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The key to writing and delivering ANY speech or presentation

This piece is based on a video that includes eight brief clips.  Four of them show different speakers starting some pretty unimpressive speeches.

We then see each of them filmed again after receiving some simple professional presentation advice.

On the surface, you may wonder why we have pulled them into one stream.  Two are preparing speeches for social occasions: a wedding and a funeral.  The others are for professional purposes: an internal HR briefing/presentation and an advertising meeting.

There are all sorts of other superficial differences.  Two are given standing up and two sitting down.  Two are women, two are men.  Two are holding notes in their hand, two are not.  Two arrived relatively confident, two nervous and shy.

And yet, ultimately, writing and delivering a great speech isn’t rocket science.  It always comes back to the two same challenges:

1) Can you make it relevant to your audience?

2) Is it clear what you are saying and why you are saying it?

Relevance

The best man in these clips starts quietly, staring at his notes.  So does the eulogy which comes across as a series of facts, lacking emotion.  In both cases, the original script doesn’t make an emotional connection.  And it’s exactly the same with the business speeches.  The HR professional rushes through a list presented as a lexicon of HR jargon.  She’s rushing because (as she admits) she’s embarrassed by how dull it all sounds.

The lesson is simple but often ignored.  A speech is only worth delivering if it is built around the needs of the audience.  What do they already know?  What will inspire them?  What will they find amusing?  What do you want them to remember?  These questions remain relevant whether you are opening a conference or standing to speak after a boozy dinner.

Relevance also means avoiding some of the typical public speaking sins.  Like ‘listing’ facts and reams of thank yous.  And over-using the word ‘I’.  And acronyms.

In the ‘after’ clips, each of the speeches becomes instantly more relevant.  The eulogy taps into an emotional link with the audience.  The HR professional reminds her colleagues what they have to gain from her subject.  A more relevant script makes them both more confident in their delivery.  The improved eye contact, body language and pace are all made easy by the belief that their audience might now be interested in what they are going to say.

Clarity

Even relevance is of limited benefit without clarity.  Not just clarity of writing and delivery, but also of thinking.  Clarity means prioritising your messages so that your audience understands what matters most.  It means focusing less on what happens on more on why.  It means brevity – ensuring your key points are not suffocated.

The advertising director creates clarity by reminding his client of the brief and contextualising what follows.  The best man demonstrates balance – he is going to praise his friend before having a joke at his expense.

Meanwhile, the style shifts in all four cases to create clarity.  Long sentences are replaced by shorter punchier soundbites.  These enable all four speakers to pause for longer.  The pausing allows time for eye contact and, where a appropriate, a smile or two.  It also facilitates emphasis.  We all push certain words harder when we are speaking naturally and then fall into monotone when nervous in front of a crowd.  The best man starts his second clip enthusiastically: “Good AFTERnoon everyone!”  It’s clear that we’re about to have some fun. Clarity of writing, creates clear delivery.  Which increases the likelihood that your audience will actually listen.

This is not a definitive list to propel every speech to the moon.  But it’s a start.  The four speakers were trained for up to 90 minutes.  Each could, by their own admission, improve their presentation much further.  But the key conclusion to this piece is that the techniques that can rescue a best man from embarrassment are no different to those helping the HR director communicate her message to her team.  A eulogy can be improved in similar ways to the advertising pitch.  Great speeches don’t start with facts and figures.  They start with an audience.  Working backwards from that point is the key to almost everything.  It creates relevance, allowing clarity to unlock the door to understanding.

We would be happy to discuss your coaching needs whether it is for a social speech or business presentation.  Call us on 0207 118 1600.

Speech and presentation delivery coaching

Three crucial lessons about presenting in 1 minute 53 seconds!

How do you turn a detailed corporate message into something interesting?
How do you avoid your colleagues yawning their way through your big presenting moment?
How do you communicate with impact?

This video clip is less than two minutes long, but it contains many of the answers.

It shows the start of two presentations. The first was recorded before we spent some time coaching the speaker, the second afterwards.

WHAT WAS HER GOAL?

This is a crucial question, but one that she hadn’t addressed fully in advance of her first attempt. And it shows. She knew the ‘evidence’ required to support her case, but hadn’t spent any time preparing a case. And so the presentation became rushed, full of detail, and delivered without a great deal of confidence.

Having discussed this at the start of her session with us, it became clear that the details were not particularly important. The key was to introduce a new way of doing things within the business. Suddenly there was a goal – which enabled her to speak with clarity and relevance.

Lesson One: Don’t start speaking until you know what you want to achieve.

HOW WAS HER SCRIPT STRUCTURED?

