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Boris

Boris at his best

Boris Johnson is a Prime Minister under huge pressure, yet he delivered a witty, clever and rousing speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday. As I said last week, there are benefits to talking to your own party: you have a supportive audience and you can speak for as long as you like. Nevertheless, it is a showpiece that will be remembered. Particularly if it is your first as leader.

I am going to add my usual disclaimer. I am not commenting in this blog about politics; I am commenting on the science and the art of communicating in public. Whatever you think about Boris Johnson as a Prime Minister, as a Brexiter or as someone who is accused of having a tenuous relationship with the truth, the man can deliver a speech.

The full speech is available here but if you want to see a few highlights The Guardian has helpfully provided a short version:

What can we learn from Boris’s barnstorming?

So, what are the lessons? Here is my list.

  • Be entertaining. The political situation could not be more serious – some might say chaotic, but Johnson chooses to be upbeat, not downbeat, as well as funny.
  • Be relevant to your audience. The whole speech is peppered with political ‘in’ jokes which makes everyone feel part of the same tribe. Building that feeling of ‘our tribe – your tribe’ is a well known ‘trick’ of public speaking. I wrote about this in a blog entitled ‘PR and the role of the enemy.’
  • Use your voice in different ways for different parts of the speech. If you want to emphasise something, say it slowly and punch the words as in ‘’voted out of the jungle by now” (12 seconds into the edited version). The next sentence “At least we would have had the consolation of watching the Speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle” is delivered fast and relatively downbeat, almost as a throw-away. That made it funnier than if it had been over-egged.  At 2’ 19” of the edit, we get a very heavily emphasised punch line to the long joke about Scottish fish. This light and shade, sometimes fast – sometimes slow, sometimes loud – sometimes quieter, makes the speech much more interesting to listen to.
  • Use the pause – I wrote about this at great length last week so it doesn’t need repeating.
  • At 2’ 27” we have the clever use of two examples. Those who have worked with me know that I am apt to bang on about the benefits of finding tangible stories, anecdotes and examples. Johnson was making the point that Britain has some very successful exports to countries outside the EU: He mentions an Isle of Wight shipbuilder who is exporting catamarans to Mexico and others who are exporting Jason Donovan CDs to North Korea. He could have talked about banking, insurance or Fintech but he chose something that people could picture. The takeaway – find examples that are tangible.
  • By adding the joke line “we recently briefly exported Nigel Farage to America but he seems to have come back” he delivered a third (mock) example. This allowed him the benefit of using a ‘power of three’. Lists are almost always best as threes. Again, it is a trick or device of public speaking known as a tricolon: the rhythm of it is attractive to the ear. There is nothing original about it, whole books have been written about ‘the power of three’. But here it is used with great effect.
  • Alliteration is always fun. 1’ 12” on the edit: “Can you think of a Communist Cosmonaut we Can Coach into the Cockpit?” It is difficult to think how one could get more hard Cs into a sentence. Someone had fun writing that.
  • Use colloquial language. At three minutes (3′ 00″) into the edit, we get: “I remember a time when people said solar power would never work in the cloudy UK and that wind turbines wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding…” It was a serious point but made in a highly colloquial way.
  • Make fun of yourself. He said, “I paint bad pictures of buses”. I also think when he said “look it up” after making an obscure reference to the Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, he was acknowledging that he sometimes makes very obscure references.
  • End with a call to action. “Let’s get Brexit done, and bring this country back together.”

One thing that I think is not so good, Johnson is reading from a script rather than using autocue, which means he breaks the eye-line with the audience for quite a lot of the speech. This seems unnecessary in this day and age. Should you want to read his script you can find it here. As mentioned in a previous blog, good speeches do not need to have brilliant grammar and proper sentences and looking at it typed out you can see this is more a list of connected thoughts.

Finally, I feel compelled to add some balance and point out that over at the Politics Home website, some at least think the speech was not at all impressive. 

