When conversation fails

I was walking with my son Peter today and we got onto the subject of Tiger Woods and his very public downfall. I don’t think Peter and I were quite on the same page.

(Peter)  “I wonder if he’s running out of money.”

(Dad)  “He must be bored just sitting at home – he must come back to golf soon.”

(Peter)  “Well he does watch adverts.”

(Dad)  “A lot of people do watch telly all day.”

(Peter)  “No, I mean he does watch adverts – like for Rolex!”

It’s so easy to get the wrong end of the stick, particularly if one person is thinking ahead and not truly engaged with their partner. It’s a bit like two people travelling in the same direction on two parallel roads – they share something in common but have their own distinct agenda. For me it underlines the importance of high quality listening – fully engaged and a terrific skill for anyone looking to build relationships.

Independent columnist Brian Viner tells a wonderful story about conversation. It concerns a state banquet where Prime Minister Harold Macmillan entertained the French Premier Generale de Gaulle. During an awkward hiatus in the conversation, the Prime Minister’s wife attempted to make small talk with Madame de Gaulle. “Tell me Madame,” asked Lady Macmillan, “if you could have anything in the world, what you would wish for?” “A penis,” came the reply. The table fell silent, forks suspended in mid-air. “Non, non,” said the General, “she mean..haaapiness!”

Great presenters – your chance to judge

judgesBBC_468x312Once you start getting interested in how to make great presentations and speak well in public, you’ll begin to see other people’s performances in a new light. In this blog and at our Speakeasy events, we explore what goes into delivering a great presentation. If you’ve followed what we’ve been doing you’ll have read about body language, engaging the audience, storytelling and using great slides.

So let’s say you know quite a bit about this now. Well here’s a challenge for you. I’m inviting you to watch three talks from my favourite speech-website, that’s the TED talks.  I’d like you to choose ONE from the choice of three below for special attention and analyse what you like about it – and if there’s any room for improvement.

I’ll give a bottle of champagne to the best analysis (not based on length, but quality of comment!) and I’ll make the award at a forthcoming Speakeasy event. I’m the sole judge of this by the way – and totally incorruptible!

Send your entry in the form of an e-mail – you should have the address but if not, you can contact me via the Contact Us button on this web-site home page.


Sir Ken Robinson on “How schools kill creativity”

Jamie Oliver on “Teach every child about food”

Carmen Agra Deedy “Spinning Stories”

I’m looking forward to your comments – DEADLINE is 12th March 2010

Reflections on Speakeasy Manchester

Rob Woollen @ SPKYThe first Speakeasy event in January was great, but having made a few tweaks I think we really we nailed it this Tuesday!

It was a fabulous event, and thanks again to the presenters, to Steve Carter (NLP guru) and of course Steve Livingston at Horwath Clark Whitehill for providing a great venue. There is a Linkedin group now called ‘Speakeasy Manchester’ and I may well start using this as a platform for sharing experiences at Speakeasy events, but here’s some to be going on with. For those of you who aren’t familiar yet with Speakeasy Groups, we have 4 volunteer speakers who present their business pitch to an audience of 12-24 people…and invite feedback on both the message AND the style of delivery. I facilitate and invite the occasional ‘guest contributor’ to join us, an expert in a particular aspect of public speaking/presenting.

The following comments are generic in nature, just some stuff that came out of Tuesday evening’s session. Really fun and relaxed, the safest of environments to get valuable, constructive feedback.


Lots of natural and likeable presentation styles on display, well done!


Passion infects the audience – transfer the emotion you feel for your subject to the audience and you’ll be a winner. Many people who present don’t appear enthused by their message – and if they’re not, why should their audience get excited?

Powerpoint Animation

It’s questionable whether animation adds anything to presentations. Too often it distracts and detracts from the message. Only use it if it ADDS something to the message you’re looking to convey.

Less is More

Be guided by the less is more principle. Make a small number of points really, really well. Avoid dumping data on the audience. PPT talks are a very bad medium for conveying detailed information. They’re much more suited to communicating MEANING and changing the way the audience feels and thinks as a result of your presentation. If you can persuade them to take ACTION after they leave the room, then you’ve surely succeeded.

Images are great

Use images wherever possible. They intrigue the audience, priming them to want to know their relevance. Limit the words and bullets you use – really limit them. Good copy editors slash, slash and slash some more, paring it down to the bone so the message is loud and clear.

People images work best.


Be aware of the pacing of your presentation. There should be a rhythm to it. Maintain the energy your talk creates. Remember, you’re taking the audience on a journey and they want to get to their destination sometime soon!

Most people talk too fast when they’re nervous. Try to slow down a little, more emphasis on good diction and remember the tremendous power of the PAUSE.

