A testimonial with tips

Railway Track


Ben Scanlan works for Network Rail. We’ve spent time together on his corporate messaging and presentations. He kindly sent through these thoughts. They include some useful tips that Ben is happy to share. Here they are:

“So over the past three months I’ve been using Lawrence once every couple of weeks for an afternoon at a time. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

He’s incredibly candid. Somehow he manages to marry that with an understated manner through his humbleness which means I’ve always felt honoured to have my work torn apart.

So lesson one is be humble.

Starting at the beginning was a recurring theme. This may sound obvious. It’s not. At our first session I presented Lawrence with a board pack that I was working on, with the intention that we improve it. First question off his lips? ‘What’s the key message?’

I laughed. I didn’t have an answer. I knew the sections of the presentation. I knew the charts. I knew the different things I was supposed to be highlighting. Despite, or possibly because of, all this, I didn’t know the key message. And this is the fundamental principle from which all else falls. When I eventually figured out what the key message was, trying to layer the presentation presented the next fundamental challenge. Trying to go from big picture to detail in a controlled way like an inverted pyramid.

As I write that now, it sounds so simple, and it did when Lawrence first explained it to me. Except that it requires a discipline that I’ve not had before. Nor have I been expected to have. He calls it an upside down key-hole. You have your big message and then gradually become more concise as the presentation goes on. This way means that there is a logical flow, which makes things easier for the audience. And making things easier for the audience frees up their mental capacity to run with ideas and be inspired.

Too often I was bringing ideas in from all angles, and that was limiting what the audience could reasonably be expected to do.  

Finally, trying to be the audience was a key consideration. I had the problem that my brief was to cater to all 16 members of a panel and their individual desires. Some wanted detailed pre-read to pore over while others didn’t prepare and wanted to be presented to. Through discussion it was clear this was a hindrance to getting a core message as I couldn’t put myself in the audience’s shoes; they were too varied. So I had to go back and really nail down my brief. A secure brief lends itself to a good presentation, as the key message can be seen.

There’s a significant culture change that needs to happen in my organisation for all of these points to be taken on board and not railroaded by the paradigm that exists. However, to really bring about that sort of change, there’s a certain responsibility on those of us not at the top to really shape the paradigm and not just go along with it.

Working with Lawrence has been a huge eye opener; the lessons are startling in their simplicity. While our work has been primarily on presentations, its applications have altered the way I do business. Emails, briefing notes, conversations, even the way I structure my thoughts. I’ve found it rippling into my personal life as well.”