Archive for the ‘Presentation Skills’ Category

Pitch Perfect – Tuning the Perfect Pitch

July 27, 2012

I was delighted to be asked to present at this year’s Venturefest in Oxford a couple of weeks ago.

Venturefest is a networking event held annually and focused on business creation. Over the day entrepreneurs seeking capital to start or grow their businesses network and give 15 minute presentations to an audience of investors – both venture capital companies and high net worth individuals actively seeking to invest. I was asked to give some guidance on pitching:

Some Dos:

Plan and prepare your pitch with the audience in mind – put yourself in their shoes: they are thinking “What’s in it For Me.” Point out what they get (rather than what you’re looking for!)

Structure your presentation well:

  • Overture (Many operas and symphonies begin with an attention grabbing start.) Open with a statement that motivates the audience to keep listening. (An overture to an opera includes snippets from the work that is to follow.) Share with your audience what’s coming up.
    (The content of the main body of your pitch will vary but may include “Finances, Competitors and Marketing Plan”) Suggest 3 “Acts”  (but no more than 5.)
    • Act 1
    • Act 2
    • Act 3
  • Finale (Reprise your main points)
Rehearse (Practice makes Perfect) A musician would never dream of going into a performance without rehearsing.
Create visual aids that are VISUAL (i.e have images, charts and graphs) and aid the audience understand the points you make.
Rehearse again.
Smarten up your appearance. Polish your shoes, do up your flies, if wearing one, tie your tie correctly, check your hair, remove dangly jewellery – remove distractions.
During your performance SMILE and make eye-conact with your audience.

Some Don’ts:

  • Read to your audience
  • Use PowerPoint as an auto-cue
  • Be “I” focussed. Too many pitches begin “I want…” “I am looking for…” ” I am seeking £45,000…” etc.
  • “Wing it”

I’ve just witnessed a beige presentation…

March 6, 2012

Oh dear.

The speaker has just sat down and I am confused. I think it might have been interesting for some of the audience, there’s a brief ripple of applause. There again I think they’re just being polite. I’m not really sure what he just talked about. He’s overrun too, so there’s no time to ask a question. Everyone’s leaving.

He’s just underwhelmed me in a number of ways.

Firstly, he doesn’t seem terribly enthusiastic. Dale Carnegie once suggested that you should only speak about something for which you have a passion. This chap’s voice is flat and monotonous. He looks miserable too!

Secondly, he’s not really shared anything that was of use to me. No insight, no advice, no warning, no apocryphal tale, no heart-warming story, no tip, no offer… nothing. Just fact after fact after fact about his business – whatever it was.

Finally, he just finished rather abruptly.  He didn’t conclude his talk well – had he done so I might have had a fighting chance of letting you know what I’ve just been listening to.

That was a really “beige” presentation. I prefer mine kaleidoscopic!

  • Only speak about something for which you have a passion
  • Smiling helps convey enthusiasm (not a fixed grin though!)
  • Work at getting some variety in your voice
  • Share something of use with your audience (you may need to do some research to work out what that might be)
  • Conclude your talk by summarising your key points, and
  • Please finish on time.

If you’d like some help with putting together an interesting talk or presentation just get in touch!

Presenting is Distraction Management

March 2, 2012


I once ran a presentation skills course for The National Trust  on which one of my delegates was a forestry warden. In the presentation that he delivered he described forestry as being about “light management.” That phrase made me think about presenting in a different way. When you stand up to present – what is it that you have to manage?

Distraction… Presenting (it dawned on me) is about “distraction management.”

There are a myriad of ways in which your audience can be distracted.  Your role as a presenter or speaker is to limit the potential for these distractions to steal your audience’s attention away from you. Some distractions may be outside a speaker’s control but many are, unwittingly, caused by the speaker. Here then are the main distractions of which speakers and presenters fall foul.

1. Not being introduced or not introducing yourself properly. When people in an audience sit down they have many unanswered questions flying around their brain – one of which is, “Who is this?” and ” Why are they qualified to speak to me?” It’s an excellent idea to tell the audience your name (don’t just rely on PowerPoint or the printed programme) – most people don’t bother reading it. Qualify your experience in a short sentence or two. Don’t brag (I once saw a presenter who used PowerPoint to animate his qualifications  – one at a time –  after his name. This didn’t endear him to the audience. So, something along the lines of, “Well hello, Ladies & Gentlemen. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak today. My name is Roger Faraday and I have been practising employment law for the last 30 years…” If someone else is to introduce you – supply them with a script! (Otherwise they might say something that undermines you or what you have to say.) NEVER apologise for being the speaker: “I’m really not used to speaking in public…” or, “Our Managing Director has been called away on urgent business, so I’m afraid you’ve got me….”  are not phrases that an audience warms to and are ultimate distractions!

