Delivery skills for presentations & speeches in English

Delivery refers to HOW you present your content – it’s everything about your speech EXCEPT the meaning of the words you say. If you have a beautifully prepared presentation, but do not deliver it well, your audience may not be engaged. They might lose interest in your speech and stop paying attention. They might even go to sleep. As a result, your speech will not be a success.

Delivery includes both non-verbal and verbal communication.

NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION

So, what’s an example of non-verbal communication? Well, body language is one example, and yes, it’s the most obvious.

Visuals are another example, and they refer to things like slides (maybe Power Point, or other software such as Prezi or Keynote). Visuals could also refer to posters, handouts, or real things you bring to the presentation to show your audience. It’s often said that 60 to 90 percent of all communication is actually non-verbal, so non-verbal communication is very important, especially when you’re giving a presentation.

How about verbal communication? Well, this sounds like it’s referring to what we say. However, when we’re talking about delivery, we’re not talking so much about the actual words that we say. Rather, we’re more concerned with how we say them. So, in addition to the meaning of the actual words you speak, how you use and control your voice is an example of verbal communication.

Body Language

OK, so first, let’s look at body language. There are four main parts of body language that are important when you make a presentation, and these are eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and posture. We’ll start with eye contact. The first questions I have for you is – Why do you think it’s important to have eye-contact?

Well, eye contact is the most important form of body language, and more broadly – non-verbal communication – when you are presenting. This is because eye contact:

  • Engages your audience (makes them interested in your presentation)
  • Communicates interest (shows your audience that you’re interested in what you’re saying)
  • Shows you have confidence (the audience always appreciates speakers who are confident)
  • Basically, eye contact is essential. If you’re missing eye-contact in a speech or presentation where you are the focus, your effort will unlikely be successful.

How should you make eye-contact? Actually, looking at someone directly in the eyes is a little intense, so we usually look a little down between the eyes – closer to the nose. But if you have a big audience, that’s not so important to remember. Keeping eye-contact is a skill that comes with experience, and it’s harder to do when you don’t remember your speech or get nervous – this is why practice is very important!

Try to make eye contact with many members in your audience for just a few seconds each. Imagine you’re just talking to that one person, and not many people. Things to avoid include:

  • Reading notes or your cue cards
  • Reading your visuals – like your Power Point or poster
  • Looking up, down, or sideways
  • Looking at just one or a few people
  • Looking over everyone

Having cue cards can be helpful when delivering a speech or presentation. Cue cards are basically a few words written on small cards to help you remember what you’re planning to say during a speech. You don’t want to read from a script, as this is very unnatural and boring for the audience. If you decide to use cue cards, only use them when absolutely necessary. Remember these rules or guidelines:

  1. Don’t speak when looking at cue cards!
  2. Don’t look at cue cards when speaking!
  3. Try to make eye contact with all individuals in your audience.
  4. Keep eye contact with each person for about 3 seconds.

Again, it’s really hard to do these things without practice, but anyone can become good at it.

In addition to eye contact, we also communicate through our face. In particular, our eyebrows and eyes can be very expressive. Our noses can flare, and our mouths can smile or frown. You can express more than 20 emotions just in your face alone! For example:

  • Weirdness
  • Silliness
  • Happiness
  • Surprise or shock
  • Disappointment
  • Boredom
  • Being moved or touched

So, as you can see just from a few pictures (shown in the video), your face has the ability to communicate a lot! The most important thing you want to convey or show in your face is your interest in what you’re saying. If you don’t look interested in what you’re saying, probably no-one else will be interested in listening to you.

Next, after eye eye-contact and facial expressions, is gestures. The purpose of gestures is:

  • to emphasize something;
  • to show size, shape, or degree;
  • to help you “think”;
  • to add interest to your speech.

Gestures help you as well as your audience, and definitely make your speech more interesting. What parts of our body do we use to make gestures? We use our hands, arms, body, and head. Here are some examples (as shown in the video):

  • To show you’re annoyed, this gesture asks,“what are you saying?” (the woman is frowning with eyebrows and mouth);
  • To show you’re confused, you shrug (note this woman also has raised eyebrows and wide eyes);
  • To show you’re surprised or shocked (again with open eyes and raised eyebrows);
  • To show you’re excited (with a smile);
  • To show numbers or counting;
  • To show you cannot hear;
  • To show something is good or OK (raised eyebrows work here);
  • To show something is very, very good – you can give a “2 thumbs up” gesture;
  • To show where to look or direction;
  • To show a secret (or something said by accident?) or surprise or amusement (again with raised eyebrows);
  • To show fear;
  • To show shape and maybe size;
  • To show comparison (often with phrases like, “on the one hand…“).

So, we’ve now talked about eye-contact, facial expressions, and gestures. The last part of body language is posture.

Have a good look at this man (in the video). Does he have good posture for a presentation? Well, maybe not. He’s standing straight, yes, but he doesn’t look very relaxed and has hands in his pockets, which might be too casual in many situations.

