Monday, 19 September 2016

Mick Jagger’s audience management tips transfer directly to the business presentation arena

I have been catching up on some musical memories and in the process discovering Mick Jagger’s tips on audience management, which chime very nicely with the advice I give to business presenters.

To my great delight my son Louis has turned into an even greater Rolling Stones fan than myself, so for his recent birthday I gave him the latest box set of DVDs, amongst which was the Brixton Academy gig that I was lucky enough to attend in 1996. Aged just two at the time, Louis had been young too attend.

Also included was some great documentary material, with Jagger’s explanation on audience management including the following:

“I see it as one big animal and I focus on individuals too to ensure I’m getting close contact. I also do groups because you can spot little gangs and treat them like that. I don’t like seeing friends and family because you can’t be so daft….”

Let’s break that down into separate components:

I see it as one big animal

I say that you have to be sure to address everyone in the room in a business presentation, probably making a special effort to acknowledge those at the back and to your extreme left and right. I urge presenters to spread their eye contact far and wide because it is so easy for audience members to feel left out. If there is no audience available in a practice session and the speaker is struggling to imagine the situation for real, I get out my set of celebrity masks and fix them to the backs of chairs. Then the feedback tends to be along the lines of “much better, but Prince Philip and Sir Alex are still feeling rather excluded”!

and I focus on individuals too

I recommend holding eye contact with individuals for just a fraction longer than seems natural so as to ensure you are establishing close contact. Juan Tamariz, the Spanish hero of magicians worldwide, goes so far as to advise checking out people’s eye colours – again, to ensure you are establishing close contact.

I also do groups

I say you need to establish clearly up front whether you are happy and able to take questions as you go. Nevertheless, you should always seize on any opportunity for direct engagement with audience members, especially in groups.  You can empathise with them and bounce off their energy. Played right, the rest of the audience will feed off and add to that energy and the group members will feel special, be the first to applaud and they will talk about you afterwards.

I don’t like seeing friends and family

The challenge with Presentation Skills training and rehearsals is that you are usually performing in front of colleagues. People expect this to be a safe option and are a little baffled when they struggle. I explain that it is generally more difficult presenting to people you know because there is often some sort of ‘agenda’ between yourself and individuals in front of you. You will be coming to a particular passage and thinking something like ‘I know Sarah/whoever doesn’t like this idea’ so you will steer your eye contact in another direction and hold back a little in your delivery. It is much easier when you have a ‘blank canvas’ in front of you and can proceed unfettered.

Even, it would appear, if you happen to happen to be the front man of the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, with more than half a century’s experience under your belt!

Totally Stripped, the latest box set from the Rolling Stones can be found here:

Sunday, 4 September 2016

A lesson for business presenters from TV presenters, young and old

Most business people give a presentation on just an occasional basis, which is one of the reasons it can feel like an ordeal every time it happens. So what can we learn from people who are presenting day in, day out - Television personalities? I have come across a couple of tips from TV people from very different generations and they both revolve around preparation.

Jason Manford is a comedian, TV presenter, radio presenter and actor.  He’s probably most familiar, however, from his regular appearances on TV panel shows. How has he achieved such a broad-ranging career at the age of just 35 and why is he in such great demand?
l to r: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Clarkson, Jason Manford
A big clue to his success can be drawn from this insight. “I prepare for everything”, he says, “even panel shows. I probably won’t use a lot of what I have prepared, but knowing you are so well prepared gives you great confidence.”  So, contrary to rumours, he is not given all the questions in advance, but does know broadly what topics are going to be covered. Based on that knowledge, he researches and writes little snippets and jokes that will suit the style of the show.

That kind of commitment and attention to detail is more readily associated with a different era of television – such as that of Cliff Michelmore, who was 96 when he died earlier this year. In the 1950s and 60s he became one of the best-known presenters on British television. He was appearing in as many as 300 programmes a year and presided over election coverage and moments of live drama such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the return of the damaged Apollo 13.

Michelmore’s hallmark was that he always appeared confident, calm, unhurried and unflappable. We could all do a bit of that, so what was his secret? Michael Parkinson got an insight when, prior to becoming a famous chat show host, he worked with Michelmore on the BBC current affairs show 24 Hours.  Noticing that his preparation methods used to involve a mere skimming of the research, but many notes in the margins of the running order, Parkinson asked Michelmore what he was writing. “I’m looking at the running order to spot where there might be a breakdown, and when I find it I write in my ad libs,” he replied.

Like, Jason Manford, he hopefully didn’t need to use much of what he had prepared but forewarned is forearmed and the result is unflappability.

Friday, 29 July 2016

The communication and creative skills that contributed to Alexis Conran’s success on Celebrity Masterchef - a small personal insight

Huge congratulations to Alexis Conran on winning Celebrity Masterchef 2016.  But who, you may be asking is Alexis Conran? Well, I first met him more than a decade ago when he was a jobbing actor, supplementing his income by working as a magician. I was working with his magical agent on the initial development of what eventually became my Presentation Skills training programme based around the Rules of Magic.

