FOCUS: PRESENTATION TRAINING - ’Remote’ PR is still a long way off/Extensive training will be essential before PROs feel as confident in e-conferencing as they do in face-to-face presentations, says Ian Darby

A good presentation is a key weapon in the PR practitioner’s armoury. As the industry strives for better standards and to quantify its effectiveness, presentation has taken on a greater significance. The PRO must now get to grips with a range of technology which can enhance a presentation but which can also, if not properly deployed, exasperate clients.

A good presentation is a key weapon in the PR practitioner’s

armoury. As the industry strives for better standards and to quantify

its effectiveness, presentation has taken on a greater significance. The

PRO must now get to grips with a range of technology which can enhance a

presentation but which can also, if not properly deployed, exasperate

clients.



Evolving technology has long held sway in the straightforward client

presentation. The standard overheads and flip charts have all but been

replaced by what suppliers call ’data video projection units’ -

electronic projectors linked to laptops.



But the advances have not stopped there. In recent years, ’remote’

technology has evolved to offer a real alternative to face-to-face

presenting in a shrinking global marketplace.



Videoconferencing and e-conferencing are apparently the way forward, and

training is just as essential with this new technology as with

face-to-face presenting.



Presentation training consultancy the Aziz Corporation estimates that

between five and ten per cent of its PR clients are interested in

courses which teach techniques using video or PC technology.



Darome Teleconferencing, a provider of audio and video-conferencing,

bills around pounds 50 million from the marketing services industry.

Though just pounds 5 million of this is for video or e-conferencing, it

says that use of these techniques is growing by 60 per cent year-on-year

in the PR business.



’The main benefit with video is when you are working with a relatively

large groups of people in many different locations,’ says Andrew Pearce,

managing director of Darome Teleconferencing.



This particularly applies to PR when in-house departments or agencies

hold strategy meetings involving staff across several different

locations.



Update and strategy meetings with clients involving groups on each side

may also be conducted via remote video-technology.



But there can be times when remote technology, whether through video or

PC, may prove inappropriate. ’Some people really want to look in the

whites of the eyes when a sensitive issue is being discussed. If you are

putting a premium on relationships, video is a good half way house

between face-to-face and audio conferencing, but it is not suitable for

all occasions,’ says Pearce.



PR professionals agree that some element of human contact is lost with

the introduction of a remote barrier between people, even if you can

still clearly set eyes on the person you’re talking to.



Ian Haworth, managing director of PR agency Staniforth London, says:

’Videoconferencing is not for the faint-hearted and not the most

satisfactory way of presenting because you lose personality and humour.

Presenting is difficult with new technology, and PR companies do need to

train people how best to communicate their human qualities in this

environment.’



Haworth says Staniforth uses remote technology for internal meetings

between staff at its two sites - in Manchester and London - but the

majority of client meetings are still conducted face-to-face.



Staniforth hires outside consultancies to oversee its presentation

training processes with new technology, but uses its own people to take

the lead through internal seminar training sessions. Most PR people

agree that it can be difficult to train staff to get the best from

remote technology and recommend training and practice before taking the

plunge.



Training companies have several key tips for PR practitioners

considering using remote technology.



Khalid Aziz, chairman of the Aziz Corporation, says that any user of

video or PC conferencing should prepare in detail. The audience tends to

concentrate more on statements made via video or a PC because they are

focused purely on the screen in front of them. Presenters must thus be

more succinct or they risk losing this focus.



Another key tip is to avoid facial nuances or strong body language. ’The

camera tends to amplify what you are doing. You have to provide a more

neutral stance than if you were face-to-face,’ he says.



He adds that people conferencing via a desktop PC must be wary of

distraction.



’Using a PC in an open-plan office enables you to call-up all sorts of

information, but also creates the potential for distraction,’ he

says.



Juliet Erickson, managing director of presentation training company

Rogen International, agrees that PR people must be careful before

jumping headlong into using remote technology.



’Technology adds some things but you lose the touch, texture, and human

element. Anybody who has run a meeting by teleconferencing or

videoconferencing will know that there are human interactions that can’t

be replaced by technology,’ she says.



