Brad Phillips just posted "Five Body Language Lessons From Successful TED Talks" on his excellent Mr. Media Training blog. As I read the five key tips, I found myself nodding in agreement and thinking about how they apply in the world of webinars/webcasts… All except for one item!
I'm going to repeat the five best practice tips as summarized from a research study conducted by Science of People and written up by Vanessa Van Edwards. For each, I will compare it to webinar behaviors:
1. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Van Edwards found that people rated speakers comparably on charisma, credibility and intelligence whether they watched talks with sound — or on mute.
On stage, full body language is incredibly important. Even watching a presenter with sound turned off, viewers could tell whether they were engaging with the audience, acting with conviction and interest in their subject, and being energetic enough to hold attention. You are much more limited as a desk-bound webinar presenter. Even with a webcam, you are stuck in a small frame in perpetual close-up. It's hard to project the same empathy with full body presentation style that a stage speaker can do. So your voice must work extra hard to convey the same sense of "charisma, credibility, and intelligence" quite apart from your actual words and content. Vocal inflections, acknowledgement of attendees, confidence, and energy must radiate out through the computer speakers to capture and hold your audience, giving them the sense that you are a person WORTH listening to.
2. “Jazz hands rock.” Van Edwards noted a correlation between the number of hand gestures a speaker makes in a talk and the number of views the talk receives.
This is the big opposite for webinars and webcasts. If you are using a computer webcam placed a foot in front of your face, "jazz hands" will kill your effectiveness. Gestures can easily fly outside the visible frame of the camera, making you look like you are vaguely twitching instead of helping to communicate with your gestures. Focal length is another killer on webcam. When your face is only 12 inches from the camera, moving your arms even slightly forward creates a "3D" stretching illusion. It is disconcerting and distracting. If you have a camera operator set up far enough away to capture your full body from head to foot, use the stage performance recommendations. But if you are sitting in front of a webcam, keep hand movements small and infrequent.
3. “Scripts kill your charisma.” Van Edwards found that speakers who offered more vocal variety showed better ratings on charisma and credibility. What’s especially interesting: people rated speakers who clearly ad libbed in their talks higher than those who stayed on script.
This applies without any alteration to webinars. Writing a script is fine for organizing your thoughts. Then practice to the point where you can say what you came to say without reading!
4. “Smiling makes you look smarter.” Van Edwards found that the longer a TED speaker smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence ratings.
Again, this applies without alteration to webcam appearances. But surprisingly, it also applies to voice-only webinars! Your attendees can hear a smile in your voice. And they LIKE it!
5. “You have seven seconds.” Van Edwards found that first impressions matter a lot, and that people had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.
Yep. And guess what… Your webinar starts with the first sounds the audience hears. If you have a boring, monotone moderator struggling to sight-read an introductory script, you have lost the audience in your first seven seconds. If you start your content presentation with a lack of conviction or stumbling over your first words, you have lost your audience. If you begin with five minutes of introductory material and then say "Before we get started…" you have lost your audience. Hit the ground running. Latecomers are responsible for themselves. You are responsible for the audience that has shown up on time, waiting to hear you!
You can be a better, more engaging presenter whether you find yourself on a stage, on a webcam, or just speaking into a microphone. The basics are surprisingly universal, with only a few refinements to suit your medium. Think about it the next time you prepare to make a presentation.