Check back soon for more ideas on effective speaking, communications and speech pathology.




  2 Responses to “Is It WHAT You Say or HOW You Say It?”

  1. Hello Gloria,

    I agree. Thank you for summarizing the essence of high-quality public speaking.
    As an educator/certified personal trainer, I work with all age groups: children at the elementary school level, college students, baby boomers and the elderly.

    Without that very connection to the audience, we are unable to convey our message.
    I agree in that intonation, tone of voice and body language work in unison in order to establish a dialogue that is beneficial to speaker and audience alike.

    In this context I would like to point out one caveat: some speakers and news casters greatly overdo hand gesturing. Such “form” appears exaggerated and unnecessary, thus voiding potential content.

  2. Thanks, Suzanne,

    You make an excellent point about modifying body language, making it appropriate but not artificial. A key element for effective presentation is using the tools properly, not just adding more layers; in this case, accentuating hand gestures for emphasis dilutes the effectiveness of a speaker’s message.

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