PRESENTATION TRAINING: Creating the perfect presenter - It's not what you say, but how you say it that can have a far more striking effect

'Good communication is brain to brain not mouth to ear,' says Susan Ford, a partner at training company Coulter Ford Associates.

'Good communication is brain to brain not mouth to ear,' says Susan Ford, a partner at training company Coulter Ford Associates.

According to those in the presentation training business, PR execs are not using their brains and - wait for it - they are scorning the brains of the clients to whom they are pitching.

The idea is controversial. Surely presentation is a core PR skill that agency execs excel at? But while agencies focus on honing their client's presentation and media skills, it seems that agencies themselves could also benefit from help with presentations.

Warwick Partington, Media Training Masterclasses course director, says: 'I have been constantly amazed by PR companies that send their clients on courses here. Sometimes they themselves have not acquired the most basic communication skills.'

Partington says the way television has made the world more visually demanding has meant that these presentational skills are more important than ever.

Khalid Aziz, The Aziz Corporation chairman, says PR agencies often only realise this after a series of failed pitches. Then they decide that paying for staff to have presentational training is preferable to missing more business.

But he believes that all agencies can benefit from some external input - even if it is just a question of providing more objective feedback on presentational style than might be available from colleagues in-house.

He says a key reason why agencies might need training is to have an even level of presentation ability throughout the business. That way they can avoid the problem of having different people running an account from those that pitched to win the business - something that is notoriously unpopular with clients.

Aziz tells the agencies he tutors that one of the most important elements in a winning pitch is creating the right chemistry between speaker and audience and that this - contrary to what is sometimes thought - is a skill that can be learned.

'It is possible to project a chemistry that says: 'We understand, we are sympathetic, we will be objective but take great pains to make sure we understand where you are coming from and how to accommodate your needs',' he says.

The point he makes is that the way the presenter behaves - his body language and his tone of voice for example - will affect fundamentally his relationship with the audience. Hence the chances of creating the right impression can be increased by training in these areas.

Other trainers emphasise different things. Stuart Fenwick, Fenwick Business Consultancy managing director, for example, emphasises the importance of practice in order to make a good presentation.

'The more familiar you are with what you are doing, the less frightened you are going to be and the more comfortable an experience it will be for you and your audience,' he says. 'Practice, familiarity and enthusiasm are the three keys.'

Partington emphasises the importance of approaching the matter with a positive frame of mind - one that involves expecting to succeed.

'If you do not look at every presentation as an opportunity to display your strengths but as a threat, it will affect everything,' he says. 'The way you use your voice, the way you look, the way you move etc,' he says.

Part of this is about believing in your material. 'It has to come from your soul,' he adds. 'This is why I am a media trainer and not an arms dealer.'

Ford takes a more theatrical approach. She believes some simple work on the voice can bring real presentational benefits. The main problem for agency presenters, she says, is remaining poised under pressure.

'Even with quite senior people, the pressure of the occasion can get to them, the adrenalin can take over and they start talking too fast, cutting down on word length and missing crucial pauses,' she says.

Ford believes that good communication requires a balance of emphasis between consonants - which she says communicate intelligence and sense - and vowels, which say more about who you are as a speaker.

'Think of the person who talks like a typewriter, in a very clipped manner with a stiff upper lip. You get a lot of intelligence but nothing of them.

You need a combination of feeling from the vowels and meaning from the consonants. This is what gives the rhythm. Under pressure, people speed up and the audience just gets a barrage of fact without engaging with the personality,' she says.

The trick is learning to breathe correctly. 'You have to breathe with the diaphragm,' she explains. 'It is not easy to learn but once you do the empowerment is tremendous. The tendency under pressure is to breathe in the upper chest and then the audience hears your tension and how badly you want the work,' she says.

The extent to which this is a plus or a minus is debatable. In any case clients that have heard presentations recently appear to be more concerned with content than with the extent to which the agency appears desperate for the business or the presentational style.

Tom Harvey, Nationwide head of external affairs, recently awarded public affairs work to LLM Communications after a competitive pitch. He would encourage agencies to put emphasis on content - what they say rather than how they say it.

'I do not mind if someone stutters, or if the screen goes dead,' he says.

'What is important is that there is clear thought in what is being said.'

Although he thought the standard of personal communications in the pitches he saw was very high, he was critical about other aspects of the presentations.

One of these was the extent to which they were 'joined-up', for example.

'People did not seem to have thought through the basis of what they were trying to get across. There were too many walks in the Black Forest, stumbling from light to shade,' he says.

Other clients have also detected flaws in agencies' presentation content.

Karen Richardson-Fowles, Prudential Group Pensions head of marketing communications, says that in some cases far too much information was presented and that often the ideas, though very good, were just not practicable.

She recently awarded an account to Burson-Marsteller because 'they had a common thread, something that worked in lots of different ways. They did not bombard me with lots of different ideas like some did'.

Brevity was also a positive point as far as Richardson-Fowles was concerned. For example, although she liked one agency's use of soundbites, there were too many visual aids.

Another irritant was the agencies who brought too many people who had no apparent purpose to the pitch. That point might well be endorsed by Andy Andersz, director of public affairs at Vauxhall Motors, who recently held a pitch. He said he was impressed by agencies that brought staff who buzzed off each other well.

'One of the best presentations we had was one in which all the people there contributed something and bounced off each other, creating a sparky presentation,' he recalled.

What he did not like was an arrogance in some agencies' pitches and a lack of attention to detail in some presentations. 'I saw spelling mistakes and that makes you wonder about other things,' he says.

Correct spelling, one might have thought, was something agencies could manage themselves without resorting to expensive training sessions, but there are other areas where, even agencies admit, they can benefit from help.

Louise de Winter, Citigate Public Affairs associate director, recently picked up the British Heart Foundation account after a competitive pitch.

She says her agency has used outside trainers and thinks everyone can benefit.

'I do not think PR executives have any monopoly of brilliance in this area so getting training is always going to be useful,' she says.

Peter Bingle, GPC London managing director, says training - or 'coaching' as Suzee Foster, B-M managing director for executive communications prefers to call it - is especially useful for pitches to companies from other countries which have different business customs, such as Japan.

He also makes the point that it is important to identify who is who in the team you are pitching to. 'You have to play to the power structure,' he says. 'You have to know who will make the final decision.'

But he relates a story that illustrates what can go wrong if this identification procedure is too relaxed.

'Half way through the Q & A session at one presentation an exec passed





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