The world’s fastest presenter?

How wonderful to have Mike Newman (left) join us at Speakeasy last night. For much of the last decade, he’s been the fastest blind man on the planet, holding several land speed records! We talk about fear of public speaking, but to be honest when you can travel solo at 89mph on a motorcycle or 180mph in a car, what is there to fear – really? Here’s an interview I did with Mike yesterday.

Mike is pictured here with host Martyn Johnson from ASE plc and beside them is the very chilled-out ‘Baxter’!

Here are a few insights that came from last night’s session.

Positioning & Movement

It’s important you figure out before you start a talk where you’re going to stand. Too centred and you’re in the beam of the projector (if you’re using slides), and the audience can’t see them either! Too far off to the side and you seem a bit disconnected with the screen and the audience struggles to take both you and the slides in simultaneously. 

The important thing is to create the right layout for yourself before you start. Sometimes, things are beyond your control but often you can re-position seats, projector table, flipchart, etc. 

A bit of movement from the speaker is fine when it energises the performance. But too much can be a distraction. Make a point of recording your talks on video and play it back with the sound MUTED. This highlights elements of your body language that seem incongruent or distracting. 

Get the ‘hook’ in early on

It’s important to grab the attention of the audience early in your talk, as that’s when they’re most attentive anyway. Make it about them, something headline-grabbing. C-level business people tend to have short attention spans, so it helps to lay out your killer proposition at the start and then substantiate it. 

Are you involved?

One of the comments made recently was the danger of ‘hiding behind your material’. This means you’re kind of disconnected with what you’re presenting. It’s all a bit abstract. It’s most important the audience buys YOU and finds you credible and believable. You’ve got to establish a connection between you and what you’re presenting. We need to know why you believe in this stuff. Talk about experiences and how they shaped your belief in what you’re presenting. 


You’ve got to be connected with the audience, and partly that means knowing what they’re thinking and feeling as you speak. It’s common for speakers and audiences to become disconnected – talking too fast or changing slides too quickly means we can’t keep up. It’s irritating and prevents the message being fully absorbed. A nice phrase is ‘letting your words land’. Be aware when something’s been absorbed and gauge when it’s time to move on. 

Talking too slow or leaving a slide up too long causes problems too! 

Bullets vs Images

Audiences tend to switch off when more than 3 bullet points appear on the screen. Minimise them, and if you can dispense with them altogether so much the better. A well chosen image can work wonders. 

The audience journey – structuring your talk

You’re there for a reason, and that’s to give the audience something they didn’t know before. Even a pitch to experienced buyers should contain some value, some insight. In that respect, presentations are about change, and that implies taking the audience somewhere different. 

Consider the destination you want to take them to, somewhere better than where they are now! Remind them where they are now metaphorically speaking (Pontins-Blackpool-February) and paint the picture of the Maldives! Explain why so many people are in Pontins but that the Maldives is within their reach, if only they’d….that’s where you set out your proposition and reveal how you’d take them there. 

The meat of the presentation needs to contain evidence – your stories, case studies, testimonials, research – to give you credibility and to help the audience understand what might lie ahead. The before-and-after comparison is powerful. 

Round the argument together by summarising the journey and finish with a nice call-to-action. 

Stories are Powerful

They persuade, entertain and people remember them (mental Velcro). Gather stories, get good at telling them and weave them into conversations and presentations. 

Keep it Simple

Like copy, talks usually get better the more you strip out. The best ones are the simplest, with one over-arching theme and perhaps some easy hints to take away. Fewer slides, less content, more pauses usually means more impact – PROVIDED what you leave in is relevant and skilfully delivered.

Well done Andy and Alan for presenting and ASE plc for kindly hosting the session.

For more on Mike Newman and his Speed of Sight project, click here.



Reflections on Speakeasy and the art of presenting

Once again, some terrific insights came from the audience at Speakeasy (Manchester) last night.

Both presentations were very different – one on a financial theme, one on photography – but both worked on the fundamental level of the audience ‘buying the speaker’.

Feedback touched on the following: 

Get Connected

It’s vital that speakers connect with their audience. This covers the physical connection:

  • Can they hear you?
  • Do you make eye contact with them?
  • Do you move amongst them (or even touch them)?
  • Do you get them involved (exercises, Q&A)?

But it also means an emotional connection:

  • Are you on their wavelength?
  • Do you feel their pain?
  • Does your theme ‘speak’ to them?
  • Are you able to make them feel the right feelings (excited, surprised, enlightened, optimistic, amused)? 

Being connected also means sensing their emotional state – are they bored with an image or story or discussion thread? If so it’s time to move on.  

New Zealand presentation coach Olivia Mitchell talks about the attention re-set button. The attention graph opposite shows how in a 50 minute lecture the audience’s attention starts high (they’re intrigued before you open your mouth), dips alarmingly, bumps along the bottom) and eventually rises when they know it’s nearly over!

But you can re-set their attention when you sense the energy dipping (tell a story, ask a question, put up a provocative image, do an exercise, take a mini-break). 

Sometimes, speakers are too nervous or too wrapped up in their material to notice the audience’s mental state. But it’s all part of getting connected. 

Vocal speed

High energy is fine, but again it’s important to pace your delivery with what the audience can take in. Think about ‘letting the words land’. Let them have the impact you want, then move on. Comedians are really good at this. 

The same goes with slides. Make sure the audience has time to take it in, but equally beware leaving something up too long so they get bored. 


We need to hear the words. This is often a problem when people introduce something that’s very familiar to them – their name, title, company, etc. 

What’s the point?

Every talk needs a single, over-arching theme or message. Introduce it, back it up and reinforce it continually. 


A presenter once analyzed 3 of her favourite talks by three G’s – Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore. Somewhere between 60-75% of their content was EVIDENCE (ie case studies, personal experiences, testimonials, stats). People tend to put too much strategy/theory/abstract claims in their talks. Great evidence helps us buy it AND storytelling makes it more enjoyable and memorable. 


Think like film makers do – they have to bring a written script to life and put it on the screen. They do so with a storyboard, a series of images that structures the narrative and helps take the audience on their journey.  

Call to Action

Round things off by giving us a parting thought, something to do, a final message ringing in our ears. 

Buying YOU

Both presentations succeeded last night on that most critical level – we bought YOU! That’s because you injected humour (self-deprecating), passion (there was no doubt you really believed in what you were saying) and kept things simple (lots of imagery and a good deal of fun). 

For details of the Speakeasy programme, click here.