A cure for long-windedness … less is more

Presented by Paul Tomes:
This episode tells the story of a remarkable man who overcomes the challenge of a stammer, and the lessons we can all learn to deliver a crisp, high impact presentation.

Credit “The Kings Speech” Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helen Bonham Carter

Any danger your audience may slip into a coma?

Think of the conditions that prevailed last time you found yourself falling asleep driving your car.  Heater blowing hot air on your face, windscreen wipers creating a hypnotic rhythm, straight road ahead with no defining features on the landscape. How does this equate to your presentation style?  Have you developed techniques to keep your audience alert or could they slip into a coma any moment ?

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The point of the story is …

I think it happened when we were developing material for our first presentation skills programme.  Somewhere amongst the research or perhaps through interaction with colleagues, we began using the expression ‘competing for brain time’. This concept of competing for both attention and retention of information, has without doubt become even more relevant today … to the extent that we now seem to have our own internal trash can that we can that we drag and drop information into.  We only retain what we flag at the time as really important or useful.

When we stand up to present information or persuade others to follow a specific course of action, like it or not we are just a small part of a deluge of information our audience will experience, in any given day.  We are competing for brain-time more than ever.

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What do you get when you cross an under-prepared presenter with a teleprompter?

Watch what happens to “Transformers’ Director and Producer Michael Bay, as he walks on stage to promote the new Samsung 105 inch UHD Curved Screen TV. I’ve seen this happen before … quite a few times actually. However, it only seems to happen to people who are stepping in front of a teleprompter for the very first time, or during their first run through with a script they haven’t written themselves. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these categories Michael Bay falls into.

In a situation like this, the audience’s initial reaction will invariably be one of acute embarrassment for the presenter. But this quickly changes if there is no sign of a positive recovery. Michael dug a hole for himself that he never climbed out of … he just made the hole bigger!

So why did it all go horribly wrong? Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to blame the teleprompter … nor to admit that he would now have to wing it. Apologising when things go wrong in a presentation generally has the opposite effect. Instead of smoothing things over, the apology tends to emphasize the blunder even more. It’s better to quickly rectify the problem and move on. In Michael’s case, had he simply talked directly to the telepompter operator and asked for the script to be reset, he might have recovered and gained a sympathy vote from the audience … “the poor guy … typical technology glitch”

My guess though is that Michael did very little or no rehearsal for this appearance. Had he given any real thought to what he wanted to convey, he surely would have been able to adapt a a few of his stories about the movies he directs. It wouldn’t be that difficult to link the visual magic of his movies to the magic of an ultra high definition curved TV screen. If you are under-prepared and the wheels fall off, the brain goes into an overload situation.

At this point it’s a downward spiral. The more you stumble, the more you panic. The more you panic, the more you look to see how the audience are reacting. This has the effect of creating a massive amount of visual input, at a time when you are scrambling to regain control of your output. When this happens the brain reacts in the same way as an earth leakage unit in your electricity box … it simply trips out and your mind goes blank.

One way to solve this is to shut off the visual input. Look down at the floor to help your brain quickly re-set. In fairness, Michael tries to do this, but the host distracts him by asking questions, in an attempt to help him recover. The idea was good, but Michael appeared too far gone at this point.

You could argue he simply got nervous. The way he wrings his hands at the start is usually a tell-tale sign. He claimed later on Twitter that live shows ‘aren’t his thing’. However for most people, neither is sky diving. Peer group pressure usually drives people to try at least one jump. To make sure they don’t bounce, it’s mandatory to rehearse what to do if things go wrong. In Michael’s case, it looks like he didn’t even have a parachute!

A few weeks back, I was producing a road show for a client, where we used a well known television anchor in South Africa. Her part of the show had been tightly scripted and we needed her to work from a teleprompter to keep everything on track.

Despite being a pro and working with a teleprompter every day of her life, she called for a 6am rehearsal so she could read through every line of her script, working on timing, word spacing and punctuation. In the process she made sure the teleprompter operator grasped her style and pace, as she read the script. This had the effect of building rapport with the operator, developing a ‘sixth sense’ to follow her when she ad libbed from time to time.

So, what do you get when you cross an under-prepared presenter with a teleprompter? … it’s a real ‘Transformer’ … from cool to not so cool!

© Paul Tomes 2014

You’ve got the picture in your head … but does your audience have the same picture?

If your audience don’t look as excited as you do … perhaps they haven’t got the right picture in their heads. 

Often you’ve got their attention … but they just don’t understand the dimension of what you are saying.

Picture this situation … a colleague of mine in the steel business tried to describe his recent tour of a steel mill in the USA.