In the ‘before’ video, we see that she has gone big on detail at the expense of structure. She senses this is wrong by starting with an apology – not recommended! She then states that “I want to talk about …” which isn’t terribly audience friendly, before explaining that there is lots to get through. No wonder she ends the clip by admitting “I bored myself with my own content!”

‘After’ is a completely different story. She now has a clear purpose. This allows her to start with a benefit rather than a series of features. Her content is suddenly so focused on her audience that she is able to look at them and joke that this really should be fun. We are hooked by this stage and remain so because she continues to focus on people rather than processes.

Lesson two: Prioritise your audience and the key message you want them to remember. Then use the facts as evidence in your argument.

HOW DID HER SCRIPT CHANGE HER DELIVERY?

It is next to impossible to deliver a bad script well – certainly after the first 30 seconds. Your audience will quickly see through you. Better content lends itself to calmer, more confident delivery. Our speaker in this video is still using notes – and she makes no secret about checking them. But that doesn’t matter. Her thoughts are now ordered, her message is clear and she instantly comes across with more authority. She uses a few simple techniques to improve her delivery:

1) Speaking slower gives her time to think. It gives us time to react to what she is saying. She’s giving a monologue, but in a much more conversational way.

2) She pauses regularly. This ‘white space’ creates impact. It provides her with a chance to check her notes. And it leaves us wanting to hear more.

3) She emphasises key words. This makes her sound much more engaged and convincing. This time she seems to believe in herself.

4) She smiles. Amazing what a difference that makes! And she looks at us. She uses her fingers to count to three – which is fine – but body language is about much more than using your hands. It’s about connecting with your audience and letting your expressions reflect the mood you are trying to create.

Lesson three: never forget that there is a seamless link between well thought-out content and impressive delivery

If you would like help writing or delivering a speech or presentation, please give us a call. This piece covers the basics, but we specialise in taking communication to a completely new level.

Twelve Tips for TED Talks

 

I spent Monday at ‘TEDex’ in Brussels.  It was held in a theatre holding over 2,000.  Talk followed talk.  Paddy Ashdown discussed democracy.  Jonathan Rowland discussed the consequences of nearly dying.  Some inspired, others educated, a few may still be wondering what they were trying to do.

I had written TED talks before, but never sat in the auditorium and listened.  It’s a very different experience from watching them on You Tube.  And it was clear from the very start that the ingredients for a great TED talk don’t really differ from those for any other kind of talk.

My scribbled notes became increasingly repetitive, and it was pretty easy on the train home to break them down into twelve very simple tips for preparing and delivering your own talk.

NEVER

  • Start with the words ‘What I’d like to talk about’. Use hooks, quotes, questions, odd facts; but never that line. It immediately gives the impression that you are not thinking about your audience, which is a real turn-off.
  • Ask a question without waiting for an answer. Asking it and then hurrying on, without a glance or a pause just sounds what it is – that you paying lip service to the idea of asking something without paying any attention to the answer.
  • Repeat what you’ve written on a slide. Ever. You might as well stand silently and let the audience read it for themselves. Slides should illustrate your point or offer a punchline. Not a repetition.
  • Talk with your hands in your pockets. Or sway. Walking around the stage is fine. Standing still is fine. Moving your arms is to be positively encouraged. But swaying just makes your audience feel seasick.
  • Assume that you’ll come in on time. Speaking in front of a huge clock ticking-down in your line of sight is intimidating. It’s a lot worse when it has ticked down to 4:00 and you’re only half way through. You should have rehearsed your timings to the second and left some time for audience reaction. That’s approximately 120 words per minute and no more.

ALWAYS

  • Introduce your theme early on. Hook your audience in, but then explain what’s going to be in it for them if they keep listening. Holding your core message back for minute 16 is difficult to carry off.
  • Use an autocue. Holding a sheaf of paper is preferable to forgetting your lines, but an autocue enables you to look like you’re speaking from the heart rather than the script
  • Believe in what you are doing and do it with conviction”. That’s a quote from a speaker’s story, but its equally true of anyone’s approach to public speaking. If you believe it, you will deliver it with more passion and conviction.
  • Begin well. One speaker started by taking us to a bed where he was dying. He then made a joke about things being even worse than that. He was dying next to a girl he shouldn’t have been with. You could sense the audience’s uncertainty about a suitable reaction. But they were hooked from that point on.
  • Be self-deprecating.
  • Ensure that your speech ends with a clear, memorable message rather than a list of interesting points. That message should always link back to the theme you introduced at the start. Tomorrow morning, the audience will never recall the list, but they might just talk about that single message.

