Not too long ago, armed only with a bit of luck and some nifty footwork, you could steer your way through a whole lifetime without having to stand up in front of an audience.
Not so today, as illustrated by Nick Higham (MW October 27) in his piece on presentation hell. Almost every organisation, and it matters not whether it is in the public or private sector, is operating with fewer people, more technology, over wider distances, with flatter reporting structures and (always) with bigger issues. Communicating, externally and internally – via spinning, explaining, informing, motivating, briefing, debating or selling – is an everyday
part of organisational life. There is no escape, either, if you seek the refuge of a small business – there’s no point in producing the best organic jam on earth unless you can stand up in front of investors and get them to back you and then in front of supermarket buyers to get some shelf space.
I have been a professional public speaker for a dozen years. I have spoken in nearly as many countries as Michael Palin. I have addressed live audiences ranging in number from an intimate six to a raucous 15,000 All these experiences have resulted in two firm beliefs. The first should surprise no one: that the general standard of speaking in public is lousy. The second might surprise many: that you can improve your public speaking skills significantly and quickly.
Gordon Brown is the Bookie’s favourite to be the next British prime minister. The scary fact is that I couldn’t give you a better living example of what you look like when you break many of the basic public speaking rules. Just study him when you see him give his next “speech”, gripping his lectern somewhere around his chin, shuffling and reading his pages of A4 notes and looking as though he has piles.
Former chairman and chief executive of Burger King