When we communicate, we share information through words. Whether that information finds its target and triggers the expected reaction in a listener depends solely on how we deliver it. Nonverbal communication channels like facial expressions, voice tone, and body language shape the meaning of our words, building trust and rapport, significantly altering the quality of the information we relay.

The school of life quickly teaches us to value substance over style. In the context of presentations, leadership speeches, and communication in general, it’s not obvious at first glance where style and substance reside.

One would be inclined to consider the textual content of the speech, its information-load, to be the substance while seeing delivery as an element of style. Science tells us otherwise, however. According to it, words matter, but their significance in communication may not be greater than that of body language and other nonverbal communication channels.

Establishing the Weight of Nonverbal Communication

An often-quoted UCLA study by Professor Albert Mehrabian supposedly established in the 1960s that 93% of communication is nonverbal. According to this study, 55% of communication occurs on the level of body language while we convey a further 38% of what we mean through the tone of our voice. That leaves a meager 7% to spoken word.

The results of Mehrabian’s study have gained cult status as the press picked them up in abbreviated form and circulated them widely. Having thus been stripped of scientific context and depth, the 7-55-38%  “rule” became an erroneous urban legend.

Words Do Indeed Matter

In my books and blog posts, I have always maintained that there is a fine balance between verbal and non-verbal communication channels.

A disorganized, chaotic speech with little relevance and meaning is not enjoyable or relatable, regardless of how well the speaker delivers it. If verbal communication accounted for only 7% of the meaning we convey, there would be no point in learning a language. We could all understand each other non-verbally.

The True Role of Nonverbal Communication/Speech Delivery

In my view, the role of nonverbal communication is to provide an optimal framework for the information transfer that occurs through words. And this role is much more important than most of us would think.

Optimal communication involves trust. When there is trust and rapport between the presenter and the audience, the message goes through in its entirety, achieving the expected emotional impact. Body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and tone of voice communicate emotion. The right emotional state allows the audience to attach an essential emotional significance to the conveyed information.

If a speaker cannot build trust and achieve a positive emotional connection with the audience, his/her speech will fall flat.

Achieving That Es@sential Emotional Connection

Passion is a magnet for attention. 

As an experienced leadership speaker, I have identified several oratory elements that help speakers emotionally connect with their audiences.

  • Passion. Passion and excitement about a subject matter are contagious. They show psychological commitment, and we are all naturally attracted to something another human being finds fascinating. Good speakers can make even the most boring subject seem interesting by showing passion for it. Convey your fascination with your speech topic through body language, voice tone, and words.
  • Engagement. Good leadership speakers engage with their audience throughout presentations. They treat audience members as interlocutors and feed off their emotions/energy. Flatly pushing ahead with a topic while ignoring the confused reactions of your audience is the recipe for failure.
  • Relevance. To engage the audience emotionally and command attention, speakers need to make sure their speech carries relevance. Only if someone can relate to what you are saying can you capture this person’s attention for any significant time.

Weaving Stories into the Speech

The human brain is hardwired for stories. A well-told, relevant story can do wonders in the way of capturing attention and building emotional connections. Stories don’t just garner attention and engagement. They also make the speech memorable, creating relatable mental points of reference for the listeners.

Stories add flow and a logical structure to a presentation. When combined with passion, engagement, and relevance, you’ll have a can’t miss strategy to inspire your listeners.

For More Information 

Read my blog posts to learn more about how you can become a better leadership speaker.  Pick up one of my books if you are interested in leadership development.


Back to blog