Wakey Wakey

Have you ever found yourself getting bored and nodding off while watching a speaker waffle and drone on and on? Perhaps you took a sneaky peek at your smartphone when you thought no one was looking. Go on; you can share your guilty secret. Trust me; I won’t tell a soul!

Why is it that so many speakers find it hard to keep an audience’s attention? I can think of 6,000 reasons!

Less than a century ago, the average educated person would have to process less than 100 pieces of information a day. Today that figure is more like 6,000. Every tweet, bleep, advert and logo broadcast into our information-crammed world is desperately vying for your attention.

This deluge makes it all the more challenging to impress the people you ‘present’ to and therefore brings focus on the need for you to create rapport and prove mutual benefit. This is especially a challenge when public speaking.

A lack of clarity? 

Much of the received wisdom on presenting has, through poor education and a lack of clarity, become a parody of itself which compounds the problem. It is time to break the rules and here are three counter-intuitive strategies you can apply to make your talks more successful.

How many presentations have you seen, especially when using Powerpoint, where the agenda is listed in bullet form over two or more slides, and the main body is basically a fleshed-out repetition of that introduction. By the time the speaker has wrapped up with some more text summarising what you have just heard, you’ll have suffered a third pounding of the same dry facts into your brain.

The is the adage “Tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them”. In the aftermath of this mind-pummelling talk, your audience might be left thinking “OK, I think I know some stuff, but what am I supposed to do with it and why?” This approach might work in an educational setting, but for business, it’s a killer.

Grab their attention!

The challenge is always to grab your audience’s attention, which is no mean feat these days. Once you have done that you can transfer the critical information. Crucially you need to finish by leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind what they need to do next, be it applaud, vote, buy or just believe.

In this time-hungry world, I wonder if a better “triptych” for our presentations might be to give your audience a reason to listen, share what you have to say and give them a clear call to action.

ENGAGE – INFORM – ENACT

So, let’s leave that “agenda” slide hidden away on the Powerpoint sidebar.

Now you’ve broken a rule and are feeling empowered; it’s time to rewind our presentation. We’ve thrown away all the boring stuff about what we’re are going to say, and all we have left is the stuff we need to share. Right now we’re about to blurt out something like this…

“Good morning, my name is David Boring from Johnson’s Widgets. The company was formed in 1955 and has eight offices placed strategically around the UK…”

I’m sure you’ve all heard an opening like this. On the face of it, there is a logic to introducing yourself. Perhaps in the days before the inter-web, this might have had some value. However, they know that they are at a meeting with Johnson’s Widgets, they’ve done their research online and now want to know what Messrs Johnson are going to do for them.

David has put the success of his presentation at risk by focussing internally on his own company and the past. A rhetorical question, a statistic or even a few facts about the benefits widgets can bring your client makes for a much stronger opening.

It gets their mind working, keeps them engaged and motivated to continue listening. Faced with your life story, most audiences will at best sit with a false smile while absorbing nothing. At worst they may feel compelled to look at their smartphone.

It’s always useful to remember that people will pay attention to something that they can relate to or benefits them over a cat video on Facebook. But in the war between boring bullet points and felines, Mr Fluffy always comes out on top.

Figure out what motivates your audience, challenge them and get people to think using rhetoric and questions.

The third rule I want you to challenge is that of my “authority.” Don’t take my advice as gospel. The same goes for all the public speaking and communications skills coaches you’ve come across. We habitually blurt out a whole list of “Dos and Don’ts” and boy it must be confusing for you.

What makes a presentation effective and powerful is authenticity. A speaker who seems genuine and moderately competent is far more effective than a super-slick presenter who seems shallow and is not trusted by his audience.

Challenge Me!

There’s almost as much good advice on public speaking out there as there is bad advice. What makes one idea work over another is not reliably and scientifically provable. It is a mysterious mix of character, honesty and rapport that only comes from being true to oneself.

This is no excuse not to improve oneself, however. Far from it. This is a reminder that you can only be you, albeit a better more polished you. So listen to my advice and the worst of others, work out what fits your style and walk your path to becoming a better speaker!



Do you need to improve your public speaking or presentation skills? Marc offers personalised and group coaching to those who need to develop confident and effective speaking for work.

Hypnotherapy and other techniques to help with anxiety, fear, addictions and other life issues, is also available. Please get in touch for more details.

Use the form below to get in touch, or call 07904 262138 to discuss how you can become a more persuasive communicator.