ACCORDING to body language expert Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, three elements account for our liking a person:
The person’s words – 7 per cent,
Tone of voice – 38 per cent, and
Body language – 55 per cent.
These are known as the “3Vs” for verbal, vocal and visual.
A seminal study by Professor Ray Birdwhistell concluded that 65 per cent of face-to-face communication is non-verbal.
Media strategist Roger Ailes famously said: “You have just seven seconds to make a good first impression.”
In debates with rival John McCain on the presidential campaign trail in the United States, Mr Barack Obama appeared calm and steady.
When his opponents were attacking him, Mr Obama did not shake his head or appear nervous.
He maintained eye contact as he answered the question. He leaned slightly forward as he talked, suggesting he was reaching out to his audience.
In contrast, Mr McCain got angry when Mr Obama associated him constantly with outgoing president George Bush’s policies. Viewers polled thought that Mr McCain’s behaviour was “unpresidential” – and it cost him votes.
To engage your audience when you make a speech, follow these tips:
1. Lower your pitch
Professor Mehrabian concluded that 38 per cent of effective communication is based on tonality.
A low tone of voice is considered authoritative and therefore more persuasive than a high-pitched voice, which is associated with fear and anger.
Vocal training can lower your voice.
Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had a voice coach to lower her pitch to sound more authoritative.
Mr Obama’s baritone voice kept his audience spellbound and glued to their TV sets. When he asked questions or finished his sentences, he ended it with a downward inflection, which sounds like a command.
2. Employ cadence
Like all great orators, Mr Obama begins with a low volume and then increases it to create more impact.
In his victory speech after the Iowa caucuses, he raised the volume of his speech with each sentence in the following paragraph: “We are one nation. We are one people. And our time for change has come.”
And the crowd roared with approval.
3. Vary the speed
In addition to varying volume, good speakers vary the speed at which they speak.
Speaking fast creates a mood of anticipation and energises your audience. Speaking slowly and calmly creates trust.
4. Pause for effect
Nothing is as dramatic as a well-placed pause. Mr Obama often pauses at the high point of his speech and gives the audience an opportunity to applaud him.
He uses the pause for emphasis, to create a mood and build an atmosphere of expectation. His listeners eagerly await what he is going to say next.
As author Mark Twain once said: “There is nothing so powerful as the rightly timed pause.”
5. Watch your body language
What you say matters, but your body language and how you look must match.
Take your cues from Mr Obama.
From time to time, he flashes a wide smile to signal his sincerity and approachability.
He looks directly at his audience to make a connection with them. He stands upright to portray his confidence. His simple but elegant style of dressing conveys his power and leadership.
6. Craft a great conclusion
An impactful conclusion leaves your audience with a message to bring home.
In 1941, at the height of World War II, British prime minister Winston Churchill sought aid from US president Franklin Roosevelt. He ended his address simply but resolutely: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”
In his inaugural address as the United States’ 44th president, Mr Obama concluded with high-minded rhetoric: “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”