Erickson adds that a key question is whether a client really wants to

conduct relations on a remote basis. ’You need to find out what people

are like and what their preferences are,’ she says.



Pearce advises that the most important aspect of training is learning to

concentrate at all times, even when not actively presenting.



’You have to remember that while you may not have spoken for a minute,

but you must not switch off. If you’re in a room on your own, it’s very

easy to start looking bored and forget that people are looking at you,’

he warns.



Users of remote technology must also remember that the medium has by no

means reached the foolproof stage.



’The issues are more to do with videoconferencing technology itself

rather than training,’ says Aziz. ’Most videoconferencing is still used

on a point-to-point basis and generally only in-house.’



’The technology definitely isn’t there yet,’ adds Haworth. ’Images on a

PC are still very jerky.’



However, Aziz believes that as technology moves on, becoming more

seamless and less expensive, remote conversations will become more

prevalent across the PR industry with more external meetings being held

via PCs.



’The next leap forward is in PC-based conferencing. This is still

embryonic, although BT is finding a way of supplying real time images

down normal phone lines,’ he explains.



But others are less certain that videoconferencing has a strong

future.



David Brain, a director at Burson-Marsteller, says: ’We do an awful lot

of teleconferencing.



I think that if you can’t do face-to-face, it is a good compromise.

Videoconferencing just falls somewhere in the middle.’



He adds that videoconferencing was useful when he was head of

communications for Visa International in Asia, for linking up

departments across the world. But, he says, B-M is happy to rely on

intranets and audio technology.



There are also signs that use of video and e-conferencing has not yet

taken off in small agencies, partly because of the cost involved. Rob

Haslam, an account manager at Nelson Bostock, says: ’We don’t use it

very much at all. Even with clients at European level we tend to do

things face-to-face and follow-up with teleconference calls.’



And at the moment, examples of remote conferencing between clients,

agencies and journalists are rare. But experts such as Pearce believe

the explosion in audio press conferences will continue, with

videoconferencing remaining a useful, but lesser used, tool.



However, the use of PC-conferencing may have a stronger future and it is

being led by investor relations



departments.



Adidas, for instance, recently used Darome’s technology to transmit a

visual and audio broadcast of its half-year results to desktops around

the world. Almost 100 shareholders, analysts and journalists accessed

the conference via their PCs.



But while use of remote technology may be becoming more extended across

the PR industry, for the time being most in the business continue to

believe in the essential power of face-to-face communications.



LOOK INTO THE EYES TO REDUCE THE FEELING OF PHYSICAL DISTANCE



Presentation training company Excel Communications believes there are

several skills - charisma being uppermost - which can be learned to

produce better presentations.



Robert Hayes, a director at Excel, believes charisma can be learned. He

says it is created by the type of language we use, combined with a real

sense of conviction in the speaker’s tone.



Charismatic language uses visual techniques of pictures and images

combined with the ability to use language in an analytical or complex

way.



Hayes also says that awareness is an extremely important factor when

giving a presentation. ’Successful presenters learn to develop

self-awareness to greater heights,’ he advises. ’Awareness of

environment, audience reaction, their own energy level, voice tonality

and previous comments all develop once you know what to look out

for.’



But it can be more difficult to be a charismatic speaker using remote

techniques such as video or e-conferencing. ’The principles apply even

more,’ says Hayes. ’It is more difficult because you lose out on real

eye-to-eye contact and immediate critical feedback. You have to adjust

your sense of how to respond to feedback because there is a time delay

issue when using video-conferencing.’



However, Hayes says it is still possible to give powerful, charismatic

presentations through remote channels. ’You have to be aware of how your

audience is interpreting the information and the time lag. You can still

see people’s faces and get a sense of how they are responding. The

principles don’t change, but it is difficult not having direct eye

contact.’



Excel also teaches the benefits of clarity and confidence in

presentations. This includes the use of confident body language, which

Hayes says is even more vital when using remote methods.



PROJECT THE RIGHT IMAGE DON’T OVERPITCH THE TECHNOLOGY CARD



Your equipment speaks volumes when presenting to a client, a conference

audience or journalists. Gone are the days when PR presenters pitched up

at meetings with flipcharts and acetates for the overhead. Or are

they?



