Elevate your public speaking

The rise in demand for public speaking

It’s time for us all to elevate our public speaking. The British Events industry was worth 39.1 billion in 2013 and 19.9 billion of that came from conferences and meetings (source: Business Visits and Events Partnership). There has been a healthy growth over the past five years and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.  Interesting, given the array of new technology available allowing us to communicate with people all over the globe from our desks.  As managing director at agency P&MM, Nigel Cooper, says:

“The business leaders of tomorrow are technology-savvy and understand the value of social interaction because they’ve grown up with social media networks. In an age when connectivity between a brand and its consumer or a business and its staff is key, face-to-face events are a vital tool.”

In her article for Raconteur, ‘Create an experience not an event’, Clare Gascoigne wrote:

“It’s time to step away from the PowerPoint presentation and make business events a memorable experience to capture the attention – and imagination – of customers.

I agree. Unfortunately, too many people stepping up to the podium don’t step far enough away from their PowerPoint presentations. Instead of using them to support the compelling delivery of an engaging presentation, most presenters use them like they would a script; often reading every packed line word-for-word in a bland monotone.

Senior vice president and creative strategy director at agency Jack Morton Worldwide, Tim Leighton, quite rightly advises using what best supports your aims:-

“That might still mean a slide presentation in a conference hall, but those slides had better be working hard and your presentation had better be good. Event management these days is as much a question of graphic design and coaching classes for the chief executive, as it is about hiring a hall and buying the sandwiches.”

But public speaking is no longer just the domain of chief executives and other ‘C’ suite members. For a variety of factors, there is a multitude of face-to-face events taking place in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. Combine this with some very clever technology and what emerges is a new breed of public speaker. Or at least the need for the average untrained, unrehearsed speaker to considerably raise their game.

Sadly, many presentations are the antithesis of engaging. This is often the case in the tech space, at least from my experience. It’s all very well watching hours of TED and TEDX talks online, but if we don’t learn any of the good habits of the best of those presenters and apply them to our talks, it’s unlikely that audiences will be captivated by what we have to say, let alone retain the key messages we are asking them to act on.

I had the pleasure of working with a client on a key presentation for his company for one of their most important annual industry conferences.  He put a lot of work in with me over the course of a few months and several sessions. As the founder and Managing Director of Finish Creative Services for over 25 years, you can imagine how often he has delivered pitches and presentations. Yet he maintains that it was the best presentation he had ever given – and he got fantastic feedback from clients, colleagues and peers.

Key to his success was the strong narrative that ran throughout and the personal story we created – about innovation in packaging through the decades! Starting with early tetrapaks and going on to ring pulls from his childhood in the 60s through to present today. He used a combination of archive black and white footage and current corporate video to showcase the amazing technology and skills employed in the studio, accompanied by succinct text (a few bullet points!) on each PowerPoint slide – all in support of telling his story about packaging’s subtle evolution over a 50 year period.

We rehearsed his delivery several times during our coaching sessions, including two ‘dress rehearsals’: one in front of the other directors; another for all staff. This is another area where many presenters think they can skimp; I have been guilty of this on a few occasions, and my delivery suffered – as well as my audience.

The public speaking arena has become far too competitive to get on to a podium without being well-prepared.  That includes putting a great deal of thought and a substantial amount of research into the needs and desires of your audience. If you’ve had any formal presentation training, you may well have heard of Aristotle’s Three Appeals, The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) aka The Two Routes to Persuasion and probably (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic) VAK learning styles too. We all process and absorb information in different ways. An excellent presenter will have considered all these elements during the design and rehearsal of their presentation.

Nancy Duarte, the presentation and communications specialist who created the graphics for Al Gore’s award-winning film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ asserts that it takes 90 hours to craft a world-class 60 minute, 30 slide presentation, including 30 hours’ rehearsal.

It puts it into perspective, even if many of us won’t be developing hour-long presentations or putting in anywhere near 30 hours of rehearsal time  But even a third or a quarter of that would transform most presentations. In the words of Ms Duarte:

“You are not the hero who will save your audience; the audience is your hero.”