Magic of Three

You see it time and again in many forms – a beginning, middle and end structure. There was a Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman…(I love the one that explains how they walked into a pub, whereupon the landlord says, “What’s this, some kind of joke?”). Comedians often use a 3-part construct – “picture some of the great orators of history – Socrates, Churchill, John Prescott”. It culminates in a punchline, an ah-ha moment that provides an insight. You can learn from this and use it in your presentations. Set the scene and then provide the ‘light bulb’ moment, your ‘punchline’.

What’s the link with you?

Establish your link to the subject. If you can personalise it, that’s great. It sets the context for the talk AND makes it more authentic. It’s coming from within you. If you took that picture of the kids in Africa, we NEED to know!

Make it relevant to the audience

It’s fine it having meaning to you, but why should WE be bothered?

Setting up

Build up the problem as part of setting up context. If it’s about aid failing to relieve poverty in Africa, let’s have some figures. We want some proof to substantiate your claim. And if it’s a big figure (£2 trillion) what does that look like? That’s the equivalent of…

Establishing authority

You’ve got to establish your authority with the audience. If you’re Nelson Mandela your reputation precedes you, but for lesser mortals the audience needs to respect you as an expert in your subject. So establish your credentials, but not in a boring “we’ve been in business since 1934 and have 16 offices in the UK and 756 staff” kind of way. Better to do it through stories, statistics, great insights and personal experiences.


Play the status game, but within the ‘mid-range’. Taking the mickey out of yourself is fine (it makes you human and generates audience empathy) but take it too low and you’ll lose their respect. But keep it too high and you’ll come across as a know-it-all and too good for this lot.


Be aware of your position on stage. It’s easy to stand in the light of the projector or get stuck behind the lectern. A bit of movement is good, but do avoid trying to be a Tony Robbins when you’re naturally more shy. It’s better to be an authentic introvert with some amazing insights than a fake motivational whiz kid.

Engaging the audience

A bit of audience engagement is great, but be careful you don’t lose control of your timings if you’re on a short slot. Asking questions is all very well, but again you might not get the answers back you want and it can throw you.


Above all, try to have fun and be yourself. Give it 100% and don’t worry about fluffing your lines and losing your way a bit. Trying too hard to be perfect usually means you’ll tense up and make more mistakes. Just COMMIT to it.

Some great insights from Steve Carter (Noosa Training), summarised here:

Emotions start with a thought. Manage your thoughts better and you’ll be more ‘emotionally successful’.

Recall a time when you did something amazing, something you can be really proud of. Or choose a memor involving another powerful emotion, such as excitement, confidence. Remember what you saw, heard and felt, so you feel the feelings again.  Allow the feelings to expand as you re-live the memory.  If you  enhance the experience inside (make it brighter, louder etc), you will increase the intensity of the positive emotion.  Then afterwards (feeling greater), start to think of the ‘peak ‘ of that memory (the part that made you feel really good) and notice how that makes you feel.  Create a few of these (using other memories / positive emotions) and then think of all the ‘peaks’, one  after the other.   This will help you be in a resourceful, powerful state.  Remember you can also think of your ‘peaks’ throughout your presentation.

Your posture can be used to create feelings of confidence. Image a string running from the top of your head up into the sky, which is gently pulling upwards, making your posture more erect.  Then imagine roots growing out of your feet and into the ground.  Finally imagine ‘moving’ our thoughts down into the area behind your belly button. Notice how ‘grounded’ you feel.  It is a really powerful stance. Which also looks very confident to your audience, as an added benefit.  So you’ll look and feel more confident when you talk.

If  you feel nervous, check you’re in the above posture, and think of your 5 ‘peaks’.

If you feel nervous when about to speak, think of it this way – if you never had any reason to be nervous, that probably means you’ve always got a very small audience (possibly no one). At least if you’ve got an audience, you have an opportunity to sell your message, instead of no opportunity at all.

I hope to see you at a Speakeasy session soon – next ones coming up in Manchester on 23rd Feb and 9th March. Drop me a comment/e-mail if you’d like to attend.

Developing your Personal Brand

We want youChatting to my good friend Mark Williams (LinkedIn trainer extraordinaire) the other day, I came to a realisation – all the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years to develop my business can be categorised under one umbrella term: Personal Branding. It’s a term I came across again recently in a fascinating article (Fast Company Magazine) by one of the giants of business guruism, Tom Peters.  Now 67 years of age, the former McKinsey man and author of ‘In Search of Excellence’ talks about the concept of Brand ‘YOU’, a lesson to be taken from big business by all of us, whether employee or business owner.

