Pay Attention to the “Hidden Dimension”

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It’s not just what is said that can help and/or hurt you, but also what’s not said!

As an expert in designing and delivering presentations, my focus is on action: what do you do to inspire your audience to buy-in to your idea, and evoke confidence and trust in following your lead. As a psychology student, I found an interesting new area of communication: the power of body language. An early pioneer referred to it as The Hidden Dimension. Little did I suspect that I would dedicate part of my career to helping people communicate for impact both as presenters and team members.

Since then many people have shared what we’ve learned about body language. We now know that our eye contact, smiles, voice, pace, posture, control of our appendages – arms, legs, hands, etc. all become signals that your audience interprets based on cultural interpretations of such movements. (Amazon has a large collection of books you can consider!) Nervousness, lack of confidence, etc. is often communicated by non-intentional behaviors, like losing direct eye contact, shifting body parts frequently, broker cadence and tone in speech etc. good coaches catch these hidden signals during the preparation period and address the underlying issues before a professional presentation is made by addressing both the presentation content, structure and flow, as well the feelings that are going through a presenter who has speaking anxiety or is not being authentic  and subconsciously doesn’t fully believe the message.

Today, these issues affect almost everyone. The Covid Pandemic’s lockdowns sent everyone home and moved traditionally live-group communications to Zoom, Teams and other such virtual tools. With masks, social distancing and now vaccines, offices are re-opened. The challenge for most corporate leaders is the extent to which they adhere to workers’ preference for Working-from Home.  Most are using hybrid solutions, asking workers to return 3-4 days a week.

While many companies try to bring people in for collaborative activities, and let people work at home when they are working individually on projects or the help they need from others is purely factual.  The real factor in determining when to schedule important communication-intensive meetings and business presentations is the importance of the decision. First, in a live meeting, team/audience members can focus not just on the presentation-information, and also assess the speaker’s delivery – is it confident, evoking trust, inspiration, etc. – or is the body language communicating a message  that suggests lack of authenticity, self-doubt, etc.?

Second, in the live meeting, it’s possible for the audience– and the speaker – to gauge whether or not to pursue an issue by also watching the body language of others in the room.  For a skilled presenter who is audience-driven with an important presentation this can be critical to connecting at all levels. 

Unfortunately for people who aren’t audience-driven – and using the two channels of communication to increase effectiveness – it won’t matter. I once attended a meeting in which a Fortune 500 firm CEO presented to an audience of over 1000 people from a podium that was perched much higher than the audience. After four slides, it was clear that they were overloaded with text, and he apologized to the audience for their illegibility, and promised to give people a copy after the meeting. (Mistake # 1 – not preparing something that the audience would want to follow; Mistake #2— telling people they didn’t have to pay attention!) At that moment, 90% of the audience stopped looking at his slides and turned to their phones, never to return. Seeing their response, he should shifted to highlights and manage delivering the details through Q&A; instead he kept reading slide by slide (Mistake #3). The following year, someone else was delivering the presentation.

In sum, pay attention not just to the “data” channel of facts, –but schedule meetings to enable people to get information from both the visible and hidden channels in order to make the best possible decisions.