Some people say, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” regarding the relative importance of content vs. delivery in a presentation.
Is delivery more important than content?
My most recent experience as a presenter at a conference at the University of Copenhagen on Virtual Communication (the conference title was “You Lost Me @ Hello”), caused me to reflect on that question.
Have you ever attended a presentation given in a foreign language? If you don’t understand the language, all you have to go on is the delivery: the presenter’s tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, use of visuals (which may help with the content) and the audience’s reaction.
In Denmark, almost everyone speaks fluent English, but their native language is Danish, and with the exception of my presentation (Virtual Communication: Bridging the Digital Divide), a couple of presenters’ PowerPoint slides and the Question and Answer session, the entire conference was in Danish.
Although there was a person assigned to interpret some of the content for me, most of the time I sat quietly trying to guess what the speakers were talking about and observing their delivery styles.
It was a wonderful exercise in interpreting non-verbal communication! Here are some of my observations, mostly on delivery:
1. Text-heavy slides (with few pictures) are even more boring in another language!
2. Video, even in another language, is still quite interesting.
3. A smiling presenter, who is enjoying giving the presentation, engages the audience’s attention.
4. Movement–changing visuals, facial expressions, body language–engages the audience’s attention.
5. A modulated voice (tones going up and down, changing pace) is much more pleasant to listen to than a monotone voice.
6. The audience’s knowledge of the topic plus the presenter’s clear and relevant visuals enhance content understanding. Always consider the audience’s level of knowledge! I was the last of 7 speakers. Two speakers spoke from an industry perspective and four presented research (my topic was focused on how to be more engaging in virtual communication). I was somewhat familiar with the research, which helped me at least understand many of the visuals. By the time the fourth person presented research, I was catching on to a bit more content.
7. Audience laughter encourages attention. A few times I drifted off, but when the audience chuckled, it pulled me back and I asked the interpreter what was funny.
Without knowing the language, much of the content was inaccessible to me. The most engaging delivery won’t overcome a big content problem.
Delivery matters, but it is secondary to content.
It’s not just how you say it. What you say (and what people understand) is important!