How to ruin a great business pitch

 

I had a meeting with a long-standing client yesterday.

He is a great guy, a formidable presenter, and a very successful professional in the world of finance.  But he arrived at the meeting looking unusually downbeat.  His first words were that: “My confidence is shot“.

He emphasised how he had made a name for himself in the City by bringing pitches and presentations to life using stories, anecdotes and ‘hooks’ far removed from the industry norm.  He was renowned for his ability to paint a picture within which specific and technical products made sense.  My work with him had only ever emphasised that he should keep doing what he was good at as it had stood him in such good stead.

However, he had recently moved jobs to promote a huge new idea in the world of banking.  For the purpose of this article, let’s call it ‘New Money’.

‘New Money’ is complex beyond belief.  But it could transform the world of banking for the better.  It has succeeded elsewhere in the world and is now about to hit Europe.  The biggest danger is that people won’t understand it.  It requires context, clarity and relevance before the inner-workings of the product itself are described.

My client had been called in to his new boss to explain how he planned to pitch the big idea in a series of  upcoming meetings with institutional investors.  And so he set-out the big picture and started to explain the context when the boss cut him short with the words:

“Don’t be ridiculous.  They don’t want a story.  They just need stats and facts.  Go away and create some slides.”

Rarely in my professional life have I heard such bad advice, or, for that matter, such poor man management.  In one sentence, he had undermined the basis of my client’s entire career and the prospects of his succeeding with the ‘New Money’ venture.

I hope our meeting helped to steady the ship, and to remind the client why he is good at what he does.  It also reminded me of the eight key rules of any business presentation on a technical subject:

  1. Define the key message.  Without it your pitch will lack a core meaning and purpose.  It will usually be a benefit.
  2. Create a structure for the presentation that never veers too far from the key message
  3. Try to find a ‘hook’ to draw your audience in.  It needs to be relevant and appropriate, but if it is original it will inspire them to want to know more
  4. Define the next step you want from your audience at the end of the pitch
  5. Write a simple script to show how your argument will progress and how you will draw your audience towards that next step
  6. Highlight those areas where an illustration may help bring your points to life.  They will be your slides
  7. Don’t use slides for anything other than illustrative purposes – slides should not repeat what you are saying
  8. Rehearse it out loud until you know what you are saying so well that you can argue the case without notes

Having been through this process, my client has altered his approach again to focus on his strengths, but with a little more factual evidence than I’d usually recommend.  Importantly though, those ‘facts and stats’ are simply evidence in an argument, rather than the argument itself.  As a result, his pitch is still a story rather than a haphazard list of details.

The key for anyone preparing a presentation (or any speech for that matter) is never to forget your audience.  A day after you have spoken they will rarely remember one of your facts.  Which is fine.  Because if they remember the key message – and understand how it will benefit them – then your job as a presenter is done.

5 Tips to Quash Business Presentation Nerves

 

I’ve written elsewhere about how to write original, punchy content for your business presentations. Having great content is often the key to feeling confident about standing up and speaking. But you may still be apprehensive. Here are five tried and trusted tips that form the basis of our one-to-one coaching with nervous presenters. You’ll notice that they don’t include imagining your audience naked. Or visiting the pub on your way to the pitch.

1) Prepare

Preparation is king. There’s an apocryphal story about a successful after dinner speaker explaining how he managed to deliver such well-received speeches time after time. His secret?

“For every minute that I speak, I spend an hour preparing.”

Which means not just finishing your final slide and forgetting all about the delivery until you break out in a cold sweat the night before the presentation. When it comes to winning over your boss, impressing investors, or getting your team on board with your vision, your delivery is just as important as your content.

Practice early, practice often, and don’t become that bane of business meetings across the globe: the person who stands at the front of a room and reads off a series of Powerpoint slides. Your colleagues can read, there’s no need to do it for them! Of course, if you read our article on slide building there won’t be any words on them to read!

Knowing your material well will also go a long way to easing the tension you feel before addressing the room. Don’t be afraid to read a script in full so often that you start to complete your own sentences. Read it slowly, so you can glance at your script and then look up to deliver each line. Rehearse it as you intend to deliver it on the day. Putting on the clothes you’ll be wearing on the day will give you yet another reassuring feeling of familiarity when the time comes.

When you stand up to speak you’ll feel much more relaxed, because you’ll have done it all before!

2) Deep breath, shoulders back

First of all, take a deep breath in. Now hold it.

And exhale.

Don’t you feel better already?

Chances are that if you’re nervous you’re also carrying a lot of tension in your shoulders and neck. Take a minute and consciously push your shoulders down. Not only will you feel more relaxed, but your posture will convey that confidence to your audience.