I’ve included the link to the piece below, but as it’s several pages long I’ve taken the liberty of summarising the main thrust. As a concept it’s very much at the forefront of modern marketing, particularly in the age of on-line social media. But the Peters article actually pre-dates the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Published in August 1997, it’s as valid today as it was then, underlining Peters’ reputation as a visionary business thinker.

So what is Brand YOU?

Essentially, Peters’ message is that whether you run a company or work in one, you’ve got to get noticed as a person and start marketing yourself as if you were a brand. And of course as a brand, that means your audience knows what you personally represent, what beliefs you have and what value you bring to others. In his view, you have to think of yourself as your own CEO…of Me Inc!

Whether you’re an employee or an owner-manager, you’re operating in a crowded market and you can’t afford to be anonymous. You have to get noticed, but you’ve got be aware of A) what message you wish to put out there, and B) how to become visible using intelligent self-promotion. And unlike big brand corporations, most of us have to do this with little or no budget.

Let’s deal with the message first. What do you want to be known for? Well, for a start you want to be seen as an expert in your particular field, but it’s got to be something that brings value to people. Remember, there’s lots of suppliers out there, so you have to develop trust and a reputation for creating tangible value – that’s what makes people want to keep coming back to you. Your brand is the promise of the value you create.

Peters suggests we ask ourselves a key question – what is it about my product or service that makes it different? It’s the question brand managers in huge companies ask themselves. And if YOU’RE not excited about it, why should anyone else be? This is so important when delivering your elevator pitch – both the script AND the way you put it across. Some people just don’t sound enthused by what they do. And that pitch is every bit as important in an interview as it is on the networking circuit.

These questions are key to establishing what our personal brand is. It’s about what others would say about us. What would they say is our greatest strength or trait? What’s distinctive or remarkable about what we do, and how we do it?

Is it your speed of service, the way you identify cost savings, your creativity, the way you get the best out of fellow team members, complete projects on time and on budget, raise morale, anticipate problems before they arise and fashion solutions?

Note that these are examples that span both the self employed AND employed arenas. As an employee, a strong personal brand might get you promoted OR discounted for redundancy – you’ve made yourself indispensable. And of course it’s true that many buying decisions are made on the basis of personal relationships, rather than faith in a corporate brand. Indeed, the corporate brand IS the individual in the eyes of the buyer.

On line personal branding

Now developing your brand might seem tough with no budget. But there’s some good news – it doesn’t have to cost anything!

The growth of the internet, Web 2.0 (the self-publishing blogosphere) has been a truly levelling force. It’s enabled us to punch above our weight, to reach people in a way never previously possible. Anyone can set up a simple web site, write a blog, post a YouTube clip or publish articles on line.

Only this morning, there was a piece on Radio 4 which included expert commentary on an economics story from a blogger. Not a professional journalist with a JOB – a self-publishing blogger probably operating from a bedroom!

On-line platforms abound, and LinkedIn for one provides a free opportunity to develop and communicate brand YOU to a worldwide business audience.

Non-technological methods

But there are countless other more conventional methods. As an employee you could contribute to the company newsletter, start a social group, offer to chair a meeting or mentor a new member of staff.

As a business owner, you could get on a panel, run some seminars, publish articles, make presentations or form a networking group. All these initiatives help you get credit for being an expert, but you’re also perceived as a pro-active member of the business community.

Your brand should also be about HOW you do things. Perhaps it’s your writing style or the way you come across? Maybe you’re just really helpful or a ‘knower of things’. Become known as a connector and nurture your network through media like LinkedIn. In this way you develop what Peters terms ‘influence power’. It’s not power that’s judged by the size of your office or the value of your company car. It’s power that comes from being talked about in positive terms by decision-makers.

A real example

An example from my own experience – I recently volunteered my services to run a Speakeasy workshop at the forthcoming International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations on 8th March in Manchester. Speakeasy is a new product of mine, a networking group who meet to improve their presentation and public speaking skills. I’m told by the organiser Claire-Marie Boggiano that loads of people are talking about the Speakeasy concept at IWD, and I’m delighted it’s attracted such attention.

The power of Projects

The role Claire-Marie is playing in organising this huge event (500 people expected at Gorton Monastery) sits well with one of Peters’ other core themes, namely the power of developing your personal brand through PROJECTS. They enable you to show what you can do. They “exist around deliverables, they create measurables and they leave you with braggables!”

I really believe this personal branding message that Peters espouses is CRITICAL to our success in the modern world of work. It’s as relevant to employees as it is for entrepreneurs. And the wonderful thing is that it’s virtually free and therefore an empowering concept.

As the great man says, start now or else!

To read the full piece by Tom Peters, click here.