How to get more treats, not tricks, in your presentation

Britain's new prime minister Rishi Sunak

Gina London

Dear readers, on this day before Halloween, also known as Mischief Night, Devil’s Night or, amusingly in parts of the US, Cabbage Night, I am writing to you in a particularly festive mood.

My autumnal attitude arrived after spending most of the last week in London. I crunched auburn and golden leaves strolling through Mayfair’s inappropriately named Green Park.

I window-shopped in the ever-busy Covent Garden with stores draped in faux cobwebs and furry black spiders.

And as I wrote the first part of this column at Fleming’s, my home-away-from-home hotel when I visit, the mixologists in the bar were concocting a creepy cocktail to commemorate the upcoming haunting holiday.

When I wasn’t busy soaking up the spirit of Samhain, I was coaching a range of top-level clients, which I promise did not include Great Britain’s newly announced third prime minister in a year, Rishi Sunak.

My thoughts on his acceptance speech go into today’s goodie-bag of communication tips designed to help you deliver more treats than tricks in your next presentation, speech, or webinar.

1 Simplify your slides

The real-life horror-show of Death by PowerPoint continues. Somewhere along the way, a workplace warlock decreed from on high that fewer slides are better. Great idea, but the result has become scary.

There are too many “brief slide decks” jam-packed with novels of writing and charts of every axis, column and flavour of pie.

The solution is to create more slides with less stuff on each. Even with your basic bullets or numbered list slides, this rule still applies. Envision what every audience does when faced with a slide. They try to read it. All. So,if you have a five-points on the screen or over your shoulder and you are talking about point number one, I guarantee people are not listening to you, they’re reading ahead.

To keep them with you as you speak, duplicate the final multi-point slide and reverse engineer, building point by point until you reach the conclusion.

If you find yourself apologising for one of those crazy, over-complicated slides that resembles the cockpit of an Airbus 380, the world’s biggest passenger plane, it’s time to simplify your slide.

Remember, you are the presentation, not your visual support. Folks, it’s in your non-severed hands to take control of this terrible travesty.

2 Turn your camera on

For me, the modern version of walking into a darkened, abandoned house is connecting to a virtual meeting link hoping to see a mosaic of smiling human faces, only to discover that no one is turning on their camera.

While here in London, in addition to my in-person coaching appointments, I also led a webinar for a big team in the United States. It was the first time I presented before this company (which shall remain unnamed) and I was shocked to learn that their corporate culture had deteriorated during lockdown. Not a single person turned on their camera.

As many of you know from personal experience, it’s not easy to monologue to a screen. And what was even more fascinating for me, was the group’s general lack of awareness that this was a contributing factor to the growing feelings of un-engagement they described to me during our session.

Research clearly shows that when it’s not possible to meet in person, team connections are more nurtured and strengthened if we can at least see each other. An audio plus video meeting is better than an audio-only meeting. You wouldn’t attend an actual meeting with a paper bag over your head, would you? So, unless your bandwidth is very low or your webcam is broken, turn your camera back on. Don’t surrender to the Zoom-room of disembodied voices.

3 Stop reading

You might think the public speaking practise during those recent Liz Truss debates would still be fresh in Rishi Sunak’s mind as he stood to address his public for the first time as incoming PM.

Yet, I was surprised to observe him stiffly and carefully reading each word as it scrolled by on the teleprompter.

Perhaps because the political stakes are so high, he did not want to leave anything to chance. I’ll give him a pass due to extraordinary circumstances.

But for the rest of us, don’t be a Zombie. Be a human. I encourage my clients to not memorise everything.

Decide on your headline, open and close. Then focus more on mapping your sections over the sentences. For instance, visualise your opening pleasantries, introduction, main message, supporting illustration(s) and strong closing.

Rehearse your open and close aloud several times. But allow yourself to be in the moment during at least part of the presentation so you can better connect with the audience.

They don’t remember exactly what you say, they remember how you make them feel.

Tip of the Communicator hat

To my server Viktor at the cafe at London City Airport, who, when seeing me approach alone to be seated said, “Table for you?” A subtle, but significant difference from the standard greeting of, “Table for one?” Seemingly small communication tweaks can make a big difference. Put your people first. And happy Cabbage Night.