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Presentation Tips For Silver Tongued Success


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Forget the standard presentation … what we want from those people whose role it is to stand up and speak to us is for them to be genuine, spontaneous and engaging. Here Clive Lewis looks beyond the basics of presentation to how leaders, managers and front line staff can learn to think on their feet.

Who wouldn’t want to have that ability to speak off the cuff, to improvise, even to wing it? If you want to become an engaging presenter, a dynamic leader or a silver tongued sales executive then you need to master the ability to think on your feet and we admire greatly those who have this gift.

But would you dare to improvise in your next presentation? Most people might have their doubts, but it’s my bet that they would completely change their mind if a.) they felt confident about doing it and b.) it gave them a much better chance of achieving the outcome that they wanted.

Of course you don’t have to look far to find examples of people who try to blag it only to fall flat on their face and if you have ever seen The Apprentice you will be quite aware of the process. All too eager to impress, many of these would-be entrepreneurs simply fail to cope when asked the most obvious questions. And as viewers we watch wide eyed as they veer wildly off track, start providing far too much detail or simply lose their heads. Predictably they then get booted off the show.

So what should they have done? Let me explain.

Your ability to improvise requires you to use both the logical left side and the intuitive right side of your brain, in harmony. You can compare this skill to that of a pilot. What you need is a computerised flight path which will get you flying in the right direction. That’s the left side of your brain. Meanwhile, at any time, you can override the computer, make mid-course corrections and even go and talk to the passengers. And that’s the skill of the right hand side of your brain. Translate this into the area of communication and you have disciplined eloquence or perhaps even reliable excitement!

Of course some people believe that any structure limits spontaneity. But this isn’t true and presenters, in giving themselves a structure, are helping themselves and their listeners in two important ways. First, structure provides a clear focus for an audience. It imposes order on the mass of knowledge that presenters have. Second, structure is liberating and allows presenters to be authentic and engaging - talking to people, rather than at them.

So let me now talk about the way you can plan for improvisation. The steps are as follows:

  • Find the right theme for your audience.

  • Structure your plan so that you can deliver on that theme persuasively.

  • Adapt to listeners’ reactions as you speak.

In the case of the main theme it is extremely helpful if you have a punchy headline which sums up your topic and, even at this initial stage, presenters should be engaging their creative right brain. What will add colour, imagination and excitement to their talk? The challenge is to find a headline that stimulates the audience’s curiosity so that they arrive in an inquisitive frame of mind.

As to how to structure the talk, this is even more critical. The reality is that when you have a structure it is much easier for your audience to follow your logic. And the three essential planks of this structure are to define the central core of your topic, to separate ideas out distinctly from one another and to create momentum in your speaking so that you move your listeners smoothly from point A to B to C.

As to what precise plans to use … here are three templates which work for almost any presentation.

1. The clock plan divides a talk into chunks of time. If, for example you are talking about a ‘new project’ you might structure your talk into the following phases - i) where we are now ii) the next six months and iii) the situation in 12 month’s time.

2. The globe plan packages topics into chunks of space. So, for example, if your main theme is ‘Doing business across the world’, it might be usefully broken down into i) existing customers in the UK ii) opportunities for expansion in mainland Europe iii) untapped potential in South East Asia.

3. The triangle plan proposes that you are moving from one vantage point to another. So, for example, if the theme of the presentation is ‘The new IT system’ then the plan might look at the issues from the perspective of i) what the end users need ii) what customers will get out of it and iii) what the IT department can deliver.

These are three straightforward plans but the point to underline here is that structure is not enough. It will be a dead weight if it is all you rely on. You need to take managed risks. If you know your subject then you will have all sorts of anecdotes, bits of research and associated ideas on which to call. More than that what every audience really wants is interaction. So provoke them with your insights and give them a chance to ask you questions.

Trust that your store of knowledge will be enough and if someone asks you a question to which you don’t know the answer then pass it around and see if anyone else in the room can help. Nobody expects you to know everything so be playful and engaging and turn your talk into more of a relationship than a lecture.

Clive Lewis is the MD of Illumine Training and the Think on your feet programme ensures that presenters know how to influence, persuade and impress and audience. More on T: 01753 866633 or


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