2. The audience not understanding, “what’s in it for them.” If someone in the audience doesn’t think the presentation you are about to give offers them something worth staying awake for, they’ll go to sleep. Not necessarily with their eyes shut but, they’ll be away with the fairies, day-dreaming about something more important. Early on in your presentation you need to motivate your audience to stay alert. Tell them what they’ll get out of your presentation. “So, by the time I’ve finished you’ll be able to….”

3. Not telling the audience for how long you’ll be speaking. People get twitchy if they don’t know when they can next go to the loo, have a fag, drink a coffee, hear the next speaker. etc. So, tell them for how long you’ll be speaking. Be specific. Nobody wants to hear, “so, in the next hour or so I’ll be covering…” or even, “Hopefully my presentation will last between fifteen and twenty minutes.” Hopefully is not a good word to use in your introduction! Having said how long you’ll be speaking for make sure you finish when you said you would (see number 8*.)

4. Typos in PowerPoint. Some people are incensed by spelling mistakes and other errors on your slides. For them this is a huge distraction and the only thing they’ll remember.

Flying low – distracting

5. Wardrobe malfunctions. If your flies are undone, or if your skirt is tucked ion your knickers, it’s very doubtful that many of your audience will hear much of what you say. Other wardrobe distractions include: dirty shoes; holes in the soles of your shoes;bulges in pockets; creased trousers/jackets; clashing colours; flamboyant ties; trailing threads; ties tied to the wrong length (see my blog The Tie as a Giant Arrow to discover the correct length); frayed cuffs; dangly, jangly jewellery. In a similar vein there’s unkempt hair (especially if there’s a bit sticking up) which can keep an audience fascinated for the duration of your talk.

6. The Gestalt Effect.  This is all about the little things that can visually annoy the hell out of people: crooked pictures on the wall; torn curtains on a stage; your slide show not being square (or worse still – spilling over the screen.) Before you start have a good look around and have a tidy up!

7. Other PowerPoint faux pas  We’ve looked at typos but there are a host of other ways in which PowerPoint can distract your audience:

  • too many words (20 a slide should do it)
  • slide numbers (it’s not good for an audience to read  “Slide 4 of 89” fifteen minutes into your twenty-minute presentation
  • being read to (audiences hate this and will hate you to if you turn your back to them and read what they can read for themselves
  • the phrase “as you can see” when they clearly can’t
  • the phrase “don’t bother reading that” – they’ll wonder why you couldn’t be bothered to edit it
  • animations for animation’s sake (especially when accompanied by the sound effects of type-writers or screeching tires.)

8. *Overrunning This drives an audience around the bend. Unless you’re Lee Evans, Ken Dodd or Billy Connelly, and the room is full of your adoring fans, they’d rather you finished on time. Honestly. Finish early and they’ll love you!

9. Fiddling It’s not a good idea to play with your jewellery; jangle the keys or coins in your pocket; keep pushing your sleeves up; twiddling your hair; scratching etc. You get the picture.

So, before you take to the stage, or the front of a boardroom, or even making a video for YouTube think about how you’re going to keep your audience’s attention and do all that you can to minimise any distractions.

In the meantime please share any stories about the ways in which speakers have distracted you? I’d love to hear about them!

Remember, remember…techniques for remembering your presentation

February 24, 2012

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

In my last blog post I looked at some techniques to help you out should you lose your place or simply “go blank” when giving a presentation. In this blog post I’ll be sharing a technique that I use to help me remember a list of up to ten things very quickly. The technique I want to show you is called “pegging.” The more you use the technique the better you get. I use it regularly to remember the headlines of my talk or the order of jokes for my stand-up routine.

The idea is that (in your mind’s eye) you “peg” what it is you are trying to remember to a number. There are three stages to this:

Stage 1

The Rhyming Pegging System

Substitute numbers with something visual. I use a rhyming system whereby each number from 1 – 10 is replaced with something that rhymes with it. Hence:

1 = Run
2 = Zoo
3 = Tree
4 = Door
5 = Hive
6 = Sticks
7 = Devon
8 = Gate
9 = Wine
10 = Hen

Most people can master Stage one in a matter of seconds.

