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A lesson in a presentation gone wrong

March 20, 2010

Two posts back I cited some simple statistics that illustrate how important you, the presenter, are. Most of what the audience remembers is tied directly to you, especially your enthusiasm.

There’s power there you can use but there’s danger in there, too. Lots of studies have shown just how sensitive to body language and  tone of voice we are. From birth we’re honing those skills and, consciously or not, we get very good at “reading” others. Our mental alarms go off when we detect conflict—when your words say one thing and your body language says another. Let me tell you a little story about how I had that powerfully illustrated a few months ago.

The organization that I work in is big, complicated, important and sometimes horribly bureaucratic. Last year it was in the midst of (another) major reorganization intended to simplify and streamline things. Big “town hall” meetings were called to explain things and generate support for the coming changes. At one, a senior person gave a talk about how things would affect her business segment—the one where I work. The slides were too many, and there were too many dull org charts, but I’ve seen much worse. Her talk was pretty good–straightforward and full of supportive words for what was happening. But something kept tugging at my brain as I sat in that Tug of war. Kevin Luu.auditorium. Somewhere in the talk it suddenly hit me: she didn’t believe what she was saying. Her body language didn’t match the words—guess which won? A few weeks later she quietly left. She did her best to be the good corporate leader, but the unconscious message shouted down the spoken message.

The good news is that this powerful force works the other way, too.

When your words and body language both express enthusiasm and belief in what you’re saying, that will come through just as powerfully.

Now there’s reinforcement going on. They understand better, remember more and are inspired to act.

You will make an impact!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2010 18:45

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about human interaction it’s that “the body never lies.” Take “Toe Pointing” for example next time you find yourself in a painful interaction with someone notice what your feet are doing. Chances are, one of them will be pointing away from the person you are talking to toward a nearby exit.

  2. March 24, 2010 23:19

    Chris — yep. I’m not sure body language is completely reliable because I think people can mask it or even fake it but the research certainly shows that any conflict of what you say and the body language is very bad and we believe the body language. Interesting stuff isn’t it?!

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