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Presentation tips: lessons from the PM

Presentation tips can be quickly garnered from watching someone else present. I was fortunate enough to hear Theresa May speak yesterday to the CBI Annual Conference and despite the fact that she must be one of the most experienced speakers in the country, and a great deal more experienced than the business people we train, she made a few mistakes.

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Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to the CBI Annual Conference this week. Lindsay Williams was there.

 

Presentation tips: before I start

However, before I dissect the Prime Minister’s speech I should say that there are more important things in life than how you come across on stage. May became PM at one of the most difficult times in modern British history: steering the UK out of the EU in a way that doesn’t tip the whole ship over into a major recession or lead to civil strife is a heck of a project. So this blog is not really criticising someone who has bigger fish to fry. It is pulling out what us less experienced presenters can learn from it.

Presentation tips: Coaching Notes for the PM

That said here are my Coaching Notes for the PM.

  • Theresa May did not say ‘Hello, it’s nice to be here’ or in any way acknowledge her audience before beginning to read her prepared speech . This seemed very odd. A smile and a nod, and ‘hello’ seems the minimum to be polite.
  • It was a well-crafted speech and the messages were very clear. I would summarise them as ‘we support business but we all have to do things differently in the future’, and in particular, ‘we have to condemn bad practise that gives you all a bad name’. She wanted to put a ‘fairer society’ and ‘social inclusion’ on the business agenda as well as on the social agenda. On Brexit she said ‘I hear what you are saying but I cannot give you certainty ahead of the negotiations’.
  • She mentioned speaking at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet which could have been a nice anecdote but she added no colour and made absolutely no attempt to entertain with it. In fact that was true through out the speech.

The full script of the PM’s speech can be read here

  • As you would expect if you have experts to write your speech for you, May had some good examples: a longish list of recent announcements of investment in Britain from Nissan building new models here to 500 more jobs at Facebook.
  • Similarly, she had some good numbers to hand.

Presentation tips: it is rude to rush

  • But the whole thing felt rushed. People we train often find it difficult to speak at a slow enough pace for an audience hearing information for the first time. This is not an issue that Mrs May normally has – she was rushing because she was in a hurry. There were no gaps, no dramatic pauses. I felt this was rude and disrespectful of the audience. I have no doubt she is very busy but for the short time she is with the audience – they should feel as if they are special. Bill Clinton was famously brilliant at this, one to one or with an audience. (I have heard people who met him say he made them feel extraordinarily important, even if just for a couple of minutes.)
  • I would add that May shows little ‘warmth’ in public. She may be choosing to be the ‘ice queen’ for political reasons but it is not a tactic I recommend. On the whole, it is a good idea if the audience like you. A few small changes, the odd small, the odd self-deprecating comment would do the trick.
Presentation tips: from the PM

Theresa May is particularly prone to ignoring questions. We think she should at least acknowledge before moving on.

Presentation tips: at least acknowledge the questions

  • As I have noted previously, my biggest criticism of May is that she does not even pretend to answer a question. It was very easy to ignore a question in the formality of the CBI gathering, there is no follow-up question. But that doesn’t mean that the audience doesn’t notice. As we have mentioned before, even if you cannot give a full response to a question you can at least acknowledge it.
  • Finally, please can someone tell our new Prime Minister to stand up straight. I fully understand that it is a curse of tall people and particularly of tall women (especially those with shorter husbands); you want to make yourself a little shorter so you curve your body over ever so slightly. But she would look so much more authoritative, not to mention elegant if she pushed her shoulders back and stood straight.

Presentation tips: what was reported

Here are the comments of Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC 

And here is the opinion of the Independent 

The Daily Mail picked out the theme I spotted but the fact there is so much diversity in the headlines is evidence that there was not a stand out angle from the speech.

 

Media Training Basics: on air presence

Media Training Basics: on-air presence

Media training basics include how to behave on-air so that your audience trusts you.

Whether you are a US presidential candidate, a new prime minister or a business leader launching a product or vision, we think this requires three key things:

  1. Warmth – because it is a good idea if the audience likes you.
  2. Authority – because it is an even better idea that it sounds as if you know what you are talking about.
  3. Animation – because the studio and the microphone will ‘shrink’ you.  Most people have to be themselves plus 10% to come across well on-air.

But if you don’t have these great attributes how do you acquire onair presence?

Media Training Basics: on air presence

Our tips for improving your on-air presence

Media Training Basics: animation

Animation is perhaps the easiest attribute to acquire. The people who are naturally good on television are those that are larger than life and often rather hard work at dinner. This is not always true but people who seem quite normal on TV are often really big characters. An occasional interviewee doesn’t need to cultivate a whole new persona but just use a little more energy when speaking. Hand movement and head movement can be good so long as they not so noticeable that they are distracting.

Media Training Basics: authority

Authority is more intangible. We know it when we see it but trying to cultivate it can be challenging. There are, though, some basics.

  • Don’t speak too fast. This is probably the most common way that people undermine their own authority.
  • On television make sure you are looking in the right place. This can be straight at the camera or at the interviewer depending on the set-up. But hold a steady gaze and don’t let your eyes flick up, down or sideways if you can help it.
  • Don’t use highfalutin language. We mention this every other week so do not need to labour the point here, but jargon and professional language does not make you sound clever; it makes you sound arrogant and out of touch. Be colloquial.
  • Consider a personal anecdote. People trust the opinions of those that have relevant personal experience. These need to be planned, rehearsed and above all short but they can really work.