But for me (and apologies to all those that can’t get past Boris the buffoon who is ruining the country) I think it was an excellent speech whatever one’s politics.

 

authoritative feature

7 tips for appearing more authoritative as a woman

About half the women we train struggle to sound as authoritative as they would like –  when presenting or being interviewed by a journalist, or on camera. It is often something that is relatively easily improved, if not fixed.

Here are my top tips for appearing more authoritative

 

authoritative

1. Prepare mentally
One of the very obvious patterns we see as trainers is that people find public speaking or being interviewed so uncomfortable, they really don’t want to think about it until they absolutely have to. If this is the case, my first suggestion (of course) would be to find someone to pay for training with The Media Coach. We really can help. Failing that, be aware that, like an exam or a job interview you cannot give it your best shot without thinking about it. By preparing mentally I mean articulate, to yourself, how you want to come across. I know this sounds self-obsessed, but it really works. Identify the version of you that you want your audience to see. ‘Confident’ is not necessarily the most useful adjective here – I prefer words like warm or kind, definite or flexible, trustworthy, knowledgeable, in control, etc. It would be really useful to remember a time when you felt all those things on your list and as NLP practitioners would say ‘hear what you heard, see what you saw, feel what you felt’. In other words, tell your subconscious as clearly as possible – ‘that’s it’! That is the person I want to be when I stand up. If you can’t find a version of yourself, find a role model. Practise thinking yourself into this ‘mood’ or ‘mind-set’.

2. Body language
You want your body language to communicate the image of you that you have identified in step one. This usually means shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor (not tipped up or down) and then consciously relax a little. Breathe. Shake your shoulders out without losing the frame. Again, stepping into a controversial area one easy thing to try is the power-pose. Some believe that simply standing for a minute or two in a powerful pose – hands on hips, legs apart – can trick your brain into feeling more powerful. Others think this is bunkum. But it costs nothing except a couple of minutes to try. And, at the very least, those two minutes might give you time to remind yourself of the sort of person you want to project. One word of warning please do this in private or in a safe environment.  Power-posing in public is guaranteed to lead to ridicule as it did for Sajid Javid last year.

3. Pause
I know I have said this many times before, including in a recent blog post. But I cannot leave it out. Authoritative, confident people do things in their own time and are not overly influenced by the excitement or energy of others. You can control a room with silence. But baby steps first, take a breath, pause, gather your thoughts and you will sound more authoritative.

authoritative

4. Slow down
Obviously, closely related to the pause but not the same. Many people and in particular women speak too fast (myself included). What stems initially from insecurity, fear of boring others or a desire not be bored yourself, becomes a bad habit that is difficult to shake. The ideal is to be able to consciously vary the pace you speak, slowing down when you need the thinking time, or you are trying to land a point but speeding up when it is unimportant detail. But the first step is to get control of the speed. I spend quite a lot of my coaching time finding ways to help people to speak more slowly.

5. People pleasing
Not exclusively a female trait but seen more often in young women than in other groups. It can take various forms but often involves too much smiling or an unconscious verbal agreement with the other person talking: as in ‘yes/sure/absolutely’ etc. When coaching some people, I will often try asking them to act really irritated, grumpy or annoyed. When they do, and we record and playback, what we get is a million miles from grumpy, but it just sounds a bit more definite and authoritative. It is difficult to gauge this for yourself without the help of either an audio or video recording.

6. Lower voice
Margaret Thatcher famously had coaching to lower her voice – you can judge for yourself from this video if you think it was an improvement. Personally, there are a lot of other things I would change (for example she is too slow) but it does show what can be done.

7. Self-talk
One of the most useful bits of self-help advice I ever had was ‘be careful what you say when you talk to yourself’. Negative self-chatter is stressful and life-sapping. Having high standards, being critical of yourself is one thing, but constant self-sabotage is very common and hugely damaging. I once made a terrible mistake in a public speaking competition – as MC I forgot to introduce the person who was to give the vote of thanks. I was, at the time, absolutely mortified. However, I had a great boyfriend who said: let’s be clear you got up and had a go when most people wouldn’t. You can hold your head up high. Speak kindly and encouragingly when you talk to yourself.