3) Smile

There’s a very simple trick you can play on your brain to help banish those public speaking nerves. Even though you might feel more like frowning, smile! The mere act of smiling can make you feel happier and more contented, even if you have to force yourself to do it. Think of it as fooling your body into a state of relaxation.

It will also help communicate to your audience that you’re at ease and comfortable with your material. After the famous 1960 presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, people who listened on the radio thought that Nixon had given a stronger performance, but viewers who watched the debate on TV favoured Kennedy.

Appearances matter, so smile!

4) Ease into it

There’s no need for you to launch right into your presentation. If you’re worried about your voice playing up when you first open your mouth, clear your throat before starting and have a sip (just a sip!) of water. Taking a moment before you address the room might feel strange, but it shouldn’t look that way. Your audience is likely to take it as a sign that you feel at ease.

If you’re still worried about your voice sounding squeaky when you begin, ask the room if they can hear you at the back. That gives you an easy opening that isn’t the first line of your speech. Once you’ve warmed yourself up in this way, you’re likely to find it much easier to carry on with confidence.

Of course, make sure that you’re presenting to a large enough room before you try this trick. It would be odd to ask your five colleagues squeezed around a tiny table if they can hear you. If the setting is too small, try thanking everybody for coming instead, or asking if anyone has any questions before you begin.

5) Enjoy it!

When giving a business presentation, all eyes are on you. You could look at this as a terrifying prospect, but there is a more positive way to view the situation: you have an opportunity to make the best impression you know how to make, and your audience’s undivided attention while you do it!

If you can show that you’re confident, that you know what you’re talking about, and you know how to communicate an idea, then you’re already doing better than the majority who absolutely dread talking about their business! Your audience is guaranteed to be impressed.

If you still feel like your heart is going to leap out of your throat at the mere prospect of having to talk in a professional environment, then don’t hesitate to get in touch! Whether it’s prepping your delivery or even writing the speech itself, I have years of experience putting speech worries to rest!

If you want bespoke, one-to-one sessions to help improve your delivery on a specific speech, or indeed want a speech written by us, please call any time.

Lawrence

Introducing your business presentation

It is no secret that your audience will judge you during the first minute of your business presentation. If you appear convincing and impactful at the beginning, the audience will listen to you throughout.

It is worth spending as much time on that minute as the next five combined.

Here are three ways to make the perfect start:

–          Surprise them: You don’t need a song and dance routine but any opportunity to break free from the typical corporate opening is to be encouraged. An impactful quote or slide can work well, but make sure it is relevant to your core message.

–          Build up the benefits: Try to focus on the end benefit of your presentation at the start. If you’re selling software then surprise them in minute one by demonstrating concisely and memorably how it will change their businesses and lives for the better.

–          Make it word perfect: Know your introduction off by heart – this is not the time to be glancing at your notes, or wondering what comes next. You have one chance to create an impression and should not appear uncertain or unprepared.

And five things to avoid:

–          Long introductions about yourself and your business: This serves little purpose to an audience who’ve already read your biography in the seminar handout or delegate list.

–          False compliments or sentiments: They don’t need to know how happy you are to be there and how kind they are to take the time to listen to you.

–          Apologies: Unless you are late, never begin with an apology. They don’t want to know you’re nervous, are new to the job, or that you have a sore throat.

–          Complaints: You’re wasting time and irritating your audience if you complain about the temperature of the room, the AV set up or the noise outside the room.

–          Weak jokes: A natural reaction for a nervous speaker is to try to ‘befriend’ the audience by beginning with a joke. But humour is hard to pull off and can easily offend people if done poorly.

Remember, everything you put into your introduction will help keep the rest of the presentation and speech on track. If you’re still unsure where to start or how to get your speech or presentation off the ground, please give me a call on +44 (0)207 118 1600.

Confidence in the Boardroom

Sheelagh McNamara is a RADA Tutor (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and a highly trained voice, speech & presentation skills professional with extensive experience in executive level coaching in England, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the US.

With over 30 years experience Sheelagh’s clients include Oscar Nominees, Politicians, Lawyers, and Senior Executives together with the CEOs and Presidents ofInternational Companies.

As an increasing number of women occupying senior corporate roles, Sheelagh gives her advice on how women can enhance their speech and presentation skills as their careers develop.

What’s Holding You Back?

Historically few women have occupied the most senior roles in business, politics and the law but things are changing rapidly. By 2015 the Government recommendation is that 25% of FTSE 100 boardroom places be held by women. And there are more young, talented and dedicated women in politics.

