Accomplished Conductors & Effective Presenters

Comments ( 0 )

After reading an article that highlighted the techniques of some acclaimed conductors and which interviewed them on their craft, I saw very clearly how their skills parallel those of effective presenters.

The presenter is the interpreter of the ideas, manifested in the content (words and visuals) and delivery of the presentation. He or she aims to convince the audience of a message or to get them to take an action. The conductor is the interpreter of a musical score and communicates that interpretation to the orchestra so they play the music as he or she envisions.

In short, both presenter and conductor must expressively convey their message to their audience or orchestra in a way they can take in…and in a way that will inspire them to take the desired action.

Conductors rely almost exclusively on body language to communicate while presenters transmit information with words and behaviors. In this piece we’ll focus on the area of overlap between presenters and conductors: communication using the body.

The Language of the Body
The British conductor Harry Bicket said, “If you imagine trying to talk to somebody in a totally foreign language, and you wanted to express something to that person without the use of language…that’s really what you’re doing.” In their body language and vocal quality, presenters must do the same. That means, as for conductors, it’s crucial to use the body, facial expression and even breath in a way that gives meaning to the content or music.

Arms and Hands
A conductor gives most of the information — keeping time, the feeling and texture of the music — through the arms and hands. Presenters use their arms and hands to enhance the spoken word. Successful presenters gesture naturally and freely, as they would when telling a story. And a good presentation, after all, does tell a compelling story.

The Face Speaks
Next to the arms and hands, the conductor’s face gives the most information. “I feel as if my face is singing with the music,” The upcoming director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, said. A good presenter uses their facial expression in keeping with their words and body language. It’s all integrated. If the face does not express the content of the words, the audience will experience a disturbing dissonance and will discredit the speaker on some level.

Eye Contact
Conductors find that a simple engaging look can relax and encourage musicians. And good presenters know that engaging their audience using eye contact wins their attention, creates a connection with them, and opens the lines of communication. It encourages the audience to attend to you since you are attending to them.

Engaging Everyone
Both conductors and presenters know it’s crucial to engage even the people in the back. They know that if you include everyone, especially people from the furthest points in all directions, you’ll form a kind of lasso to reel in the entire audience. When the audience knows you may meet their glance at any time, they are motivated to engage with you. You show them your attention and they give you theirs.

Several of the conductors interviewed said they get a good sound by looking at the players in the back. Mr. Nézet-Séguin said, “You’re getting them in the game,”

Conductor Valery Gergiev uses the same technique with people in the back and said: “Looking at [someone in the back row] means I am interested in him. If I’m interested in him, that means he is interested in me. Correct? Everything I do, I try to do relying on expression and visual contact.”

Communicating from the Heart
For both conductors and presenters, the eyes are also a crucial way to communicate feeling to the audience or orchestra. According to conductor Xian Zhang, “The eyes should be the most telling in musical intent. The eyes are the window of the heart. They show how you feel about the music.” And the eyes also show the audience what a presenter feels about his or her material. We want to see a speaker show passion for the topic, and that is expressed through the eyes.

Your Brain and Doing What Comes Naturally
Does this mean that presenters and conductors plan in advance their facial expressions, how they will move their bodies and what they will do with their gaze? A good presenter certainly does not choreograph his or her moves (see “stiff” and “phony.”)

The impetus for body language starts in the brain. One’s thoughts manifest physically in natural body language and behaviors. You tell a story and free your arms and they will move naturally. Similarly, when a conductor prepares mentally for a performance, the physicality comes organically. Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini taught that “the clarity of a gesture comes from the clarity of your mind.” As a speaker, keep your mind on your material and your intent and you will move — and even use your voice — accordingly.

That Certain Something
In the end, it’s about more than simple technique. “You can do everything right and be of no interest at all,” said James Conlon, the music director of the Los Angeles Opera. “And you can be baffling and effective.” Likewise, you’ve seen compelling presenters with all sorts of quirks, and you’ve seen presenters who have hit all their marks and been unbelievably boring.

As Mr. Conlon put it, and this applies to presenters as well as conductors: “You can discuss gesture and physical comportment endlessly, but ultimately some intangible, charismatic element trumps it all. Nobody has ever bottled it. To which I say, ‘Thank God.’”

I wish you all that certain something.


If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it!
Icon Icon Icon


  • "As someone who presents opinion pieces and data to large crowds, Kayla was instrumental in helping me focus and deliver the optimal speech and flow. I appreciate her time and intensity on helping me better relay my key points both in context and delivery." Sean Finnegan
  • "Kayla has a real knack for getting to the heart of a message and helping express it both rationally and emotionally for maximum effectiveness. She knows how to put a speaker at ease and get them ready to speak in high-stress situations. An hour with Kayla will make you a ‘Great Communicator." Lisa Merriam, President, Merriam Associates
  • "Kayla was an excellent presentation coach. She not only helped me discoverhow to turn a long, dry presentation into a story that is interactive andinteresting, but also helped me understand what it was that triggered mynervousness and gave me great suggestions on how to control it. Kayla isvery unique and invests all of her energy into your success." Christine Zambrana, Associate Director, Oncology Marketing

Newsletter Signup

All we need is your email: