Message Vs Messenger?

presentationMany people (including communication and presentation skills trainers) often compare giving a presentation to giving a “performance” – where the presenter takes ‘centre stage’. Words like ‘passion’, ‘enthusiasm’, engaging’ and ‘energy’ are regularly used to describe a good presenter.

Generally, I agree with this. In every study of presentation skills undertaken, there has been a clear and definite correlation between audiences enjoying a presentation if the presenter is engaging and enthusiastic (something like 70% of audiences like to be engaged by the presenter). So in many ways it IS a bit of a “show” and whilst most people fear standing up and giving presentations, there are ‘techniques’ to overcome this so that your ‘performance’ achieves the desired results in audience engagement.

But what about your ‘message’? It’s one thing to be an engaging, confident or humourous presenter – but is that really what it’s all about these days? Is the effectiveness of a presentation judged solely on the presenter’s ability to smile and use appropriate hand gestures and body language? If so, why do presenters need to have any messages at all?

Very recent research has shown that there has been a marked and definite ‘shift’ in presenting so that it is now the message that is often of greater importance to the audience. (what I call ‘message over messenger’) Afterall, we are all very busy nowadays, and to get people to listen to you (even for just a relatively short time) you have to give them an incentive to do so. Having clear, convincing and useful messages is therefore absolutely vital when presenting in today’s business world.

However, some argue that the ‘message over messenger’ approach is just an unproven concept – that the ‘messenger’ is still the dominant factor and that if a presentation is only about the message we could simply email it to our audience. But if that were true, would Barak Obama have been elected as US President? (his ‘We Can’ speech effectively won him the Democratic party’s vote). And going back even further in time, would we still recall powerful speeches by great orators such as Churchill and Martin Luther King? Indeed, I would challenge anyone to recall what body language ‘signals’ these speakers were demonstrating when they made their memorable speeches – yet we can all remember their potent messages!

And even more recently, Dr Amy Cuddy and Sir Ken Robinson have clearly shown in their TED Talks, how the message over-rides the messenger with an audience. Despite obvious limitations on their abilities (Cuddy was incredibly nervous, Robinson’s movement is restricted by his physical disabilities) it is their messages that resonates with their audiences and that people ultimately remember.

Of course, if a presenter can also be engaging, funny and interesting to listen to – that is a bonus. And again there are techniques even a novice speaker can apply to achieve this. (one approach I always recommend when I train people in presentation skills is to use a ‘story’ to communicate your message or an interesting image to stimulate thought). That way, you satisfy both needs – an enaging and useful presentation!

But essentially, it IS the message that most audience’s seek today. This has become even more relevant in the modern business world and delivering a talk which is neither interesting nor valuable to an audience (particularly clients) can have very damaging impacts.

So always consider how your message can help your audience, improve or increase their performance and produce better results. If you adopt that approach, chances are your presentations will be far more effective!

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