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
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 The standard overheads and flip charts have all but been
replaced by what suppliers call ’data video projection units’ -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
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
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
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
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
’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
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,’
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
’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
David Brain, a director at Burson-Marsteller, says: ’We do an awful lot
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
But she herself believes the use of technology or otherwise in a
presentation is only responsible for about 20 per cent of the
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
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
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
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
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