Speak no evil

Anyone can stand up in front of a crowd and succeed, says presentation expert.

Speaking in front of a group of people is regularly cited by many as their greatest fear, but simple techniques can help almost anyone to survive and even prosper under the harsh glare of scrutiny, from a workplace Powerpoint presentation to an industry conference.

Studies have shown that it's not so much what you say as the way that you say it that matters most, something communication and presentation expert Dr Gary Wohlman agrees to.

He says body posture, hand gestures, and the volume, pitch and rhythm of your voice are just as important to conveying a message as the words they encompass.

A 1970 study found that non-verbal cues can be four times more effective than verbal cues, something executives who are expected to communicate effectively and lead by example may not be aware of.

"Hopefully this nugget will help those preparing a presentation, be that in the classroom or on stage. Get physical," he advises.

Born in New York but a resident of Melbourne for the past 20 years, Wohlman has worked with both novices and global industry leaders to improve their presentation and communication skills.

He specialises in assisting his clients to maximise the impact of formal presentatons, but says many of the same principles apply to interpersonal communication.

Posture is key, he says, and getting the arms, hands and fingers to make pictures the audience can clearly see is more than half the battle.

"Show what you are telling," he says. "The audience will see the message even before you open your mouth, and retain and recall the message more deeply on multiple levels.

"Like a conductor in an orchestra being able to sweep and make clear images showing what I'm telling, there's no question if you don't get it from the vocal words or sounds, you will from the visual gestures."

Wohlman says a common mistake is to be thinking one thing and saying and doing another, generating a lack of authenticity in the message presented.

"There is a sense of the hands are saying one thing, the mouth is saying something else, the eyes are going somewhere else, and there's three or four different communications creating a feeling of inauthenticity and fakeness. To be able to put these together, this is where someone has command," he says.

"Some of the messages people send unconsciously or self-consciously are to do with self-talk. Some of the self-talk often has to do with, 'if you don't like me what am I doing here'; 'I don't trust you'; 'do I look good?'. If all of these self-conscious dialogues can be turned around before the communication comes out, that comes through as well. Shifting the inner dialogue is key."

Wohlman also advises his clients to be use facial gestures to back up their body language.

"The face is unusual. It's the place that's almost always exposed. In our face is written the choreography of emotion. There's no way to fake what's we think through our face," he says.

"So if we take time with our gestures, as well as our face, nodding and making clear gestures, this suggests a different level of connection, listening and receptivity than if someoneone is wandering all over the place with their face."