If you use good posture, in addition to eye contact and gestures, even if you are not feeling confident, you can pretend that you are. This man is looking down and is making defensive gestures with his arms. He doesn’t look confident.

This woman (in the video) is standing straight, making eye contact, and has her arms open so that she can gesture. She looks confident and the audience is interested.

For good delivery posture:

1) Stand with feet hip distance apart. This is a strong position, but don’t shift from side to side or lean on one hip.

2) Stand straight and relaxed. Don’t lean on a table or podium. It looks lazy.

3) Keep your hands in front of your body. This makes it easier to gesture. Don’t put your hands in your pocket, across your chest (which looks defensive), or behind your back (this looks like you’re hiding something).

Visuals

OK, we talked about eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and posture, which are all part of body language. Another part of non-verbal communication includes visuals. Visuals are used to help the audience understand your message. They are NOT used to help you remember your speech, and they should support your presentation; they should not be the main focus of your presentation. Here are some guidelines for you when preparing and presenting visuals – whether you make slides, posters, handouts, or even video.

  1. KISS: “keep it short & simple.” Don’t write full sentences; only key words if you must write text.
  2. Make contents big enough to see from far away – usually 30-point text font is OK (depends how big your screen is).
  3. Reduce text, add lots of images. If you write too much text, the audience will stop listening to you and read instead. People can read faster than they listen.
  4. Don’t show your back to the audience – keep that eye contact!
  5. Don’t read from your visuals. Remember, the slides are to help your audience, not you!

What do you think of this slide (in the video)? No, it’s not good. It’s all text in full sentences, and there are no images! It’s too small to read, and there is too much information!

How about this one (in the video)? Yes, it’s better. There is a small amount of text with a clear image, and the message is short and simple. It’s easy to read, and helpful for the audience.

Again, don’t turn around when referring to your slides or poster! And don’t use your poster to help you – use it to help your audience!

VERBAL COMMUNICATION

We have talked about non-verbal communication, so now let’s move on to VERBAL communication. Words that you say refer to your actual written speech, but it’s important to remember that what you may have written as preparation will not be exactly the same as what you say during the presentation. Written and spoken language is different. Also, you don’t want to memorize or read a speech. Doing this is rather unnatural, and memorizing a speech is so hard! It’s much better to only memorize key points of what you want to say. If you repeat your speech or presentation, each time will be different, and that’s perfectly OK! Here are some points to keep in mind regarding the words that you say.

  1. Use language that the audience can understand. Use spoken language and avoid difficult words.
  2. Use language that you can pronounce! If you can’t pronounce something, you’ll seem unprepared.
  3. Keep your sentences short. Your audience will understand more easily & you’ll remember more easily.

OK, we have one more point to cover about delivery. Let’s look into how we use our voice.

Volume – how loud you talk (You should be loud enough for all to hear, but not shouting)

Pitch – differs from person to person naturally, but try not to be too high or too low

Clarity – words should be clearly spoken (or enunciated)

Speed – slower is better, especially if your audience is made up of non-native speakers. Be careful: many people speak fast when nervous.

Pronunciation – make sure you can properly pronounce words before you give your speech.

Intonation – make sure you know what part of the word to stress.

Inflection – this means adding emphasis to a word or phrase. We’ll talk about this in more detail now.

Voice inflection means altering the way you say a word or phrase to show emphasis.

  1. Stress – make a word or phrase louder
  2. Stretch – make it sound out longer
  3. Pause – stop talking before a key word or a phrase

Here’s an example of these:

  1. Nothing: I have a big dog.
  2. Stress: I have a BIG dog.
  3. Stretch: I have a biiiiig dog.
  4. Pause: I have a / big dog.
  5. MIX: I have a / BIIIIG dog.

If English is not your first language, it can be difficult to know where and how to inflect, so here are some guidelines. Remember you can always check with a native speaker.

Negative words: No, not, never

  • I do NOT — like natto.
  • I have Nevvver been to France.

Adjectives: Beautiful, big, happy, small, etc.

  • You have a beuuuutiful voice
  • That’s BIG house.

Comparisons: Better, faster, larger, shorter, taller, etc.

  • I have / a better plan.
  • Your bag is LARGER than mine.

Active words or verbs & words showing change: cut, run, snap, eat, twist, open, close, increase, decrease, decline, accelerate, etc.

  • Please SNAP / your fingers.
  • He ATE everything.
  • We’re planning to / decreeeeaase taxes.

After you’ve finished writing up your presentation, have a look at it and ask yourself, “where and how can I put in facial expressions, gestures, and voice inflection?” Remember, body language and voice inflection usually go together.

Becoming good at non-verbal and verbal communication in a presentation isn’t easy, regardless of how good you are at English. To become a good public speaker, you simply have to practice, practice, practice. Remember to make eye-contact almost all the time during your speech. Practice in front of a mirror if you like.


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