I had the pleasure of working alongside Alexis, together with the likes of Guy Hollingworth and Ali Bongo on a couple of occasions at The Magic Circle. What impressed me was the work ethic he applied to rehearsal, his attention to detail – “we need a new envelope, not this used one” – and his engaging personality. They (my wife, for one) may not have remembered what he did, but they certainly remembered him, which was why he was so regularly booked as a magician when he was actually becoming too busy with his acting to be fiddling around as a magician.

Alexis went on to co-create and star in the BBC’s The Real Hustle and a variety of his own documentaries, as well as hosting TV and radio shows; when I last saw him about six months ago he was struggling to even remember his exploits within the magic world. Watching him triumph on Celebrity Masterchef, however, I could see that all those qualities of hard work, attention to detail and a winning personality were now being applied to cooking. Watch out for Alexis hosting a prime time show on a mainstream channel soon – it may be cookery-based, but he could win us over with almost anything.

The lesson for business presenters?  Draw inspiration from all around you. It’s Magic, Movies and Music that do it for me, but apply principles from whatever turns you on to your business presentations and you will soon start to excel.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Without enunciation your business presentation can fall at the first fence

I have talked before about the importance of enunciation in a business presentation – especially as you open and close. This is not simply an old-fashioned notion – unless your audience members receive your introductory message with crystal clarity, then anything that follows could be rendered meaningless.

The concept was brought into sharp focus for me recently when I was coaching a foreign entrepreneur for his investor pitch about a new material he had invented. Key to the concept was that his material had great advantages over its traditional competitor - ‘vood’. I was confused but eventually worked out why, necessitating a conversation about composer Wagner, actor Robert Wagner and guitarist Ronnie Wood.

Rex Harrison in 'My Fair Lady'
Language difficulties can be sorted out relatively easily, but speakers of the Queen’s English can fall into similar traps, especially with words that sound very similar to another word or even the opposite of what was intended. If, for instance, you were to say: ‘this is unnecessary’ or ‘unnatural’, that could easily be heard as ‘necessary’ or ‘natural’ – the opposite of what you meant! The problems with these examples are of course exacerbated by the double Ns, but you need very clear enunciation in such cases to make yourself clear. It may well be better to change the words to something like ‘this won’t be needed’.

My favourite real life example of mumbled delivery that was potentially going to have very expensive repercussions was the presenter who appeared to announce, in a rather offhand manner: “This is a $17 million opportunity.” “Hang on a minute”, I interrupted; “if this really is a $17 million opportunity, then please ‘spit that out’ loud and proud.” He replied rather sheepishly that it was actually a $17 billion opportunity. “In that case”, I said, “my advice stands; but multiply it by 1000!”

So by all means relax a bit in the middle of your presentation – keep it conversational and tell some stories to bring it all to life. But open and close with crystal clarity that leaves your audience in absolutely no doubt about what you have come to talk about and what you want them to do as a result.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Prince George helps to highlight the importance of strong, direct eye contact

If I had to choose one ingredient that is most vital to the delivery of an effective business presentation it would be eye contact. And if you were to ask me what needs most work in the Presentation Skills training sessions I run it would also be eye contact. Happily, I now have a new role model to help in my quest to improve presenters’ eye contact and it is none other that HRH Prince George.

Strong eye contact makes a presenter more credible, trustworthy, confident, assertive, as well as more friendly. And yet most people have to work at improving eye contact that is typically indistinct, hesitant, too brief and poorly spread. This is often as a result of inexperience, but nerves can play a big part and many people using PowerPoint have an additional struggle – that their eyes are drawn continuously towards their screen, whether or not anything there has actually changed!

“Keep looking forwards”, I say. “If your eye contact is strong, then your audience’s eyes should follow yours into the screen – when you want them to look there specifically”. Magicians know more than almost anybody how the eyes can be used to direct attention. Their mantra is ‘if you want your audience to look at you (which you do most of the time), look at them. If you want them to look at something (ie where the magic is about to happen), look at it’.

So how does Prince George fit into all of this? Well, many of the people I coach have young children, so I personalise the principle to them by asking if their children are at the age of being taught how to shake hands and say ‘thank you for having me’. We generally agree that without accompanying eye contact, the words are relatively meaningless. To ram the point home, I have for many years been showing pictures of my own daughter Eliza at that age, both with eye contact (delightfully engaging) and without (rather grumpy).

The trouble for me is that Eliza is now 18 and about to go to University! So thank you Prince George, whose nervy greeting of a Red Arrows officer at the Royal International Air Tattoo last Friday provides a charming up to date example of the point I seek to make. Little does he know just how much hand shaking lies ahead of him!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Make the most of your assets and the surroundings when giving a business presentation

I was attending a music industry lunch recently and found myself surrounded by famous, if ageing, faces from the 60s and 70s. As the time to sit down approached the host asked me: “Where’s Noddy?” I pointed him out and the next thing I knew was that we were being called to order by none other than the great Slade singer Noddy Holder. Why strain your own vocal cords when you have the loudest voice in pop music at your disposal?