Here are some other tips about being more authoritative in general. And here are some tips written especially for women in an article in Forbes, although most apply to men as well.

Media Training Basics: on air presence

Having a coach to help you improve can make a big difference

Media Training Basics: warmth

Warmth is perhaps the most elusive. Some people have it by the bucket-load even if they are not the most polished interviewee. It is worth a lot. If you don’t have it naturally on-air you can try the following things.

  • Try smiling more, particularly at the beginning or end of an interview. Even on radio, you can hear a smile.
  • Try to be less formal. Often people lack warmth because they think they are required to be very, very serious and correct.
  • A trick I have often used is to ask the interviewee to pretend they really like the interviewer. Of course, in reality, they probably hate the presenter and the process but if they can pretend or act ‘attraction’ or ‘affection’ it will come across. Clearly, this could be taken too far and it will be acting. When coaching people we find that once they hit the right tone – and then watch it back on video playback – they can usually find it again. With coaching, it will become their default on-air tone at which point it is ‘job done’.
Media Training Basics: on air presence

Think about the tone as well as the words when preparing for an interview

Getting the tone right is half the battle and will compensate for other missteps in an interview. In the end ‘people buy people’ as the saying goes: so developing a good on-air presence is something worth working on.

 

 

great science presentations

Great science presentations: TED Talk case study

Great science presentations are something of a rarity. As an academic scientist and a media and presentation trainer I am caught between two worlds. I know science has to be credible and sourced and that detail can be necessary but I have also sat through way too many fascinating subjects made dull by a bad presentation. So here are some tips for science presentations to non-specialist audiences.

Great science presentations: a great source of best practice

To help illustrate what works, we’ve found a recent TED Talk that is based on real science but has been ‘moulded’ to fit the TED Talk formula. If you don’t know TED Talks then you are in for a treat. It is an impressive library of 13-15 minute presentations with the tag line ‘Ideas worth spreading’.  For those of us who often have to present to audiences of varying levels of scientific knowledge TED Talks provide a huge resource that illustrates best practice.

Great science presentations: case study

great science presentations

Can you really tell if children are lying?

The talk I have picked to illustrate my tips for science presentations is this one by researcher Kang Lee. It’s called ‘Can you really tell if a kid is lying?’ – which is always going to pull in a bigger audience than a title like “Novel applications of transdermal optical imaging” – which is what many academics would have been tempted to title this talk. Watch it here and then see if you agree with me about what works.

 

  • Lee starts with a personal story. Professional communicators are often reluctant to talk too much about themselves, but a short personal anecdote will engage your audience from the outset.
  • He speaks at a good pace. Many people rush their presentations. This may be to do with nerves but it may also be a fear of being boring. Lee has a strong accent which can be an obstacle to comprehension, but his careful pacing ensures the audience has time to process what he is saying.
  • The slides are very simple – little data and picture led. This is not always possible in scientific talks and you will likely need to share some detailed data but if you mix this with some pictures and anecdotes it makes your talk more engaging. When Lee does use data it is very simply presented with minimum information on the slide. Again most scientific presentations need more, and in particular need ‘sourcing’ but it is good to keep it as simple as possible.
  • Lee has kept his own appearance simple so there is nothing to distract from his presentation.
  • Another professional presenters’ trick is to ensure the data is revealed to follow the narrative, rather than all arriving at once and then being dissected by the speaker.
  • Lee asks his audience questions but not ones that expose or challenge. Asking a question that you know the answer to and the audience has little chance of getting correct is not a good way to build empathy. But asking for a ‘show of hands’ to gauge life experience is a good way to keep the audience interested.
  • A bit of humour helps keep people engaged. Humour is difficult especially when addressing multicultural audiences. Lee uses the well known fairy tale (or Disney Film) Pinocchio and his humour is gentle and unchallenging.

Great science presentations: make it relevant

  • Lee also works hard to make ‘transdermal optical imaging’ relevant to the audience. He says, for example, they might in the future use it when they Skype their parents to check if they are being truthful about their health, or when they want to reveal that a politician is lying. Making science relevant is good but I personally found some of Lee’s examples a bit ‘Big Brother’ and unsettling and would have chosen different ones myself.
  • A trick he didn’t use but could have done, was to tap into a more sci-fi reference. Transdermal optical imaging is very much like the Voight-Kampff Test used in the movie “Bladerunner”. This would have been another way to make the subject accessible to a general audience.

  • Lee in several places makes use of the ‘power of three’. This is a technique whose effectiveness was noted by Aristotle in his work Rhetoric written in the fourth century BC. More on this technique here. 

Great science presentations: keep it short

  • Finally, Lee doesn’t go on too long. At 13 minutes 30 seconds, his presentation is actually considerably shorter than allowed by the TED talk format, which demands that presentations be no longer than 18 minutes – “long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention”.  While you may well be allotted a longer time-slot, remember that people rarely complain that a presentation was too short – especially if previous speakers have over-run.

At the Media Coach we help people make their presentations and interviews more entertaining and interesting by using these ‘tips’ and many others. But the key take-away is:  just because a subject is technical doesn’t mean it has to be dull.