Presentation skills should be an integral part of teaching because future leaders must have the opportunity to master them.—Jamie Cohen, winner of the 2013 TED International Teaching Contest

When I invited Mark Bowden to speak at my Student Leadership SOLE seminar, I knew he would have a profound impact on the students who attended. But there was no way I could have known just how extensive his impact would be.

How Mark Bowden impacted me

I invited him to speak at the seminar after seeing his presentation at TEDX Toronto. I was so impacted by his presentation that I downloaded his books Winning Body Language and Tame the Primitive Brain on my Kindle. I was intrigued by his ideas and wanted to find ways to incorporate his methods into the high school classroom because I’ve found that teaching of presentation skills was lacking in Ontario schools. It didn’t take long for me to realize that bringing him in as a speaker at the seminar I was planning would provide a unique opportunity for students.

Presentation skills should be an integral part of teaching because future leaders must have the opportunity to master them. Without instruction in this area, I believe we do a disservice to students who possess natural leadership abilities. This is why we wanted to focus our seminar on students in leadership positions or those who want to learn how to be leaders.

After the seminar, I asked students what they found to be most important about Mr. Bowden’s presentation, and they picked up on two key topics: body language and selecting ideas and concepts.

Starting with the Root of the Presentation: Forming Good Ideas

Students who attended the seminar told me that they realized how presentation goes beyond the words they speak. They discovered that engaging with an audience is really an art which can take many forms. Speaking effectively involves gaining the audience’s attention in a way that’s unique to the speaker and memorable to the audience. It requires the speaker to propose ideas that are interesting enough to get the audience to engage with them.

Without strong ideas, even the best speaker with the strongest presence and most open body language will fail to successfully communicate with the audience. The idea is the root of the presentation. It is the idea on which everything else in the presentation is based. Starting with a strong idea and presenting it confidently with open body language in a unique and engaging way is the best way for students to set themselves up for success in their presentation.

Passion is also a key ingredient in a successful presentation. It’s impossible to become animated on a subject that you don’t care about, so choosing an interesting topic involves finding something that interests both the speaker and the audience. Real passion is contagious; it spreads from the speaker to the audience through effective communication.

“I discovered that I have to be confident in myself and my ideas and communicate them clearly and with passion for people to listen to me,” a student told me after hearing Mr. Bowden speak.

Mark Bowden’s teachings about body language

Students who attended the seminar also learned just how important of a role body language plays in making presentations and communicating with a group. Many realized that the body language they were using was actually very poor and decided that they needed to work on this part of their presentation.

“I came into the conference feeling confident that I was already a strong leader, but I was surprised to know that there was so much more I could be doing,” one student said. “For example, I found my public speaking skills were good, however, I never really knew I needed to take gestures into account.”

Becoming conscious of body language problems is the first step in correcting this part of students’ presentation abilities, and after speaking with numerous students after the seminar, it’s clear to me that many of them have taken this first step. In fact, it didn’t take long for our students to put into action the lessons they learned from Mr. Bowden’s presentation. The following day, one of the student leadership groups which was organizing a major school charity-themed dance, presented their vision for the event to the administration. The administration said it was an extraordinary presentation, and the girls didn’t hesitate to give Mr. Bowden all the credit.

I can’t wait to see what our students will continue to do with this valuable lesson from Mr. Bowden to take their presentation skills to new heights!

Jamie Cohen is a Teacher at Tanenbaum Chat, winner of the 2013 TED International Teaching Contest, “The Sole Challenge” and creator of the SOLE Leadership Seminar.