Research shows that diverse boards make better decisions and are more effective as well as promoting equal opportunities for talented women.

Did you know that …

• Only 18 FTSE 100 companies and just less than half of all FTSE 250 companies have any female directors.

• Female executive and non-executive directors earn 22% less than their male peers.

• Only 19% of partners in top law firms are women (despite that fact that there are more women in law than men).

Over the past 4 years there has been a surge in the number of female executives who are looking to enhance their personal impact, confidence and credibility in the boardroom.

But research conducted by Heather Jackson, Founder and Chief Executive of The Women’s Business Forum, states that 92 per cent of women regard lack of confidence rather than concrete obstacles as the greatest impediment to their promotion.

So with this in mind here are a few top tips to help you enhance your authority and credibility as you move up the corporate ladder.

To maximize your credibility, minimize your movements

A certain amount of movement adds meaning and passion to your message but too much can be distracting. Keep a stable stance and when you do move make sure there’s a reason for it – not just because it busts your adrenaline.

• Eliminate pacifying gestures.

Under stress women often display pacifying gestures such as touching their neck, fiddling with their hair and playing with jewellery. I’ve even seen highly regarded women inspecting their nails!

• Avoid head tilts.

Head tilts are a particularly female gesture which can be interpreted as a gesture of submission. Look around and notice how rarely men speak with their heads tilted to one side. Women often use it to show that they are listening or empathetic. Women who want to project power and authority should keep the head straight.

• And nodding.

Women tend to nod their heads frequently which can make them appear too easy to please. When a man nods it means he agrees with you. When a woman nods it may mean she agrees; she may be encouraging you to continue speaking or she may be being empathetic. Keep your nodding under control.

• Learn to interrupt!

When Madeleine Albright, former United States Secretary, was asked at a conference of up and coming female executives what was the single most useful thing they could do to get to the top she said, “Learn to interrupt!”. Women tend to wait their turn in negotiation and talk less than their male counterparts. You don’t need to be aggressive but you do need to have a strong and confident voice to make your message clear.

And just one more thing…. VOICE IS KEY!

• Never apologise. In a male dominated world it will seen as a sign of weakness.

• Speak confidently and firmly.

• Speak logically, not emotionally.

• Make statements rather than ask questions.

• Address tough issues up front.

 

Sheelagh can be contacted through her website: www.speak-easy.co

How to write a great speech: BREVITY

Having read my previous articles, you should now have a relevant and original message in mind and are ready to put pen to paper.

Things are looking good, but the pitfalls aren’t all out the way.

Because there is nothing worse than a speaker who takes two minutes to introduce himself and then uses long, winding sentences like this one to make a point that could have been made much more clearly in far less time and using far fewer words.

The secret is brevity.  Not terseness.  Just the use of short, sharp punchy sound bites to make your point in a crisp, memorable way.

There are tricks to achieve this.  For a start, break long sentences up into shorter ones.  Then try and split those up wherever possible.  These breaks should be created at a convenient place to breathe (and pause for effect) when you are speaking.

Like this …

… and this …

… and, most importantly …

… like this.

Secondly, try to avoid convoluted ways of explaining something simple.  For example:

“The problem with playing three centre forwards is that each forward is based in the attacking third of the pitch which can leave a massive gap in midfield to be filled by less players, meaning that the defence gets pulled out of shape.”

Could be changed to:

“Selecting three forwards can leave holes behind them in midfield …

… that defenders are forced to cover.”

Thirdly, read your sentence out loud after you have written them.  You may find that what looks good on the page, doesn’t sound so good when you hear it.

Finally, remember this sad fact (it’s actually an estimate):

A day after you have spoken, few of your audience will remember your key message, fewer still will have remembered your second message, and only a handful will remember more than one example you highlighted.

So see if you can compact a twenty minute speech into fifteen, and don’t worry about being too brief.

How to write a great speech: ORIGINALITY

My previous blog piece focused on relevance.

But although being relevant will help you convince your audience to listen for a while, it isn’t enough on its own to hook them in.   And so once you have decided what your key message is going to be, you need to wrap it in an original way.

Don’t worry.  This doesn’t mean you need to wear a bizarre costume, Morris dance  or sing.  But whatever the event at which you are speaking, you need to convince your audience that they are going to learn something new from you.  And the best way to do that is to communicate a little differently.

There’s obviously a catch here.  If I give you an original idea then it will immediately cease to be original.  But I can give three examples of people who have managed to present relevant ideas in ways that have really made an impact on the audiences concerned.

