Content Is King

When I (Tony) first started learning how to be a trainer I was taught that “only 7 per cent of the message is words – the rest is non-verbal”. As a result, we were taught to use a lot of gestures and movement and vocal variations. One trainer even suggested we practice gestures in front of a mirror and write them into our notes!

Unfortunately, little effort was put into creating content in a way that would engage and enlighten the audience.

But when you think about it, the whole point of any communication is the message – not the medium.

When I go to a presentation it’s usually because I want to learn something. I hope the speaker will be engaging but that’s not the point – I’m there for the content. If you’ve seen our latest millionaire, Sam Morgan, (trademe.co.nz) speak you’ll know what I mean. Sam speaks quietly and evenly from behind a lectern with little attention to “non-verbals”, yet we listen and learn. His content has substance – because of it’s potential value to us.

Why do so many speakers emphasize delivery over content – style over substance?

I think there are two reasons:

1. We hate the idea of the audience looking bored and disinterested and the easy way to fix this is to get more animated and excited,

2. Albert Mehrabian’s simple experiment involving photographs (not live people) with one pre-recorded word (not even a whole sentence) got misinterpreted by the popular media into the “7 – 38 – 55” rule (“your message is 7% words, 38% voice and 55% body language”). This humbug is still being taught by some presentation trainers.

Now I’m certainly not saying that it’s OK to stand like a statue and speak in a monotone – but I have seen speakers who have come close but the value of their content meant that they could get away with it.

And I’ve seen plenty of “motivational” speakers with arms like windmills, growling around the stage like tigers in a cage… saying nothing of value – but boy they looked and sounded good – pity there was no substance!

Many business presenters are fooled by this approach and end up concerned about how they will look when they deliver their presentation – they don’t see themselves as enthusiastic and engaging.

Here’s the solution. If you clearly and logically explain something of value to the audience – practical information they can use, you don’t have to worry about how you look . It’s your content that carries the presentation.

Simply design your content with

  1. a clear key message
  2. that has value to the audience
  3. supported by a logical structure
  4. with interesting examples and illustrations
  5. supported by visual (not verbal) PowerPoint slides

and it will be easy and natural for you to deliver in an enthusiastic and engaging way. You won’t have to think about your body and your voice – they’ll look after themselves. Your audience may not necessarily be amazed by your energy but if they learn something they can use, you have achieved your purpose and they’ll remember you as a quality speaker.

For more on the “Mehrabian Myth” do enjoy this great video from Martin Shovel and his team: (3:29)




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