Can you survive the 7-second test?

body language presentation skills Jan 10, 2022
Understanding the power of body language

An audience will start judging you before you’ve even said one word.

They read your body language, they feel your emotion, and they start to form a conclusion about what kind of speaker you’ll be. 

All of this happens in a few seconds. Audiences have formed a judgement about you way before you get to the substance of your message.

A human behaviour research lab did an intensive experiment on body language. They had 760 volunteers watch hundreds of hours of TED talks, and then asked them to rate the speakers on qualities like charisma, intelligence and credibility.

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on what sort of speakers they are assessing. Think about how the folks at TED Talks go about selecting their contributors. They’re not interested in motivational speakers or self-promoters.

Their ideal candidates are, according to the TED guidelines, "inventors, teachers, artists, scientists, change agents, storytellers, big-picture thinkers, prodigies, performers, makers, technologists.” In other words, the emphasis is on a speaker's ideas, not their public speaking skills.

So this survey embraces smart people with good ideas to share. If you are reading this Blog, you are probably exactly the sort of person they were looking for.

So you may well be interested in their findings. In fact they might prompt you to rethink your non verbal communication:

1. Non verbal communication matters a lot. The study found that audiences decided whether they liked a TED talk more on body language than on the actual words. So a quick takeaway from that is this: spend more time thinking about how you will deliver your content, rather than endlessly polishing what you have written. Tone, pacing, pausing, emphasis, gestures are just as much a part of your tool kit as the words themselves.

2. The more hand gestures the better. People who used fewer hand gestures, scored lower on charisma. Takeaway: use your hands to help illustrate and reinforce your ideas and you will seem more relaxed, confident, and authoritative. But use gestures that come naturally to you. Just remember, speak from the heart and your hands will follow.

3. Scripted speeches kill charisma. Scripted speeches are memorized and read, leaving little freedom for variety in tone, pace and pausing.  Audiences found these careful presentations boring compared to those with a more spontaneous delivery. Takeaway: monotone = boring, and scripts that are read aloud like essays can easily become monotonous..

4. Smiling makes you look smart. Smiling is still correlated to intelligence. The researchers found that even when TED speakers were talking about a serious topic the amount of time smiling still correlated with intelligence ratings. Their suggestion? "No matter how serious your topic, find something to smile about."

5. You have 7 seconds to make an impression. That’s how quickly your audience forms an impression of you. Be sure to deliver an intriguing opening line - perhaps with a thought-provoking question or a short story. Grab the audience’s attention early. Get them leaning forward in their seats. Start strongly and end strongly, and audiences will forgive you for any lumpy bits in the middle.

If you are interesting in upgrading your presentation skills - live or virtual - we have lots of great resources in our store. Check out our e-books on presentation skills and media skills, our video training programs, and our bundles.