At a recent social function, a Tulane University professor asked if I could give some presentation feedback and best practices to his senior class for their final exam oral presentations. Sounded like familiar territory for me, so I was glad to accept – and then the professor threw me a curve – “Oh yes, and by the way, the entire class is in French”.

I fought my reflex to respond with a polite decline, and instead considered the advantage of presentation coaching, when you don’t know the language. My hunch was that it might be an interesting experiment in studying all the other “non-word” traits that go into compelling presentations. My hunch was correct.

Here’s what the listeners see when they don’t know the words:

Eye Contact– Too often we’re sucked into looking at the projected screen that our audience is seeing, and commit the presentation sin of “reading the screen”. The moment you turn to read your presentation screen, you transmit dullness, uncertainty and worse, loss of credibility. I encouraged the students to use their laptop screens (on the table in the front of them), which was mirroring the larger presentation screen, and rely on that, so that they are facing their audience and thus, afford more opportunity to keep their audience attention through eye contact and a full facing posture.

Hand Held Anything– The professor allowed the students to carry some notes up to remind them of subject matter, if needed. Ironically, while each student did bring up notes, they rarely referred to them. However, virtually all of them clutched the notes in both hands and in several cases, pulled the notepad into them as they spoke, like a protective vest. The lesson: Put the notes down! (on the table next to your laptop or on the podium is fine). Any item in your hands while you address an audience, even clickers to change slides, is a distraction. The bigger the item (like a notepad), the bigger the distraction, and thus “blocking” is created between speaker and audience. If you need to refer to your notes, simply take a step over to your notes, locate your point, and resume your presentation.

Voice Modulation – even a report on French history, has highs and lows. Your own presentation typically has high/low points. Your voice pitch, tonality and volume can greatly influence the audience’s interpretation of your message. Want proof? Say the phrase “come here” in three ways:

1) Between gritted teeth and loudly

2) Whispering with a little coaxing hand gesture

3) With arms out and a welcoming smile

The results are distinctly different. Likewise, use your voice to create a range of reactions to your message.

Movement – One of the most common presentation errors, especially for inexperienced speakers, is the fear of movement. They hang onto the podium, or cement their feet to the stage. The speaker may be trying to provide some personal security to present more confidently, but the actual effect is the opposite. Requiring your audience to keep their eyes on one spot is tedious and can quickly allow filters to come up – causing your message to suffer. Solution: Release the parking brake! Allow yourself to make one key point on the right side of the audience, and then begin to glide over to the left side of the audience, as you introduce your next point. This triggers a receptive response in the audience’s brain, because your physical movement is supporting your verbal delivery. In short, occasional movement for deliberate purposes makes you a more interesting speaker.

Using your whole body and voice when delivering your message helps create greater connection between the audience and speaker. And that says “great presentation” in any language.