Originally Seen on Channel 4's FameLab Website


Channel 4’s FameLab is looking for charismatic communicators in its hunt for the new public faces of UK science. So here we ask media presentation trainer Greg de Polnay to share his tips on what makes a successful public speaker.

Statistics can often be misleading. It is a fact, however, that in any presentation 55% of the listener's attention will be on the speaker's body language, 38% on their vocal energy and tone and only 7% on the actual content.

The Importance of Enthusiasm and Preparation

We can be sure that when making presentations, most people do not consider their posture and voice, but focus mainly on the content. Yet it is frequently the case that successful speakers and presenters are remembered for their style, their voice, their mannerisms, their enthusiasm and, above all, their personality.

Facts and figures are brought alive for millions of TV viewers by the enthusiasm and expertise of our most distinguished presenters. Think of historian Dr David Starkey and scientist Professor Robert Winston, for example. We become involved in their programmes even though we may not be particularly knowledgeable on the subjects.

The Vital Tools of Voice and Body

Enthusiasm and preparation are the two most important ingredients for a good presenter, but on their own they are not enough. You also need to think about the tools you use to deliver your presentation – your voice and your body (or physicality).

Posture – how you stand – is vital for good presentation. Are you relaxed and poised, ready for anything? If you are relaxed and slumped you will be off balance, causing you to fidget, shift your weight from one foot to another or use inappropriate gestures. All of this can divert the listener's attention from the content. Stillness can exude knowledge and 'gravitas'; extraneous movement makes the listener aware of the speaker's idiosyncrasies rather than the message being conveyed.

The most important tool for delivering a message is the voice, and good posture is vital for this. Poor posture affects the breathing, which in turn will inhibit the free flowing of the voice and the vocal delivery. Practising correct breathing will help to support and release the voice, which will make the audience want to listen. If the voice is strained or constricted, apologetic, unsure or under-energised, the listener will have to work hard to hear the speaker. If they are not engaged, they may just switch off.

The Power of the Pauses

Pausing is another vital ingredient. You must always allow your audience time to catch up with what is being said. If you rush or gabble then you will leave them behind and lose them. Winston Churchill's significant pauses in his great Second World War speeches stirred a nation to keep on fighting. And Martin Luther King's famous speech, with its use of the dramatic pause between each of his 'I have a dream' statements, still excites and thrills us today.

The secret is that after each point you should pause, breathe and look for the audience's reaction before moving on. Even if the reaction is silent, you are giving them a chance to acknowledge and digest what is being said.

Consider the Audience

What about the audience? Who are they and why do they need to hear what you have to tell them? Use appropriate language – don't use jargon or buzz words, which often sound insincere. Always spell out abbreviations to avoid diverting the listener's attention.

You must be well prepared and rehearse aloud what you are going to say. You must headline each of the sections like a chapter heading in a book, in order to keep the audience alert.

Remember, if an audience is given 30 points they will only take away the three they most want to hear. So it is important to make sure that the three most important things you want to convey are 'highlighted' within the presentation.

Mastering Visual Aids

If you are using a visual aid, such as PowerPoint, make sure that it is there to support or confirm what you are saying rather than the other way round.

Always introduce each image before showing it. For example: 'Now I want to talk about chaos theory,' and only then click the mouse to reveal the slide. Keep text slides to a minimum and use pictures whenever you can. Think carefully of the benefit of each image.

Never use a visual aid as a memory jogger; it looks as though you are uncertain of your subject.  Best of all, think of yourself as a visual aid and do not become a talking brochure – then you will move from presentation to communication.

The Three Ps

Finally, think preparation and posture and then personality may start to appear. Your voice can persuade, your charisma can charm and your knowledge can entertain and inform.

For more of Greg’s work please go to

This article was first published on Channel 4's Famelabs website. The article is no longer available in its original location and is re-presented here with thanks to Channel 4. ( - original link no longer in use).