Speak Like The Speaker?
For those who caught John Bercow’s (in my mind) magnificent parlance yesterday – that he would not approve Trump addressing MPs in Parliament, I wonder if it struck you how slowly he delivered his message. As befitting of someone in his position, he talked with authority … and …. clarity … speaking ……… very …… slowly …… and …… firmly ….. reiterating …… what …… he …… was … saying.
His audience was left in no doubt as to what he meant. I wonder, in his role as Speaker of the House of Commons, how much ‘presentation skills’ training he had been subjected to much earlier on in his career.
When I was a fledgling Account Exec. I was put through presentation skills training, which was filmed live and played back to (and critiqued by) our group, in one of the most excruciatingly traumatic training sessions of my career. But it was also the most memorable and one that I got the most out of. I remember to this day having no idea how to even start a presentation (what should my opening line be?), and had no idea until I saw it, that I stood with my hand on my hip, scratching my head and touching my face a lot. All this, wrapped up in a nervous voice that didn’t really know where my mouth would take me when I opened it.
Over the years, I’ve done a gazillion presentations and have also witnessed hugely inspirational presenters as well as the poor souls who crash and burn. I wanted to share some of my tips I’d picked up along the way and hopefully, they’ll help others be much more confident presenters.
- It’s corny, but ‘failing to prepare, is preparing to fail’ – so make sure you understand your subject matter, and the audience you’re talking to, inside out – only then can you speak naturally and with confidence. Remember no one’s trying to catch you out – they don’t want you to #fail.
- Rehearse – out loud – cringe I know, but it’s so easy to think you know in your head what you’re going to say – but unless you actually say it out loud, it often doesn’t come out as you’d expect. Say it loud at least two or three times – you’ll be soooo much better on the day.
- Rehearse – in front of the mirror – when you’re saying your bit out loud, do it in front of the mirror. This is even more cringe than point 2 above, but you’ll see how your body language comes across and be able to hone it.
- Signpost throughout – tell the audience what you’re going to be telling them about and then tell them. At the end of each section, signpost and bridge to the next section … ‘so we’ve covered abc, now we’re going to look at xyz’.
- Start some sentences with a question – and then provide the answer, it makes for a much slicker ‘performance’ as well as showing that you’re in control …
Q: ‘So what are our biggest challenges?’ A: ‘Maintaining brand relevance in our digital age’. Q: ‘How are we going to do this?’ A: blah blah.
- Use professional-looking speaker ‘cards’ – if you feel you need them – I’ve seen faffing with multiple pieces of A4 paper and it’s just not slick. It works for me when I include key words highlighted on prompt cards and they do exactly that, ‘prompt’ me on what to say (because of course I’ve rehearsed my key messages out loud and in front of the mirror).
- Don’t be a parrot – just like revising for an exam, if you learn your ‘script’ parrot fashion, you’ll come unstuck e.g. if someone throws you off track with a random question. Your presentation could also come across as a monologue/lecture and the audience may feel they are ‘being spoken at’ as opposed to being actively engaged in what you have to say. Be as natural as you can be for maximum authenticity.
- Read the Room – meaning you’ll need to adapt your style as relevant for how the audience interacts … or doesn’t. If they start to look disengaged, maybe you need to up the tempo or cut some content, or involve the audience by asking them some q’s or show of hands etc. –but you’ll have to think quickly on your feet.
- Speak with rhythm and bounce – be as captivating and inspiring as you can be, raise your voice to the right octaves, in the right places to really bring out your expertise, passion, energy and dynamism.
- Speak like the Speaker – be like John Bercow or not(!?). What he did do well in his public flogging of Trump was to ….. speak ….. succinctly ….. and ….. slowly ….. using ….. pauses ….. in ….. the ….. right places, and leaving the audience in no doubt as to what he thought. As for me – someone who thinks, acts and works at lightening speed, it’s been a constant throughout my career that I speak too quickly – am still working on it!