Making Your Speech Count

Originally posted on and written by Randall P. Whatley

Pointers for Making a Great Presentation! 

Studies have shown that an audience bases their judgment of the quality of a speaker as follows:

Body Language: 55%
Vocal Qualities 38%
Words 7%

Over 93% of your perception as a speaker is from factors other than what you say!

Eye contact

The eyes communicate powerful cognitive messages. Presenters should not underestimate their ability to persuade an audience with their eyes. Following are tips to achieve better eye contact with an audience:

  • Mentally divide the room in 3-5 equal sections, and make eye contact with each section
  • When speaking from notes, follow these rules:
      • Look at your notes
      • Absorb one idea
      • Make eye contact with individuals in the audience
      • Speak your full idea
      • Repeat this pattern

Facial expressions

Facial expressions also communicate cognitive messages and emotions. They enhance your verbal communication by producing feeling tone, the impression that you care about what youre saying.

The following tips will help you use facial expressions to increase your persuasiveness:

  • Smile before you begin speaking
  • Dont be either mechanical or melodramatic; act naturally
  • Think about what youre saying and react with facial expressions to match or enhance the thought

Hand gestures

Hand gestures are important to emphasize words and emotions, illustrate verbal messages, or even replace verbal messages altogether.

Following are tips on using better hand gestures:

  • Keep your hands by your side or neutrally in front of you, unless you can use them to make a point.
  • Avoid doing the following with your hands:
      • Putting them behind your back
      • Putting them in your pockets
      • Putting them in front of you
      • Using them to fidget
  • Keep most gestures at chest level
  • Think about what you’re saying and react with hand gestures to match or enhance your message


Posture is an important element of your body language because it can communicate your message with confidence.

Following are tips for achieving better posture:

  • Before your presentation, sit or stand straight
  • Walk confidently to the podium
  • Assume the basic speaker stance, which is as follows:
      • Feet 12-18 inches apart and turned slightly outward
      • Weight evenly distributed over the balls of both feet
      • Body leaning slightly toward the audience
      • Hands at sides
      • Elbows loose


No matter how well you prepare a presentation, problems sometimes occur. If this happens, you must improvise to salvage your presentation.

It is important that you remember the following when problems occur during your presentation:

  • Problems should be ignored, if possible
  • Extra audience attention should not be called to the problem
  • Quickly solve the problem, but if you cannot, move on
  • Avoid breaking the flow of your presentation when a problem occurs
  • If you have to delay your verbal presentation, remind the audience what you were talking about before the interruption, and then continue

Following are ways to handle specific problems that occur during presentations:

Microphone problems

  • If you experience feedback, popping noises, or distortion, you may be too close–move back
  • If the microphone problem continues, fill your lungs with air and speak without a mike

Audio-visual support problems

  • You cannot depend on audio-visual supports for presentation success and you must be prepared to proceed without them
  • If an audio-visual problem arises during your presentation, choose the path that is least distracting to the audience to correct the problem

Dropped note cards

  • Continue without them, if possible
  • If you cannot continue without them, stop, pick them up, and continue

Unfriendly audiences

  • Answer hostile questions briefly, without becoming defensive, and then take another question
  • Address unfriendly audience members by first stressing areas of mutual agreement or understanding
  • Handle hecklers by pausing, making eye contact with the heckler, but not saying anything. Usually an audience member will address them. If this fails, ask the heckler to speak to you after your presentation is over. If you are heckled a third time, request that the heckler be removed from the room

Evaluate your presentation afterward

Once you finish presenting, evaluate yourself within 24 hours. If you have ideas on how to strengthen your material, make the changes immediately while the ideas are fresh.

If you have ideas on how to strengthen your performance, make notes and implement these ideas with your next presentation.

Review any evaluations that you receive. Do not dwell on negative comments, but focus instead on your overall scores and averages in each category.

Copyright 2000, Randall P. Whatley

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