Stage 2

Decide on the ten things you need to remember, (this could be headings for your presentation.) List them alongside the numbers. Here I’m going to use a list of random words:

1 = Marketing
2 = Car Wash
3 = Bathrobe
4 = Money
5 = Map
6 = Fountain
7 = Lifeguard
8 = Banana
9 = Valentine’s Day
10 = Treacle

Stage 3

“Peg” or link your word to the number substitute by visualisation.*

1. So, you need to link your word Marketing to the word Run. Picture yourself running along through a busy market handing out Marketing leaflets. You’re wearing a running vest that says “Marketing” on the front. There you get the picture (forgive the pun.) Now when you think “One” the word Marketing should pop into your brain.

Continuing with the list

2. Picture elephants at a Zoo – washing cars with their trunks.

3. Visualise a Bathrobe hanging high in a tree.

4. In your mind’s eye open a door and imagine the joy of finding a large sum of money behind it.

5. Imagine a group of bees studying a map – they’ve lost the way to their hive.

6. See a fountain with huge jets of water shooting up into the sky. You notice a bundle of sticks being held up in the air by the force of the water.

7. Picture laying on a sandy a beach in Devon. A lifeguard meets your eye!

8. There’s an ornate wrought iron gate with a banana impaled on each of its spikes

9. Visualise a wine bottle – on it’s label there’s a huge heart symbolising Valentine’s Day. See yourself enjoying a glass of the wine with your Valentine.

10. Picture a hen having difficulty walking. She’s stuck in a river of treacle.

Simply recall the number rhymes and you’ll recall the pegged “answers”

*Tony Buzan the master of memory suggests that you do more than visualise – that you employ as many senses as possible when linking the number rhyme to your object. So. Hear the hen clucking furiously as she struggles to get out of the treacle.

Seems mad! But it’s almost impossible to forget your list once you’ve learned it. I find it tremendously useful when delivering a presentation. I hope you do too.

For Fear of Forgetting… what can you do if you forget your presentation?

February 17, 2012

Comedians write on their hands…

When you stand up to speak at a seminar, conference or even at a team meeting, do you ever worry that you’re going to forget what to say? That’s not surprising – it’s a key concern that most people have and often cited as a common side effect of nerves.

Unfortunately, the way in which most people find their way around this problem, ends up working against them… PowerPoint. Yes, most people type out their script, using PowerPoint as an auto-cue, and then proceed to read it to their audience.  Let me tell you… audiences hate being read to. You should avoid this approach.

So, the problem remains – how do you ensure you won’t forget the content of your talk? Over the next couple of blog posts I’ll be sharing with you some of the strategies that great speakers use in order to solve this little conundrum.

The obvious answer is to learn your material. Rehearse it over and over again.  Not just in your head, but, out loud. We learn things “parrot fashion” and the act of constant repetition definitely helps.

But even then, nerves alone can make you “go blank.”  It can happen to anyone. You just need to find a way out of the problem should that happen!

Frank Dick OBE

I once had the privilege of working with Frank Dick OBE – the former British Athletics Federation’s Director of Coaching. Frank is much in demand and is a brilliant motivational speaker. Travelling with him between venues I said, “Goodness, you have a fantastic memory. You never forget your material.” He replied, “I often forget my material! When I do, I make out that I’ve just thought of something funny – I stop and I tell a little joke (I have loads I keep up my sleeve) and as I’m telling it I wander back to my notes. As the audience laugh at the punch line I sneak a peek at my notes and… I’m off again.”

So, have your notes to hand. Notes you can call on should you lose your place, or forget your lines. Best not to have these written on your hand (a trick adopted by many a stand-up comedian) as they are evident to the audience and don’t look terribly professional.

If you are speaking from a lectern you can have an A4 pad before you, but personally  I like to use index cards. Viewed side on they are quite unobtrusive and they fit nicely inside a pocket.  The secret though, whatever you choose, is to write just key words as notes. Use only a few key words to keep you on track.  If you write out your script in full the temptation will be to read it. To connect with your audience you need to maintain eye-contact– reading does not help! If you do “go blank” you need to find your place quickly. You do not want to read through an essay in order to get back on track. Keep your notes short.

Index Cards best for notes

I keep my notes in my inside jacket pocket. If I lose my place I’ll sometimes admit it (we are all human – it’s going to happen every now and then.)  I’ll say, “Ladies and Gentlemen… do you ever get half way through a sentence and completely forget what you’re going to say next? Well it’s just happened to me now! I haven’t a clue what comes next… just bear with me…” I calmly take out my notes slowly look through them till I’ve found my place say, “Ah, yes of course…” and simply continue. Most people don’t even register what happened.