Like the energy consultant who flew off to a meeting in Cape Town last April and linked the various elements of a new technology his firm had launched to the preparations for the Royal Wedding.  This enabled the less technical members of the audience to enjoy the speech and understand his role.  He was congratulated the following day on being the most impressive speaker at that year’s conference.

Then there’s the example of the accountant given fifteen minutes to speak on the difference between tax evasion and avoidance.  This is obviously a technical issues with major consequences.  Avoidance leaves more money sitting in your personal account.  Evasion gains you a stretch behind bars.  And so she started by telling a story about life in Ford Open prison.  Her audience were captivated.  And their interest grew when she explained that was exactly what they could be facing if they failed to listen to some of the finer details that were to follow.

Finally, there was a father-of-the-bride at a wedding.  His speech was relevant enough, but it just lacked a little bite.  Until he mentioned that his daughter had spent the first twenty years of her life obsessed with the musical Grease.  As a result, he wove together the key stories and characters from her life using song titles and lyrics sung by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.  The following week he and his wife started receiving thank you letters for the wedding.  And the vast majority referred to his speech as being the best they had ever heard.

These examples are obviously pretty random.  There is, sadly, no formula for originality.  It disappears the minute you try to adhere to a template.  And that’s why every speech we write at Great Speech Writing begins on a blank piece of paper.

But if you can combine a relevant approach with an original way of communicating the message then you are on well on track.

How to write a great speech: RELEVANCE

Emperors in the Coliseum would signal the fate of a gladiator with the lifting of a thumb.  And not much has changed.  Because this is the age of mobile technology.  And there is nothing worse than looking up after a minute of your pivotal speech or presentation to see the key decision-maker in the room looking down, Blackberry in-hand, and a scrolling thumb providing its own telling feedback on the impact of your big moment.

In the age of Twitter, I’m often asked to help clients avoid this fate in 140 characters.  Fortunately, I can often cut that to nine:

RELEVANCE.

Whether a client is speaking at a wedding, a business conference or in Parliament, the same principle applies.  Because a speech, any speech, needs to create an impact if people are going to enjoy and remember it.  And there is no better way to make that impact than by making it one hundred percent relevant to your audience.

Relevance comes in different shapes and sizes.  From a strategic perspective it means focusing on benefits rather than features.  This is a fundamental rule of any form of communication, but when it comes to speeches, and particularly speeches on a technical subject, there is a tendency to push common-sense to one side and tell people an awful lot about what you know, at the expense of what they really want and need to hear.

As a result, many business speeches and presentations begin with a hugely detailed section ‘about us’ which incorporates ‘who we are’, ‘what we do’, and ‘what our latest great product or service is all about’.

This may be all true.  And it may also be incredibly interesting to you.  But an audience is likely to be stifling the yawns and reaching for its emails before you have even got going.

Relevance means approaching things back-to-front.  It means engaging their interest from the start; demonstrating that it is really worth giving you their complete and undivided attention before you even start to explain the technical aspect of what you do.

And so if you are explaining to an audience why your new product is going to transform the way they work, please don’t start by telling them how long you’ve been working on it, what its ingredients are, or where your offices are based.  Think about how they will use it, the problems it will solve, and the frustrations it will alleviate.

Similarly, if you are Best Man at a wedding, the worst possible way to start your speech is by talking about yourself for too long, and by regaling the guests with long and detailed stories that demonstrate why you and the Groom are such good mates.  By all means introduce yourself, but then imagine you are in the audience before you start writing.  This isn’t about you, it’s about them and him.  And you are simply a conduit for sharing relevant, interesting and amusing information about him.

In short, if a speech isn’t relevant, it is highly likely to fail.  Audiences have short attention spans.  The twitching of a thumb may no longer spell the end of a life, but it can provide a clear indication that your speech or presentation is facing an early death.

5 PowerPoint Crimes

Powerpoint has been used for years as a tool for business presentations. However, it’s still very rare to see it utilised effectively. Here are just five common Powerpoint crimes that I see every week.

Irrelevance

Powerpoint can be a great way bolster a presentation or to make a point clearer. But it’s important to remember that it should only provide support material for a presentation that stands on its own.   Don’t use a slide to tell the story, but to illustrate it and bring it to life.  If a slide isn’t adding value then just bin it.

Too Many Graphics

If you’re explaining to your colleagues why there are going to be redundancies in the coming year, you don’t have to do it by zipping a cartoon dog across the screen, accompanied by a faded-in speech bubble containing the words “cut-backs” and a Dog Bark SFX.
Clever graphics are no longer a ‘wow’ because everyone knows how they work, and there’s a danger that too much blinking, fading and twisting will simply make it look like you’re using style to cover up a lack of content.

