FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you have a question about presentation skills, rhetorical strategies, or any other aspect of presentations, please write it in the box at the bottom of the page and send it in. We will be sure to share any interesting questions on this webpage afterwards. Be sure to tell us if it is ok to use your name when we publish it! Meanwhile, below are some of the questions we hear most often out in the field.
What is the most important thing to know about doing presentations?
One word: performance. Every presentation must be performed. Not just thought of in your head, or sketched out on paper, or put into a power point. It must be performed, delivered, presented. In order to perform it well, you use performance skills to capture the attention of the audience, direct it towards your most important points, and help them to remember them. There are two basic forms of performance skills. First, there are presentation skills, which help you to manage your body, your voice, and all of your physical activity. Second, there is what you could call performance rhetoric, that is, rhetorical strategies which help you organize and transmit your message in a way which helps the audience as much as possible to receive, process, remember, and respond to what is most important.
I saw a You Tube video where an expert says that 93% of communication is non-verbal and that only 7% of communication is verbal. Is this true? They also said that how you deliver your message is more important than the message itself, since only 7% of communication is verbal?
First, it does not make sense to say that the way you deliver a message is more important than the message itself. Then there would be no point to doing presentations. Nor are there any studies which prove what percentage of communication is verbal or non-verbal. The 93% figure (55% visual, 38% vocal, 7% verbal) comes from a misunderstanding of a study conducted by a researcher named Mehrabian in the 1970s. Mehrabian's study analyzed how people interpreted brief lists of words---not sentences, not paragraphs, individual words. Some of these words were ambiguous, like "maybe". Mehrabian used recordings of individual words, and a few photographs, to see how a test subject would react to hearing a word alone, or to hearing a word accompanied by a photo. The study analyzed the differences in how people interpreted these words depending on the tone of voice in which they were read, and depending on whether the words were accompanied by a photo. That's all. There is simply not enough information in this study to draw any general conclusions about how people receive, process, and understand what they see and hear when there is more than one word involved. New Zealand based trainer Olivia Mitchell provides an excellent overview of this subject, here: www.speakingaboutpresenting.com/presentation-myths/mehrabian-nonverbal-communication-research Nonetheless, so called "experts" continue to spread the 93% myth. (See, e.g. An example of an expert spreading the 93% myth! ) See our Videos page for John Paval's lecture presentation on this subject "There is no 93% solution!"
Is body language important? Should a good speaker know about body language?
A good speaker will want to know three things about physical behavior. First, how will the audience interpret how he or she behaves? There are very clear guidelines for this based on research beginning with James Miller, a clinical psychologist at Cornell University in the 1930s. See the video on "The Forward Posture" on our video page. Second, what effect does movement within the physical space of the presentation have upon the audience? Third, what are the different kinds of gestures and how can they be used to help the audience notice, understand, and remember what is most important during a presentation? Knowledge of these three things will enable any speaker to be most effective, and to avoid any mistakes of body language which might interfere with that process.
Isn't rhetoric just a means of using language and arguments to manipulate people, to get people to believe what you want them to believe even if it is not true?
Some people do think of rhetoric as a form of manipulation. But those who founded the western rhetorical tradition did not believe this. One of the first analyses of rhetoric which we have comes from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, in the dialogue called Phaedra. Socrates insisted that telling the truth was essential to achieving excellence in speaking. Any presentation which was not truthful, would be inferior to a presentation which was truthful. If you don't believe this, try asking any audience at the beginning of a presentation whether they want to hear the truth or not. John Paval has done this at numerous presentations and the answer is always the same: tell the truth. Think of rhetoric, then as a collection of strategies for telling the truth as effectively as possible. Think of presentations, not as a form of manipulation, but as a sharing of intelligence, ideas, information, plans, feelings, hopes and dreams. Then you can perform your presentations with a sense of your own integrity. In addition, you will always have the power of the truth on your side. People who are against the use of rhetorical strategies usually do not understand one basic truth: clinical research clearly establishes that you need certain rhetorical strategies to manage the communications process, or else the audience will not receive your message at all.
An American trainer gave me a very simple approach to doing presentations: "Tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said." What do you think of that?
That approach to presentations leaves out a number of important things. It does not address the first question in any presentation: how do you get the attention of the audience? It also does not address the final result of any presentation: what is the goal of your presentation and how do you achieve your goal? Other factors to be taken into account are things like managing power point, making sure the audience sees how your message specifically relates to them, and getting maximum benefit from the elements of persuasion. So, it might be useful to tell people what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. But that is not a substitute for putting into action a presentation structure which (1) captures the attention of the audience, (2) leads them through the message in clear steps which will be easy for them to receive, process, and remember, and (3) convinces them to engage in the goal of your presentation...