In my next blog post I’ll be sharing with you a memory technique that I use for learning things quickly. I serves me really well, not only when I’m out and about delivering keynote talks but also if I find myself without paper and pen but I need to remember what I’ve just heard or even thought.

In the meantime If you have some tips or tricks for keeping your presentation on track please share them here – I’d love to hear them.

I say, I say I say… What did the presenter learn from the comedian?

February 3, 2012

In the past year I have, with a good friend of mine, Dave Arnold, set up the very successful Cotswold Comedy Club. We’ve run 8 gigs and seen twenty five excellent comedians. As a presentation skills trainer I watch them intently and I always learn from them. Here then are the Ten Top Tips that presenters can learn from stand-up comedians!

Your audience

1)   The “performance” begins from the second an audience claps eyes on you! Comedians work on their approach to the microphone and ooze confidence. They eyeball the audience, smile (unless it’s Jack Dee of course) and start with a welcoming “Hello” “Hiya” or “Good evening.” They then… wait for it… wait for the audience to say “Hello” back! Presenters should do the same.

Ed Aczel

2)   Comedians don’t bother with PowerPoint. Neither should you (unless you really can’t explain something without it!) Ed Aczel uses a flip-chart, badly (intentionally) for comedic effect. Most presenters use PowerPoint as an autocue – comedians don’t.  Some write on the back of their hand (that doesn’t look too professional) but most just learn their material and rehearse lots. Presenters take heed.


3)   The very best comedians engage with their audience. They ask questions, they allow the audience to interact. The audience has a say in where the act goes. Yianni Agisilou banters with his audience but maintains control of the flow and direction of his act. Presenters should engage their audience too.

Gary Delaney

5)   The best comedians pare down the words in their act to an absolute minimum. Gary Delaney has mastered the one-line gag format in a really economical way – there’s no “fat” in his act. A presenter should work at simplifying their message and cutting out anything extraneous. Gary is also adept at tip number six:

6)   Read the feedback from your audience; adapt and change your material accordingly.

Jonny Aswum

7)   The comedians that go down well with our audiences are those who are, smiley, enthusiastic and seem genuinely pleased to be there. Jonny Awsum is a tremendous example. Presenters should be enthusiastic – if not passionate about what they are presenting.

8)   Comedy is a serious business and those who are serious about getting on perform as many gigs as they can and learn from every one. If a comedian is any good it’s because they’ve had hours in front of an audience. It’s the same for presenting.

Milo McCabe
Chris McCauseland

9)   Two of my favourite comedians Milo McCabe and Chris McCausland are masters of the… “pause.” Pausing allows the audience to catch up, reflect on what’s just been said and gives you thinking time too.

10) Great comedians rarely outstay their welcome and often leave the audience wanting more. If things aren’t going well – they get off quick! Presenters should do the same.

Happy Christmas 2011!

December 5, 2011

Hello – we’ve handcrafted our own e-card this year! TURN UP THE SOUND – CLICK and ENJOY!

We’ve used Apple’s Keynote (their much more versatile version of PowerPoint) which is our favoured presentation aid for creating the visual aids that accompany our talks!

To Prezi or not to Prezi

December 1, 2011

The Presenter as Projectionist?

As Presentation Skills trainers we do bang on about the appalling use of the ubiquitous projector to blast screens full of words at long-suffering audiences. Using PowerPoint or Keynote is certainly slicker than the dear old overhead or indeed 35mm slide projectors but the ‘wow factor’ has long since vanished to be replaced by a weary, ‘Oh no! Here we go again’. In an attempt to the up the excitement, the animation and transition options have become ever more dramatic and ‘whizzy’. In practice the effect is even more wearying as the audience are now expected to marvel at the creativity of whoever put the show together. The presenter has become a projectionist.

Whilst it would be great to step back to first principles, and propose that Visual Aids MUST ONLY be used to help the audience to understand, to remember or to pay attention, so few presenters these days seem to have the time (or the inclination) to work from (to my mind much more professional) cue cards. We are probably stuck with the Visual Aid – not as an aid to the audience – but more as an auto-cue for the speaker.

So how can you (for a while) stand out from the crowd. Well there is a product called Prezi that you can find at This works on the premise that you start with a work area of infinite capacity and simply drop or import words, pictures, movies etc. onto the work area. Once they are in place, they can be rotated, moved and their size can be altered. They can also be grouped by placing them in frames. Once all the elements are positioned, you connect them by a path through the presentation. The presenter then simply moves through the presentation in the normal way. Interestingly, however big or however minute the text or images appear on the home screen, which shows the whole presentation, when projected they, or the frame they are in, will fill the screen.
There is a free version which allows you to create your presentation online and then either present from the web or download and present from the laptop. If you use the free version your work is available to be viewed by anyone and you cannot edit offline. The paid version allows you to create and edit on your PC.