It reminded me of the opportunities that can arise for adding impact to your presentation by exploiting your own assets, the occasion itself and even the venue. Equally, there can be situations in which you would fall down by failing to embrace what is going on around you. If a key news event has occurred that day, the journey to the venue had been particularly difficult or something extraordinary had happened with the weather, you really need to make some mention of it, even if only to get a burning topic out of the way. This creates empathy with your audience because you are acknowledging a shared experience.

What I am talking about with Noddy Holder-type situations is seizing bigger opportunities. Among the examples – both seized and missed – that I have seen in my Presentation Skills training sessions are:

  • “Our company was founded in 1834 by …..”, before rapidly moving on to more mundane information. “Hang on a minute” I said, “most companies would kill for a heritage like that – dwell on it for a moment. And that founder must be a pretty special guy; I want to see a picture of him and I want an insight into how he created what became such a big and long-lasting company.” You probably don’t want to dwell too much on ancient history, but neither do you want to deprive your audience once their appetite has been whetted. The best solution here would probably be to conclude on a topical note that rings true with the founder’s principles.

  • An induction presentation that launched almost directly into form filling and systems operations. As it happened, I had worked in the location before and been taken onto the roof terrace for coffee. While we admired the magnificent view, I was told stories of direct links with Winston Churchill and wartime London. In this induction presentation I was soon befuddled by all the systems talk, so I recommended that it should start with a tour of the building, brought to life further with a bit of history. That would make newcomers much more eager to sit down and do some serious learning.

  • Members of one of the PR companies I trained were tasked with presenting magic tricks as a way of sharpening their business presentations. Looking for a way to reveal a prediction in an original and impossible manner, one delegate had spotted that the venue owned a dog. She quietly arranged for the dog to appear - on cue and with the prediction attached to its collar - and received a standing ovation.

  • Finally, I was in at a bank in Canary Wharf. The place was rather anonymous, so with small talk material rather thin on the ground I complimented them on the design and taste of their biscuits. They replied that they had their own in-house baker before moving straight on to talk about business matters. When I followed up with a training plan I also sent them one of the ‘doggy bag’ boxes used by my wife’s hotels. I suggested that if any future visitors expressed interest in the biscuits as I had, they should present them with some to take home. What’s more, there were various options for doing this in personalised, impromptu and surprise ways. The recipients would then remember the bank’s people, talk about them and maybe even do some business with them.

So the opportunities available to you may seem trivial. They may have become ‘invisible’ to you through over-familiarity. But it will all be new and potentially interesting to your audience. So be sure to make the most of your assets, the surroundings and anything that simply falls into your lap!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

What wedding speeches can teach us about business presentations

With the summer season now in full flow, there will be people of certain generations with a lot of weddings to attend – and a lot of speeches to enjoy or endure. It was about this time last year that I realised just how much a business presenter can learn from a good wedding speech; and how they can learn even more from a bad one!

I had been invited to join Jeremy Vine for a phone-in on his Radio 2 show and the producer, knowing that I normally coach business people in Presentation Skills, asked me to ‘adjust’ my advice to the ‘general listening public’ who were likely to phone in. I soon found, though, that exactly the same principles applied to both audiences.

Many of the calls were about weddings and we heard some horror stories about inappropriate Best Man speeches that were skewed far too heavily to tales of the Stag Night and similar laddish memories. We heard one story about a pair of brothers who have not spoken for 20 years since such an incident.

As I say, the advice I found myself giving was essentially the same as I give to business people: Think first about your audience, rather than what you would like to say. At a wedding the key audience is really the bride, her mother and probably some elderly relatives, so the speech should be constructed for them almost exclusively. You have already had your big boys’ fun, and what happens on the Stag Night should in any case stay on the Stag Night.

We had a Father-of-the-Bride who was fretting over his speech for the coming Saturday. He’d been researching jokes on the internet but was feeling neither happy nor confident. “Are you a natural comedian?”, I asked. “No, absolutely not”, he replied. I asked him, therefore, why he was planning to go out on such a limb on the most important day of his daughter’s life. Slightly bemused he asked what he should do instead of looking for jokes on the internet, wondering perhaps if he should think of some amusing / embarrassing stories from her childhood.

“Start”, I said, “by thinking about your audience.  That is very easy for you – it is primarily your daughter, her mother and perhaps a few key relatives. What is one thing you most want to say to your daughter and that she most wants to hear?”.  Having fumbled for a moment he declared: “That she is the most beautiful and special daughter I could ever have wished for”.  “Fantastic”, I replied, “say that to close your speech. You might want to open with it as well. Then all you have to do in between is find a couple of those childhood stories to bring that simple message alive. Job done”.

So it really is the same whether you are addressing the guests at a wedding, delegates at a business conference and anyone in the boardroom. Think first about your audience; then put high focus on a simple message that will resonate with that particular audience. In doing so, it just may help to imagine the potential delight/wrath of a bride’s mother!