Man speaking to an audience with a winning presentation style under warm lighting

In our modern, globalized economy, it’s not unusual to have to make the same presentation to different audiences who have different values and expectations. In my role as a venture capitalist, for example, I have to pitch funds both to Asian investors in Asia and to Western investors in the United States. Each audience is looking for something different in me as a presenter. That expectation has significant repercussions for my presentation style.

As a rule, the Western audience tends to prefer their speakers to be aggressive, physically dynamic, and somewhat self-promoting. Above all, they want to be impressed by a show of energy.

The Asian audience is different. They prefer speakers who deliver their presentations in a quieter, humbler manner and include something of a personal note. Above all, they want to like the speaker and feel a sense of rapport with him or her.

These preferences are polar opposites, so having the right delivery for the right audience is crucial if you want your presentation to make an impact. The high-energy style that works well in the West can come across as disagreeably boastful and egoistical in Asia. Equally, the softer Asian approach can be misperceived as weak, boring, and unfocused by a Western audience.

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In presentations, it’s not content, but tone that is king.

Martin Newman, the British personal impact consultant famous for coaching the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid team to victory, believes that the style of your delivery is the most important part of your presentation. And he has the data (not to mention the track record!) to back up his point of view.

According to Newman, the verbal element—what you say—accounts for a paltry 7% of the overall impression you make on your audience. That means that, contrary to what seems logical when you’re sharing information, it’s the non-verbal stuff that really matters. The vocal element—how you speak—accounts for 36% of your impact. And the whopping majority of 55%? That’s the visual element—how you present and project yourself. (You’ll notice Newman allows for a 2% remainder. After all, no audience is 100% predictable!)

Personally, I’ve been trying to develop a universal presentation style that fuses the best parts of the Asian and the Western approaches. With a little tweaking, it should work anywhere. I’ve boiled it down to three simple rules.

1. Be energetic—but don’t be hyper.

Too much energy is just as bad as too little energy. They can both alienate you from your audience. I think that projecting a soft, warm energy (like an old-fashioned light bulb) works better than a display of raw power. It establishes a sense of harmony between you and your audience.

2. Be personal—but don’t be sentimental.

The personal touch is good, but be careful not to go too far. Ryutaro Nonomura, a Japanese politician, started openly sobbing when asked to explain what he’d done with a large sum of public money at a press conference. The clip went viral, making him a YouTube sensation—of the wrong sort.

So be personal, yes, but don’t allow yourself to get maudlin or hysterical.

3. Be factual—but don’t be overbearing.

Audiences everywhere appreciate a well-structured, concise presentation that covers all key data points. At the same time, you want to avoid presenting your track record in the bragging, in-your-face style of a WWE wrestler on a winning streak. Sometimes a little modesty works wonders. For example, when you present a graph, don’t read through every little detail while dragging the audience along behind you. Let the numbers speak for themselves.

Whatever presentation style you land on, it shouldn’t be painful. It should be impactful—even fun!

Old-fashioned lightbulbs lined up on a black background, symbolizing a soft presentation style
A soft, warm energy may work better for your presentation than a display of raw power. | iStock/choness

A global audience expects a global presentation style.

Though there are still preferences from different regions and cultures regarding presentation styles, the era of Technovate is changing things. So many companies—particularly tech giants like Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google—post videos of their new product presentations on the web, and that means people everywhere (like you and me) can learn from the best. As a result, global presentation tastes are slowly starting to converge.

Of course, the godfather of the Silicon Valley presentation style was the late Steve Jobs. As a fan of Buddhism and Zen, Jobs was obsessed with simplicity and clarity, whether in hardware design, software interfaces, or presentation style. Although he did tend to use hyperbole when describing Apple’s new products (“revolutionary,” “incredible,” etc.), everything else in his presentations, from the language to the setting, was stripped-down, modest, even austere.

That makes sense, given Silicon Valley’s location on the West Coast, just across the water from Asia. Essentially, what Jobs came up with was an Asian-Western hybrid presentation style. His style was casual, but rigorously structured. It was entertaining, but not frivolous. It was simple, but not simplistic. It was intimate, but never drifted into irrelevance.

I, too, believe that in presentations, as in automobiles, hybrid is the way of the future. It’s the style that works best globally and reaches people anytime, anywhere.

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