Too Much Information

In any form of presentation, the most important thing to remember is that your primary job is not to convey all of the relevant information. Regardless of how well written/performed a presentation is, very little of the actual information you put across will be retained. Rather, the whole point of presenting is to make an impact. As a golden rule, if something needs a hundred words on a powerpoint slide, you may as well drop it to your audience on an email.

Too many slides

There is nothing worse than being in an audience and realising that you are about to be delivered ‘War and Peace’ in PowerPoint.  It’s all about being crisp and relevant, so don’t overdo it.  As a rule of thumb, a slide-per-minute is ample.  And that’s assuming it only contains a handful of words, one diagram, or a single picture.

Dark backgrounds

They may look clever on your laptop, but they’ll make any slide almost impossible to read when they are projected.  The projection will often change the tint, and make them blend into the words.  So that beige font on a brown background is a definite no go.

Tips for Presenting with Authority

It is not unusual to feel vulnerable about standing up to speak. The trick to delivering a successful speech or presentation is to create a perception of confidence to make your audience feel that you are in charge (irrespective of how you are actually feeling at the time).

Take your time

Think about the most powerful or influential speakers you’ve heard. As a general rule they will speak very slowly. This is actually very easy, and a great trick to earn yourself the confidence of the room. Look at this video of Barrack Obama. He speaks very slowly, and very clearly. His audience knows that he doesn’t need to rush; that he’s in control of the situation, and taking it at his own pace. Not only does it make the process of public speaking easier, it also simply sounds more controlled. And it’s easier to take-in what he’s saying.

Use your hands

Moving them doesn’t just help illustrate your point. It also helps release nervous energy, enabling you to speak more confidently.

Print your speech or presentation onto cue cards

Partly, this is useful for the simple reason that a cue card is smaller than a sheet of A4. However, actually the biggest thing you gain from having cue cards is the confidence they inspire in both you and your audience. From the audience’s perspective, you have clearly prepared for the speech you are giving; you have approached it in a professional way, and seemingly have done this before. From your own perspective, having the cards there at all will remind you that you are equipped to deliver this speech. Psychologically, this puts the ball in your court.

Hold your cue cards at about chest level and about half a foot in front of you

This way, when you look up at the audience, your speech will still be in your eye-line. You should not be presenting something purely by looking down at a piece of paper. Look up. Make sure the audience know that they’re your focal point; that they’re what’s important to you. When you watch a speech by somebody doing nothing more than looking down and reading from their notes, you can’t help but think they may as well just hand the piece of paper out and request half an hour’s silence for everybody to get up to speed. The reason they are watching a person, rather than reading a sheet of paper, is because they want someone to talk to them, to engage with them; someone in whom they can have confidence.

Glance, don’t read

You don’t have to know it word for word, but you certainly should only be presenting something to a room full of people, if you’ve practiced it beforehand. Speaking slowly enough to give you time to glance down at your notes between sound-bites will make a huge difference.

Smile

You may be shaking during the speech; you may even be terrified. However, what you must not be is miserable. Or, at least, you mustn’t look it. A frowning speaker is a reluctant speaker; someone out of their depths, perhaps. Nothing gets you the respect of a room like standing in front of 50, 60, 100 people and simply smiling back at them. Socially, it shows the audience that they’re in for a good time. Professionally, it shows you’ve got all the answers. Put it this way, if you were looking to buy a fridge-freezer from two men; one of whom was smiling and the other of whom was crying, who would get your business?

Perform a little

Pick relevant people to look in the eyes. If you’re talking about the company director, and he’s in the room, then look at him! You don’t need to bound round the stage, yelping, to get people’s attention. But you also won’t be interesting to watch simply standing still. These little touches can make the difference between a good presentation and a great one.

I hope you find these tips useful. Please let me know if you would like help preparing for your next speech or presentation.

Delivery: Practise makes perfect

Effortless delivery can turn a good speech into a great one. Far too many people spend 100% of their preparation time writing their speech or presentation, forgetting that it’s the delivery that will make or break it.

If you’re preparing to give a presentation or a pitch, this is even more essential. An under-practised script can sound hollow and unconvincing to any client or colleague.

So how do you go about practising for the big moment?

Let’s start with defining ‘practice’.
‘Practice’ doesn’t mean silently reading the speech or Power-Point notes to yourself on the train, or in bed each evening. Nor does it mean running through it until you can recall the key headings and a few words here and there.