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slam your presentation into top gear


If we start out tired, or get tired in the middle of delivering a lengthy presentation, we are all prone to losing our sparkle and we run the risk of our audience slipping into a presentation induced coma. In this episode Paul talks about techniques to bring your presentation to life, hold attention and hammer home important points

stop presenting … start conversing

During a recent assignment, coaching presentation skills with a senior leadership team, the CEO drew me aside prior to the start of the session and made a comment which I have to confess created a sense of déjà vu   “I’ve been delivering presentations for over 30 years … so I don’t want you to try and change me” … he said.

In his opening presentation, he stood absolutely rigid, with a serious look on his face and presented with a monotone voice.  Actually, he looked like he had a broomstick shoved down his back and a bolt through his neck. The overall impression was a living example of a personality bypass operation!

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to address you from the rectum!

Apparently this actually happened … somewhere in the world, a conference speaker got a little tongue-tied and couldn’t remember if he was standing behind a podium, rostrum or a lectern. The words merged and sadly “I am delighted to address you from the rectum”, became an accurate assessment of the ultimate value of his presentation!

True or false … it’s a great lead-in to the question … lectern or no lectern?

In my opinion, it’s hard to find any justification for using a lectern. Invariably it’s a clump of furniture that reflects an era of long-winded speeches and a level of formality that simply doesn’t fit the world we live in today.

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Sarah Kay … If I should have a daughter

Watching Sarah Kay perform, is a great reminder that for many of the presentations we all deliver, we need to do just that … ‘perform’.

Whilst Sarah is a spoken word poet, there are many aspects of her delivery that we can all learn from, to breathe life into our presentations … especially for larger audiences at conferences.  Sarah maintains a level of energy level in her performance that could light up a small city … and as a result, she certainly lights up the stage.

She also has an incredible sense of timing in her delivery … watch for the lines when says “You will put the win in winsome …. lose some”  “Remember good things comes in threes … and so do bad things”


If you had just 5 words … what would they be?

The 15th annual Webby Awards hosted in New York, once again enforced a five-word limit on acceptance speeches by the winners. It’s a fun concept, however it really makes you think about how powerful short sharp messages are in comparison to the long-winded presentations we have all been subjected to. If you were asked to describe the value of your company, product or service in just five words what would you say? For me the first thought that comes to mind is “goodbye to death by PowerPoint” … or how about “getting people to really listen!”

Some of the best included Vogue editor Anna Wintour (above), who accepted the People’s Choice Award from Daniel Radcliffe with “Sometimes, geeks can be chic.”

Here are some of the really great 5-worders

Lego Star Wars III “May the force be with.”
Zappos.com: “Shoes, conveniently sold in pairs.”
Skype “Skype’d your mom last night.”
National Geographic “Our lens knows no boundaries!”
LIFE.com“A picture’s worth five words.”


Does anyone have a question ? … uhhh anyone ?

How many presentations end with the immortal words “are there any questions?”

In South Africa this can trigger absolute silence!  It seems as if it’s not in our nature to leap to our feet with an immediate question. It usually takes a moment or two for some brave soul to break the ice and this can feel like a lifetime for the presenter !

Try planting just one or two questions with ‘friendly’ members of your audience. Not only does this help get the ball rolling, but you can steer questions in a direction you would prefer!

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Into the camera … Or off camera?

Before you next find yourself in front of the ‘business end’ of a video camera being interviewed or as a presenter, here is a trick used by seasoned professionals.

If you haven’t had lots of experience presenting ‘to camera’ … you are probably better off presenting ‘off camera’

The difficulty most people experience presenting ‘to camera’ … is getting their ‘eye line’ right. In other words, where do you look in the lens of the camera to make eye contact
with an audience you can’t see?.

Many people adopt a position that appears slightly too high to the viewer. The effect can be to make you appear a little ‘aloof’ …. giving the impression you are talking down to the audience.

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Lost in Translation

Increasingly, many of my clients have business opportunities throughout Africa, Europe and Asia.  This often creates the challenge of delivering speeches and presentations through a translator.

By following a few simple rules, you can significantly reduce the risk of a translator diluting the impact of your presentation.

Unless you are presenting to the United Nations or a similar body, you probably won’t have the luxury of simultaneous translation.  Instead you will have to contend with a ‘stop start’ presentation, pausing whilst your translator relays your presentation in the local language.

Whilst this process is a significant challenge for both presenter and translator, there is one fundamental difference … the translator isn’t paid to have your level of passion or commitment!

It’s unlikely he or she will deliberately dilute or distort your message, but keep in mind they are there to deliver a technically correct translation and they are not under any obligation to “sell” you to the audience.

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