The benefits

My own view is that putting a bit of effort into conquering a fear of public speaking and moulding your communication style can pay huge dividends in life. I often hear from former clients and I remember one young woman terrified of public speaking who made huge progress on one of our courses. Two years later she wrote to thank me and tell me she had become an ‘ambassador’ for one policy initiative in the UN, had completely changed her job and her life and now routinely did large policy presentations. The word empowering is overused but being able to speak confidently in public is genuinely empowering.

party conference speeches

Party conference speeches and the power of the pause

Party conference speeches from the party leaders are the big set pieces of the annual event. In many ways, nothing can be more important and stressful to the leaders but in other ways, it is a blank sheet of paper. They can say what they want, as long as they want, at the pace they want. In general, the audience in the room is supportive even if the wider audience is more judgemental.

As I write I have just finished watching John McDonnell address his party conference. Whatever your politics he is, nowadays, one of the great political communicators. We look for warmth, authority and animation in any speaker and he has it all. His delivery is well-paced, and he comes across as generous to others, a man of the people and inspiring. He is also good at media interviews. (Please remember I am commenting on style not politics.)

As ever with professional speakers who have a supportive audience, he makes the pauses count. And there are a lot of long pauses, not all of them dictated by applause.

[Last year, I blogged about another example of a conference speech which made very extensive use of the pause. This was the Conservative Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox.  Whether you love or hate the Churchillian style, he certainly made his mark at the 2018 Conservative Party conference.]

Learning to pause is one of the key tricks to being an effective speaker. Most inexperienced presenters speak too fast and never pause.

We want the audience to hear every word and to have time to digest the whole sentence. Pauses play their part in making an argument digestible, but they are so much more than this. It takes confidence, guts even, but it is worth taking ‘the pause’ seriously. The dramatic effect can lift what you say from prosaic to inspiring.

Here is a short ‘how to’ video by an old-fashioned guy who never-the-less really knows what he is talking about. It is called the Power of the Pause.

There are so many relatively easy tricks to public speaking and yet the standard of professional presentations we are all exposed to continues to be woeful. If you want to upgrade your presentations, spend a few hours with one of The Media Coach crew and just see what we can do for you. Call us on +44 (0)20 7099 2212 to book yourself in.

Informality - Johnson

The rise and rise of informality

Informality is taking over the world or at least that is my perception. If I Google this I find very few articles which makes me a little nervous about my own judgement but I have been mulling this for several months. Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and other successful political figures (love them or hate them), connect with their audience in part because they are seen as ‘one of us’.

Speakers connect to audiences by appearing to be ‘one of us’

All speakers want to connect with their audience and there are many ways to do this. But increasingly younger generations – and voters – are disrespectful of anyone who seems to set themselves apart. And they connect with people who are informal.

What do I mean by informal? Well here is a very short clip from Boris Johnson this week (3rd September). He is standing on the steps of Number 10 and looking fairly prime ministerial. But in this 40 seconds we get the phrases – ‘pointless delay’, ‘no if’s, no but’s and ‘we will not accept any attempt to…scrub that referendum’. Shortly before this clip starts he also said ‘I promised we would not hang about’.

In this case, it is the words that are informal but in other cases, it is the style of delivery.

It’s not just the words that can be informal

In this recent clip, we have a ‘fireside chat’ with our PM in the middle of a party!


Despite the fact that Boris occasionally includes obtuse references to the Classics (as mentioned in this blog) – he doesn’t behave as Theresa May, Gordon Brown, David Cameron or other Prime Ministers have done. And I think there are lessons to be learnt from this.

What is the place for informality business leadership?