Jussi Echolm, sales and marketing manager for projection kit company

INFocus, says: ’The use of overheads is declining quickly. Data video

projectors have great advantages: they are lighter, you can change

presentations at the last minute and you’re not constantly fiddling with

acetates when you’re asked a question.’



INFocus has produced a report which shows that using data projectors

linked to laptops has a 40 per cent higher success rate than using

overheads in clinching new business. ’Clients are more impressed by a

professional image,’ he says.



However, training companies warn against going too far. Juliet Erickson

at Rogen International says: ’Nobody wants to use flipcharts and

overhead projectors but the new technology sometimes only does the same

thing as the old techniques. If you’re pitching to a technology client,

it’s understandable if more technology is used. But charts and

projectors can often do the job as well as advanced video

facilities.’



PR professionals echo the view that it’s horses for courses. Ian

Haworth, managing director of PR agency Staniforth London, says: ’It

depends on how turned on the audience is by technology. You have to get

to know the client well and understand that technology is not just used

for pitches.



If I was pitching for Microsoft, I would use technology to show a basic

knowledge of the concept but sometime it is inappropriate to go all out

on technology. Some clients don’t even have e-mail, so it’s unwise to be

too clever.’



INFocus says sales of its projectors are on the increase as people ditch

their overhead projectors. ’People see themselves as having a

competitive edge over those who use flipcharts,’ says Echolm.



Erickson says that she has worked with one PR professional who was told

by a client that they’d be sacked if they ever used an overhead

projector.



But she herself believes the use of technology or otherwise in a

presentation is only responsible for about 20 per cent of the

impact.



SPEAK WITH CONFIDENCE TO CONVINCE OTHERS OF YOUR VIEWS



The Aziz Corporation defines successful business communication as

convincing the audience to do something, in your favour, that they

wouldn’t have done if you had not spoken to them. Getting them to say

’yes’, in brief.



Using myself as a case study, I was given an afternoon’s presentation

training in July, along with a prospective client, by corporation

founder, Khalid Aziz.



The aim of the training was to prepare a talk I was to give at a

healthcare PR seminar later that month. We established that the aim of

my presentation would be to convince the audience to contribute to a

series of guidelines on best practice which PR Week is to publish.



The session involved giving a ten-minute prepared talk, after a minimum

of tutoring, which was recorded on video and then analysed. After

coaching, we gave a second, shorter talk, which was also recorded and

dissected.



The afternoon was a distilled version of the courses of four half-day

sessions the corporation usually runs over a month. We focused mainly on

speech content and body language. The full course includes clips of

orators and advice on voice and image, including clothes and make-up,

with a final session at the end, combining all the aspects of

presentation.



The brevity of the session was compensated for by the fact that it was

designed to help me analyse my performance and give me the knowledge to

improve it. As well as hearing Aziz’s commentary, trainees analysed each

others’ performances.



Aziz also teaches by example, using the tricks for holding an audience’s

attention, making them laugh and retain messages, as he is coaching.



The starting point for all presentations is to analyse the audience, to

work out what they want to hear and which medium you should present to

them in - whether you should give an audiovisual presentation, present a

formal paper or use a conversational tone. You must then work out your

message, and try to match the message to the audience’s

expectations.



Any speech should start with what the speaker has in common with the

audience, so the speaker can then lead the audience towards what he or

she really wants to say. Establishing common ground is particularly

important when there is bad news to deliver, as when a manager has to

tell his staff that he will be making job cuts.



The method puts a particular emphasis on rehearsal. ’An actor has to

rehearse, so a business person who is unaccustomed to spoken

presentations must also rehearse,’ says Aziz. He suggests the request to

speak should be acted on quickly by consulting colleagues and other

sources to find out who the audience is and what they expect to hear,

which should be followed by rehearsing and consulting again until the

speaker is absolutely confident.



What the session taught me, as a novice to public speaking, was to

abandon my word-for-word script and find the confidence to speak to the

audience, using only cards featuring key words and statistics as

prompts.



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