Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Public Speaking - Which Is Most Important, Delivery or Content?

When making a presentation, is it the content of your talk, or your delivery of it that will contribute the most to the success of your talk? In short, the answer is both.

By Bob Malloney

Many presenters have been misled by presentation skills trainers into thinking that delivery is all-important. This is based on a misunderstanding of research carried out by Albert Merhabian into face-to-face communication. Merhabian concluded that the impact of your message is delivered by:

Words 7% - Tone of voice 38% - Body language 55%

Taking this research at face value, many presentation skills trainers therefore argue that what you say is relatively unimportant compared to how you sound and how you look. Undoubtedly it is true that if you look very nervous and mumble in a monotone voice, the audience will probably not listen to what you are saying. However, if you want to give a presentation that achieves something and is valued by the audience, this is a dangerous conclusion. The research really applies to the emotional nature of communication. For example, if I told you I was happy, but I looked and sounded sad, you would not believe my words (7%), but would instead believe my tone of voice and body language (93%).

To be successful, your presentation has to provide value to your audience. If you audience does nothing differently as a result of listening to your talk, my argument is, what was the point of you giving the talk? If the world is the same at the end of your talk as it was before your talk, what was the point in giving it?

To provide value then, your talk has got to achieve something and to do that it must have the right content. It is no use just having a ‘subject’ to talk about, you need to have a mission! For example, don’t give talks just to provide information. So many presenters just tell their audience about what they do. No audience will be interested in this and consequently will do nothing as a result of listening to it. All the audience are interested in is ‘What’s in it for me’. So don’t just tell them what you do, tell them what you can do for them.

Once you have sorted out your content, you can then concentrate on the delivery. To keep people’s interest you need to vary your tone of voice, just as you do in normal conversation. If you feel strongly about something we need to ‘hear’ that it’s important to you, as well as take onboard the words. The answer to presenting with emotional variety is to keep your language very simple. If you use complex or formal language, you will become so concerned with getting your words out fluently that you will sound serious and lacking in emotional variety.

You also need to look and sound confident. Have a strong ‘mission’ for your talk and keeping the language simple will make it far more likely that you will be more confident in your delivery. To make it even easier to deliver your messages, try to wrap as many of your messages as possible into stories or examples. Don’t give abstract examples; make them real, add some human interest and if you can, some humour as well.

So, by keeping to a few simple messages that provide value to your audience, you give yourself a chance to deliver them with confidence and emotional variety and achieve something by getting the audience to do something as a result of listening to you.

Bob Malloney, a personal and business skills trainer for over 20 years, can help you to make a real difference to your working life, all from the comfort and convenience of your PC. Streaming video courses that replicate instructor-led training in Personal Organisation, Presentation Skills, Relationship Selling and Negotiating Skills. Register now for a free, no obligation 7-day trial at >


  1. I always like this topic. The confident delivery of relevant content is most important. A great speaking voice is not always important. Remember Howard Cosell? He was confident and he was relevant to his audience.

  2. I agree that both are equally important but if they are not both aligned with a purpose for your presentation, then all fail. The voice is revelatory and it reveals everything you feel including your "mission"'s like a leak in your security all the time. That's why I like what you said about having a strong mission for your talk. It's more important than most people think. Thanks for the article.