In both presentation and media training, I am often urging people to be less formal. Some are formal in their choice of language – many of you will have heard me urge people to ‘come down the language ladder’. By this I mean use everyday language, not business language. But there is good reason to do more than strip out the jargon.

Part of the current distrust and disrespect of power translates into distrust of people who sound like they have power. So my advice to clients is to err on the side of informality. Generally to be a little more informal than they think they should be. That’s if you want to connect to your audience, and if you want to lead your audience. The younger the audience the more informal the approach we recommend.

But a quick warning: this is not the same thing as trying to be hip! Authenticity is important and suddenly quoting a rapper (unless you are a genuine fan) or sporting a T-shirt with an anarchic saying, is not likely to win many plaudits.

If you would like help planning for a media interview or a presentation call us to discuss what we can offer, tel: +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

metaphors

A Minute With The Media Coach: Metaphors

As we continue our summer specials, instead of bringing you our usual blog this week we bring you number five in our series ‘A Minute With The Media Coach’.  This week fellow trainer, Eric Dixon and I discuss the benefit of finding a good metaphor when talking to the media.

presentation training

A Minute With The Media Coach: Presentation Training

We are continuing our summer holiday mode and instead of our usual blog offer a short video, number three in our series ‘A Minute With The Media Coach’. This week fellow trainer, Eric Dixon and I discuss some of the common mistakes we see during presentation training sessions and how to avoid them.

presentation training

Public Speaking: Getting The Tone Right

It’s summer, so I am taking a break from blogging. But if you haven’t seen this Minute with The Media Coach, where fellow trainer Eric Dixon and I discuss how to get the tone right – in either a media interview or a presentation – here it is.

 

what not to do when making a presentation

5 Things Not to Do When Making a Presentation

This is a quick mini-post: revision notes for those that have already worked with us.

Doing a really good presentation is an art and usually requires a fair amount of work. But I am aware lots of people would be happy to just give an okay presentation, without feeling it might have damaged their reputation with colleagues or clients.

But here is my choice of the top five mistakes I see most often and are most easily fixed.

What Not to Do When Making a Presentation

what not to do when making a presentation

 

1. Don’t Read Your Slides

Look at the audience instead! You are the main event, the slides are there to support you and make the talk more interesting. It’s fine to glance at the screen, even better if it is on a laptop in front of you, but 90% of the time you should be connecting with the people who are listening.

2. Don’t Dance or Pace

Some careful movement to support your narrative can be effective, especially on a stage. But pacing up and down or dancing from side to side is distracting.

3. Don’t Rush

You may not want to be there, you may not want to draw attention to yourself but rushing through your presentation means the whole experience is poor for the audience and for you. It will not do your reputation any good. Speak slowly and clearly and pause sometimes. This helps you to collect your thoughts. You’ll probably say fewer words but land more meaning. You can speak too slowly but this is rare compared to the number of people who speak too fast.

4. Don’t Crowd Your Slides

Strip your slides to the basics, keep them uncluttered and a minimum of words. That means 5-10 words, not 40.

5. Don’t Make the Audience Work Out What the Point Is!

You should know what your message is and you should summarise it for the audience in a clear and concise way. This can happen at the beginning and at the end, or just at the end. But it must happen.

We love helping people with particular presentations or pitches, or to improve their presentation skills in a more general way. If you or your team need to up their game when it comes to presentations, give us a call on: 44 (0)20 7099 2212.

body language

Body language always tells a story

Body language is in the news this week.

The rich and famous spend their life in the public eye and with cameras always on them and plenty of paid pundits to give an expert opinion it is difficult not to offend someone somewhere.

The brain is wired to take in and interpret visual information above all else. Neuroscience has in recent years confirmed what many had already deduced.

Body language – why we notice

It’s said that 50-60% of the brain is involved in processing visual images and that the brain will not only see but interpret an image in about a tenth of a second.

So it is not surprising that relatively subtle visual clues can set Twitter alight.

Trump’s misstep sets Twitter alight

And that is what happened when President Trump apparently walked in front of the Queen while inspecting her honour guard at Windsor Castle.

