1. Sex – and public speaking
“A lawyer told me the average attention span of most people is seven minutes. After that, more than 90 per cent of the audience is thinking about sex,” says Lois Leader, a former director at training firm TLE Associates. “I’ve never been able to back up the claim, but most people have a maximum concentration span of seven to ten minutes. That’s why you should frequently inject something different into your presentation.” That might be a co-speaker, a visual aid or simply changing the pace.
If you get nervous speaking, she adds, take three deep breaths from your stomach. “Then put your shoulders back and smile. It’s very difficult to stay in heightened state of anxiety if you do this.”
2. Giving someone the boot
One of the toughest jobs for an MD or CEO is breaking bad news. When news is going to come as a complete shock, such as redundancy or the death of a colleague, get the most important information out first. Once the news is broken, chances are they’ll be too shocked to take on board anything you say afterwards. And what about the good news? Sounds easy, but try not to take all the credit.
3. Using visual aid
PowerPoint offers variety, but don’t make presentations too flashy – you’re trying to get a message across, not win a director’s Oscar. And keep the number of words down – if your audience wanted to read your presentation rather than hear it, they’d be doing it from the comfort of their own office.
And whatever you do, don’t simply read out what everyone else in the room can read for themselves. Bring up pictures to illustrate a point, or a cartoon. There’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned flip charts, either. They can give the appearance of being more spontaneous than PowerPoint, even if you’ve rehearsed every single pen stroke- and that can be useful in a long presentation.
4. Speak in foreign tongues
Accents can be a real barrier even in countries where English is commonly used (such as India) or even the first language – ever tried talking with someone from Mississippi? Written English is sometimes easier for both parties to understand.
Closer to home, what about your own language skills? Depending on your business migrants may become a larger component of your workforce – especially as more Eastern European labour comes into the market. Companies tend to assume the onus is on the employee to learn the language of their adoptive nation, but you might want to take a leaf out of California’s book, where Latin, Asian and other immigrant workforces make up around half of the population. There, it’s often down to the employers themselves to adapt.
5. A word about meetings
Holding meetings standing up tends to focus the minds and stops gabbling Gary from accounts launching into his pet subject. To counter lateness, some firms make the first person to enter the room once the meeting is supposed to have started shut the door behind them and be the one to take notes.
6. Use the meeja, darling
Never underestimate the power of PR. Whether you’re targeting local newspapers, specialist magazines, TV or radio, independent coverage ups your profile and gets your message out.
Written by Keith Rodgers for the April 2004 published edition of Real Business.
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