The advantages of Prezi are that it is quick and easy to use  and you can be reasonably creative without being naff. Since it is not being used by many, it is still quite quirky and has some novelty factor. It’s brilliant for showing how elements fit into a bigger picture. The downsides?  The choice of fonts is limited  and that the programme does swoop from one element to the next. If you elect to set up the main screen with the elements rotated to fancy angles, the combination of spinning them back to horizontal and swooping combined, with a rapid transition, can engender nausea in the audience! Still, at least they’ll be awake while they’re vomiting!

There are some excellent ‘Prezis’ that you can view on their website and it is well worth playing with the free version to see if it suits the type of presentation that you deliver before electing to pay the modest user fee.

You could of course use a flip chart!

How Lovely to Listen!

August 22, 2011

I have been training to people to deliver presentations for some 25 years, and it dawned on me recently that the presentations I witness are getting duller and duller. You see, when I train people I train them to entertain and to inspire so that they are memorable for all the right reasons. I show them the best way to craft and structure presentations and then how to create and use the speaker notes to assist them with their delivery.  When I started training in presentation skills a speaker would very occasionally have a picture or an object to show the audience and back then these were ‘visual aids’.

Then came Microsoft with their programme PowerPoint. Now, of course PowerPoint can show pictures and objects – and when it is used for this purpose it is great. But all too often what I see projected onto a screen are words, words and more words which the ‘speaker’ uses as a very public prompt. So, they stop being a speaker and instead become a reader. How dull and boring is that?

However, just sometimes, it all goes horribly wrong. Their laptop won’t speak to the projector; the projector’s bulb blows; there is a power cut or some other joyous event that means that a speaker has to go ahead without their homemade autocue!  Now this isn’t always  fantastic, as often they don’t have back-up notes but where they are brave enough to carry on and SPEAK about their subject, something wonderful happens. No longer are we distracted by the whir of projector cooling fans; no longer do we have to squint at a bright screen; no longer, actually, do we have to decide whether the speaker or the screen gets our attention.

No, because suddenly we have the luxury of being able to focus our attention on the speaker. We can sit back and savour their words, their passion and their enthusiasm. We can enjoy the inflection in their voice, the words that they use, the verbal pictures that they paint in our mind’s eye. Suddenly they realise that they can’t drone on from bullet point to bullet point but that they have to use pauses to create paragraphs for us and summarise regularly to help us understand.

When they sit down to a thunderous round of applause there is always great respect for them. Others comment on how much they enjoyed the presentation. They recognise the joy of being able to simply listen to the speaker… and then they get up and boringly plough through screens of bullet points themselves!

The message is simple. Presenting, Public Speaking, call it what you will, is a great skill and each presentation (if it’s going to be truly effective) must be lovingly crafted. Each paragraph, each sentence, each word should be carefully selected for the impact that it will make and meaning that it will convey. Only when you are happy with the words that you intend to speak, only when you are happy with your prompt notes, only when you have practised and are happy with the passion of your delivery, then, and only then should you ask yourself whether you really need to use PowerPoint. Please, do your audience an enormous favour and consider the answer, “No”.

Old Dog Blog’s 2010 Review

January 4, 2011

Hello! Hope you had a good break!

The stats monkeys at mulled over how our blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of our overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010 we uploaded 12 new posts, growing the total archive to 24 posts.

Our busiest day of the year was 13 December with 73 views. The most popular post that day was our on-line Christmas Card Happy Christmas Everybody! More people clicked on this photographp of David Beckham than on any other! Quite what they were hoping to see I can only begin to imagine!

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were our own site, from my twitter feeds @normanken with the links, at, and (though I’ve no idea what that is!!)

Some visitors came searching, mostly for  sleeping audience and audience sleeping.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Happy Christmas Everybody! December 2010
2 comments and 1 Like on,


How to Remember People’s Names… February 2010


Top Tips for using a Flip Chart May 2010


Still Laughing all the way from the Bank? June 2010


Keynote vs. PowerPoint February 2010

Let us know what you’d like us to cover in 2011! We’d love to hear from you.

Our favourite Bloggers of 2011:

Professor Max Atkinson

Martin Shovel