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.
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.
- 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: 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
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.
- Dominic Cummings’ Lockdown Drive : Falling Foul of Fairness - May 26, 2020
- Stay Alert – A Perfectly Good Message - May 18, 2020
- Hostage to fortune: 20 thousand deaths would be ‘a good outcome’ - April 28, 2020
- Presenting online: lipstick and heels - April 2, 2020
- Risk Communications: COVID-19 case study - March 4, 2020
- The PM’s Media Silence: Strategy or Farce? - February 26, 2020
- Emily Maitlis – Airhead: Why all PRs should read it - February 10, 2020
- Greggs On A Roll - January 14, 2020
- Crisis Comms Management – Aussie PM gets it all horribly wrong - January 7, 2020
- Naming – A Misunderstood Art - December 11, 2019