And this is how the New York Times reported the incident.

Body Language

It was really just a few seconds and if you watch the start of the video you can see The Queen gestures to Trump to go in front.

The actual incident doesn’t seem to me to warrant the storm of protest. And in fact, at least one commentator suggests that Trump was really trying to obey the normal rules of etiquette during this short visit with the Queen and mostly did rather well.

Royal sisters-in-law body language made the news

There was a similar rush to interpret the body language when Kate and Meghan – Royal sisters-in-law – got together at Wimbledon. This was written up in the Mirror, the Express and the Daily Mail.

This is probably not the sort of news that I normally care much about but it does illustrate an important point. People are wired to read body language and they cannot help themselves interpreting it.

People are wired to read body language

People often ask me for specifics on how they can change their delivery style to appear, for example, more authoritative, or more approachable. I have learnt that saying smile less, nod your head less or lean forward, has a limited impact. You need to change the mindset. Just as an actor needs to get into character, so does a presenter or an interviewee. If it’s you, try imagining you are delivering this presentation as an older sister or doing this television interview in front of your son’s classmates. Change the programme running in your head and the body language will sort itself out.

If all else fails you could try ‘power posing’. I am told it is a discredited theory (Wikipedia is clear on this point) but I know therapists that still advocate it. Stand in a powerful pose for a minute or so (perhaps in the cubicle of the loo to avoid embarrassment) and see if it changes the way you feel.

Body Language
I have written before about what sort of on-air presence gives the best television interview. To read this blog click here.

If you would like help with your presentation or on-camera interview style we have a stable of excellent coaches who would be delighted to help. Just call us on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Power Pose image used under creative commons – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

 

 

 

presentation

5 ways to improve that presentation

As a team, we at The Media Coach both give and watch a lot of presentations. I find watching someone else give an unprepared and hesitant or confusing presentation deeply physically uncomfortable. I am also horribly aware when occasionally I fall short on some of these very simple rules. So for all of us at the coal face of business communication here are a few simple reminders.

presentation

1. What is the message?

I know, I know, I am obsessed with messaging but for a very good reason. My suggestion is, once a presentation is done ask yourself  ‘do I have a clear takeaway message’ closely followed by ‘will that message be as clear to my audience as it is to me’.  Sometimes I think this big message should appear at the beginning and at the end of the presentation. But my colleague, Eric Dixon, often sets up a problem or a question at the start and answers it at the end. Either way, if you don’t know what your message is – in a short simple sentence – then it is unlikely your audience will be clear either.

2. Add chapter headings

There is a real danger that your presentation will lose people in the detail. If you have simple ‘chapter’ slides that can be flashed up quickly between different sections of your talk, your audience will find it easier to follow the argument. Any sort of sign-posting, verbal or visual, helps a presentation.

3. Reduce or eliminate bullet points

Bullet points encourage you to read your own slides. This is never going to be a good way to give a talk. Occasional simple bullet slides are alright as a summary but limit the number of bullets and limit the words in each bullet. Leave out the jargon. Pictures, animations and diagrams are much better than bullet points.

4. Ask ‘is this relevant to my audience?’

Assuming the presentation is broadly relevant to the audience (hopefully you wouldn’t have got this far if it is not) ask can you make it more relevant? Can you refer to something that everyone in the audience is aware of? That might be President Trump’s latest tweet or the food in the canteen. But look for points of common experience to make the audience feel the presentation is built just for them.

5. Treat it as a performance

A presentation is not just a chat. Rehearse it and deliver it with energy and animation. Try not to apologise, hesitate or waste the time of the people listening to you. If you don’t know why a slide is there, take it out. In particular start and finish with clean, rehearsed narrative.

We have previously written about this topic here. The Media Coach has a number of experienced presentation trainers. If you would like general training on presentations or help with a specific presentation or pitch, please do give us a call +44 (0)20 7099 2212.