Practice means trying to get as close as possible to how you’ll deliver the speech on the day itself. Here are my top tips:

1. Stand up and read it aloud. But don’t just recite it; put some feeling into it, emphasising key words, pausing at appropriate moments and looking up at your (imaginary) audience as you would on the day.
2. Hold a tube of toothpaste or something similar to recreate the microphone.
3. Ask your other half or a good mate to listen and make suggestions if things don’t sound right.
4. Imagine that you have an audience in front of you, and create as much eye contact with them as possible.
5. Use the same cards, paper or laptop that you’ll be using on the day.
6. If you’re getting bored with the speech, then stop practising so frequently.  Just have a run through as and when you’re worried you’re beginning to forget it.
7. Perfect your posture. Good posture can make you look and feel more confident.
8. You may want to rehearse in the clothes you’ll be wearing on the day. If it’s formal clothes, it can help to become familiar with the feeling of tightness around the neck that comes from wearing a suit.

If you feel this is bordering on the obsessive, remember that stage shows never go ahead without a full dress rehearsal, so why should your speech?!

I hope that’s helpful. If you would like some help rehearsing, or on the writing part for that matter, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)207 118 1600.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Lawrence

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Presenting to your staff?

At a time when ‘internal communications’ are becoming ever more of a business buzzword, I speak to an increasing number of clients about how best to present news and information to their colleagues.

As with any speech or presentation, there are a number of tricks to ensure that yours does not lead to ‘Death by PowerPoint’, a condition that can have the audience yawning at ‘hello’.

It isn’t PowerPoint itself that creates the problem.  Quite the opposite.  It actually the tools to help bring a subject to life.  But when you are talking to your own staff, you do not need to fall into any if these traps:

  1. Repeating ad-nauseam everything they heard at the last internal call-to-arms
  2. Showing them every line of every balance sheet and set of accounts that you can find
  3. Impressing them with an organogram showing how every individual within the team interacts
  4. Running through so many objectives and visions that even you lose sight of what matters
  5. Displaying your entire script on each slide so they have to listen to a demonstration of your reading ability

It is amazing how senior people who tend to give these sort of presentations start with the premise that they need to be formal and prosaic.

As a rule of thumb, an internal presentation should be as fun and straightforward as possible.  The idea is to engage your staff rather than alienate them.  And that is rarely achieved through a forest of facts, figures and hypotheses.

Which may sound like common sense.  But it is anathema to many business leaders, whether they work in the public or private sector.  So if I’ve covered the ‘don’ts’, here are a few tips for inspiring your colleagues:

  1. Keep it simple.  Why present for half an hour when you can say it all in ten minutes?
  2. Use your slides to illustrate and amuse, not as an autocue
  3. Decide on the key message you want to convey and stick to it
  4. Prepare by writing a synopsis of your speech or presentation in no more than one hundred words.  You can then use that paragraph as a framework for the rest of your content

This is only the start, but I hope it helps.  I would, of course, be delighted to help you work on your next one!

Lawrence

11 tips for a powerpoint presentation

There is a school of thought that ‘great’ and ‘PowerPoint’ should never be used in the same sentence, and it is true that there are many other ways to engage your audience.

However, PowerPoint is a fact of business life, and it can be an incredibly impactful tool when used in the right way.

Too often it isn’t.  So here are a few tips to help you prepare your next one.

Preparing it

  1. Create a structure that focuses around the key point you want to make.
  2. Work from a Master Slide (or slides) – this makes it a lot easier to change things later on.
  3. Aim never to have more than 10 words on one slide.
  4. Remember that a relevant image or illustration will be immeasurably more impactful than a sentence.
  5. Let slides build with your story, rather than giving away the outcome before you have delivered it.
  6. As with all speeches and presentations, check whether it is relevant to your audience, approaches the subject in an interesting and original way, and sets things out simply.

Delivering it

  1. Don’t forget that the audience are there to watch you, not your slides.  Use the presentation to back up your message, not to replace your role in delivering it.
  2. Don’t repeat the words on the slides behind you.  It is a fact of business life that most of your audience will be able to read them too.
  3. Make it clear when you are referring to a specific part of a slide rather than just gesticulating randomly into the air between you and it.
  4. Avoid handing out a printed version of the presentation beforehand.  Your impact will be nullified if your audience know what’s coming next.
  5. As with all speeches and presentations, speak clearly, interact with your audience wherever possible, and emphasise key words and messages.

Many of the keys to a successful presentation come down to common sense.  Preparation is key.  You can never think too much about original ways to entertain your audience.  Nor can you rehearse too much.  Knowing what will appear on each click through the presentation is a must.

I would be delighted to review an existing presentation you have written or to help you create something original and impactful. In the meantime, I hope this helps.

Lawrence

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