When it comes to speaking well, eye contact is critical. I’ve known people, often authors, whose speeches had great content but their talks were horrible because they simply read their manuscript.

You’ve likely heard someone quote, or misquote, psychologist Albert Mehrabian’s research that body language (posture, hands, and facial expressions) is responsible for 55 percent of the effectiveness of a speaker. Voice intonation was responsible for 38 percent of a speaker’s effectiveness, and the speaker’s words were responsible for only 7 percent of the speaker’s effectiveness. Mehrabian’s findings were a bit more nuanced than this.

The subjects in his study were asked about their feelings in response to seeing and hearing someone speak. This is not exactly the same as how much information they retained or how close the presentation came to accomplishing its goal. Nevertheless, this research gives insight on how to engage an audience in a way that results in positive feelings toward the speaker and the presentation.

Mehrabian’s work highlights what we know from our own daily interactions with other people: how we say something— our eyes, our facial expressions, our posture, our hands, and our tone of voice—plays a significantly greater role than our words do in how we will be heard and received by others, including our audiences or congregations.

Get more tips for effective public speaking in my new book, Speaking Well: Essential Skills for Speakers, Leaders, and Preachers.


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