January 23, 2019

Speaking of Speaking – how a book can really improve your performance

By Paul Laughlin

Is speaking part of your role? Ok, silly question, few roles avoid verbal communication. I mean public speaking in front of groups of people.

Those who have grown in leadership career or influence as an analyst will know that giving presentations comes with the territory. Yet few people relish the opportunity.

Apart from a few frustrated actors, most people have a degree of fear when it comes to public speaking. In my experience that is not helped by some of the advice & resources out there.

From public speaking associations to TED talks or popular business books, all can give you neurosis – or put you off the kind of people who love speaking in public. So, it was a delight to have a book for Christmas that really helped me.

Do I really need to read a book on speaking?

Now, I must admit, when first receiving the present I did wonder about the implication. As someone who is speaking for a living (as a trainer & professional speaker), it could be considered an insult. However, this book was in fact a treat. Relevant, easy to read and full of practical advice.

The book in question is “The busy person’s guide to Great Presenting” by Lee Warren. Lee is also a professional magician & he has conjured up a simple effective book to help all presenters. The subtitle is “become a compelling, confident presenter, every time“. Lee delivers advice to achieve just that.

The structure of Great Presenting – why MAP matters

During a section of the book focussed on structuring your message, Lee shares the power of three. The almost magical way that our minds enjoy three choices, a three point message or the balance of things presented in layers of 3s.

Well, throughout this book, Lee walks his own talk. He structures the books along the same lines as he advises you to break down your presentation. That is in threes.

Without giving too much away, after an introduction to help us realise we all need to sell, Lee shares his overarching model. That is MAP. An acronym for Message, Audience and Presenter.

This book is divided into 3 main sections focussed on M, A and P. Followed by only then focussing on tips to improve your slides (if you need them) and some more advanced advice.

First, be clear as to your Message and its structure

With regular advice to not reach first for PowerPoint (or Keynote), Lee gets us to face that we need clarity as to our message first. What are we selling?

A good opening device and hook will help. But first you need clarity. If you have a need to present to a group in your business soon. Stop right now & write down on a clean sheet of paper you main message in one sentence.

Lee also shares a really useful structure for presentations. Running all the way from the Hook, through a Rule of Three, to eventually the Punchline. I have spoken publicly for over 20 years and I learned from Lee’s advice here.

He manages to provide an engaging balance of ideas that you may have missed & pricks to your conscience for those you knew already. So, step back and be clear as to your storyboard first.

Second, consider the Audience, it’s not all about you

Lee doesn’t pull in punches in this section, but he’s right. Starting with the first sub heading, “Nobody is interested in you“, he lays bare what so often goes wrong.

From adequate preparation, through different ways to consider the needs of your audience, onto a useful checklist at the end. Along the way you get to discover why you need HAM PIE too!

Are you considering the benefit of peaks & troughs? Do you customise your presentation for different audiences. I challenge any speaker to not feel shame at one or more of Lee’s points. It is so easy to slip back into focussing on ourselves, not what the audience needs.

Lastly, let’s talk about you as a Presenter

Finally, we get to focus on you! Well, sort of. Although this section is full of practical tips to come across better, it is still focussed on what will work for your audience.

Lee covers everything from handling nerves, to sounding confident. There is even time to think about your footwork around the stage, who to look at & which gestures to use.

In this section particularly you get a feel for how experienced Lee is as a presenter. He highlights so many pitfalls and ways to avoid them. A particularly useful section is how to handle questions and distractions.

How could you improve your public speaking?

Whether you are giving the occasional pitch presentation, or regularly addressing conferences – this book will help you. It has far more depth that the 220 pages suggest, whilst staying simple, practical & relevant.

One lovely device, akin to the way Lee suggests using handouts, is the use of light grey “Signpost” boxes throughout. At the end of each key part, Lee summarises what you need to remember & adds some recommended actions. A great help to me now I’ve read the book.

When I next see my business mentor, I’ll be committing to actions to improve my speaking based on this book. I might even try Lee’s recommendation of going without slides. Go on, you know you want to!