Does your face speak an international language?

Here’s an interesting piece of research from, psychologist Rachel Jack, at the Univerity of Glasgow, about the different weight that different cultures give to different facial characteristics when we speak; and the audience tries to work out what we mean-  How Cultures Interpret Facial Expressions Differently [Study].

Before the study began, facial expressions were considered a “hard-wired human behavior trait,” suggesting that various cultures did not interpret facial expressions differently. However, Jack conducted his study to prove that facial expression interpretation is culturally relevant, using statistical documentation and computer-generated facial expressions.

Essentially, the researcher, Rachel Jack from the University of Glasgow, found that that different facial gestures carry differing ‘weight’ by culture? Now that’s interesting. And the simple lesson for presenters then would be-

express openly and sincerely when talking to international audiences, as narrow, or shielded gesture and expression will tend to ‘hide’ your real meaning.

For presenters who want to move from ‘good’ to great’ it’s another counter-intuitive tip. When your nerves tend to make you narrow your emotional range, your audience needs you to broaden.

For the full research paper- go here

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How much to beat up our audience? Should we?

in January 2005, Eric Cantona, a gifted, French footballer, then playing for Manchester United, launched himself into the crowd at a thug who had spent minutes hurling the most vicious abuse at him.  He had had enough.  He had been spat at, mocked, insulted and he’d reached his limit.  For his crime, he was arrested, charged with assault, found guilty and fined by the courts, after an appeal to overturn his 2-week prison sentence.  The hooligan went free.

In a passing moment I’m often struck about how namby pamby we corporate speakers are.  We assume that we must be polite to our audiences, engage them, involve them and pander to their every whim.  Whatever they do to us.  I’m not suggesting the full ‘Cantona’, but what would you want to do about-

  • Late arrivals- oh that’s fine, find a seat, I’ll start again.
  • Mobile ‘phone calls- ‘I’ll just take this outside…’
  • Side discussions- ‘Oh we’re just talking about a meeting we were at…’
  • Hostile questions, crap questions, leaving early, using laptops and on and on.

A stand-up comedian wouldn’t put up with it would he or she?  An actor would object (Daniel Craig stopped a recent performance in New York to ask for an audience member to be removed when his ‘phone went off.  So why do we put up with it?

A lack of confidence and balls I’d say.  So when I was at a nameless big corporate recently, and I watched 4 bankers interrupt a very senior executive, carrying their drinks and sandwiches, past 300 other audience members to find the only available seats at the front, without even a hint of an apology, I thought I’d do something.
The talk I was giving was on ‘Networking for Success’, and so I started with a scream and said ‘I’d be a hypocrite and a fool if I didn’t start by saying that the heart of my message is about self-awareness and courtesy.  So, who are you 4 gentlemen?’
I gave them a 2 minute description of what they’d done, and described in some detail the impression they’d created on me, their boss, their peers and their subordinates.  I summed it up with,
‘In short, you made yourselves look like ignorant, arrogant, ^&*$%^s…’  And I’m sure that wasn’t your intention was it?…’ Silence. Then one of them got up and said, ‘I’m sorry, it was rude and I’d like to apologise to the room…’ We shook hands and carried on as if something had happened.  And it had.  Truth broke out for a moment.
I thought I might have gone too far.  And found out afterwards that my client, and my audience agreed with what I did, and will remember the speech for a long time because of it.  Right then, who’s next?
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Do you tell your audience what to do? Maybe you should?

I saw Ralph Fiennes in Trevor Nunn’s production of  Shakespeare’s Tempest at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London last night. The whole cast was fantastic, and even the comic turns, made me laugh, which is rare for Shakespeare.  The reviews were generally unenthusiastic, but it was my first ‘Tempest’, and I thought the production was great and the cast even better.

I’m struck, again, that Shakespeare, as much as anything, was a commercial playwright.  He understood that his audience decided whether he was rich or poor in the instant,  that if he left them waiting to be intrigued for too long, they’d leave the theatre and ask for their money back.  I’ve talked before about the importance of starting well, and Shakespeare uses the prologue to tremendous effect in most of his plays.

But the epilogue in The Tempest is an amazing example of a ‘presenter’ sending the audience away with ‘the point’ ringing in their ears…   Here it is and ask yourself at what point does the message stop being about Prospero and the play, and start being about Shakespeare?


Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
It’s a brilliant example of handing the power to the audience, and suggesting that they honour the playwright, the cast and the work. It’s an embedded command to love what they’ve seen.  To think in a certain way, and be kind with their power.  Brilliant.
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What does Prezi do for a poor speech?

Even if it’s a cute pig, it’s still a pig.  Isn’t it?

So let’s cut the crap about Prezi saving the world from PowerPoint, and realise that drafting a decent speech with no pictures and delivering it competently,  will be much better received than a poor speech, with great visuals.  Whoever the visuals are from.

Prezi is great in skilled hands working to a tight brief, it also has that ‘wow’ factor if used well.  But look at the Prezi sample page and see how badly most of these ‘super samples’  would work in support of the spoken word.

I’m not ‘anti’ Prezi, or ‘pro’ PowerPoint, just keen to point out that a pig is still a turkey errr.

Posted in Presentation Skills, Visual Aids | 2 Comments

Are you in the UK Speechwriter’s Guild?

I’m a proud member of the UK Speechwriter’s guild.

The purpose of The Guild is to:

  • Sell English language speech-writing skills in Britain and across the world.
  • Bring together political and business leaders to improve their communication skills and exchange ideas.
  • Raise standards of public speaking, by providing training courses, offering support to conferences, giving awards, promoting speakers and organising events.
  • Publish trade information, with hints, tips and examples of fine speech-writing.
  • Invigorate public life by re-popularising the teaching of rhetoric in schools and universities.
  • We exist to serve those involved in public and commercial life and build a thriving international industry.

We welcome new members and those wishing to develop the skills of speechwriting and public speaking for professional purposes. We have a conference every September in the beautiful seaside town of Bournemouth on the South Coast of England; and many other interesting and stimulating meets throughout the year.

If it sounds like your ‘bag’ then why not give it a whirl.  Contact Brian Jenner- here for more information.


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What can presenters learn from Anne Boleyn?

At the Tower of London again for a session on The Globe Theatre’s 2011 production of ‘Anne Boleyn’ with writer Howard Menton and star, Miranda Raison talking about the play and the theatre.  She said a really interesting thing about ‘connecting’ with an audience, that’s relevant to actors, but to us presenters in a business context too.  She said that the key to character, and to the play was that she ‘connected’ with the audience from the start.

The first scene of the play is Anne, walking on to the stage, alone, and talking to herself about something she has written.  She’s talking to herself, but talking to us too, and if she fails to bridge the gap between audience, actress and words, she’ll lose us, and the play.

She said that to succeed in a scene like this, actors mustn’t simply ‘talk to the dark’ they should speak the lines to real people in the audience as if these people cared, and lived and loved, and were real.  And they are.

It’s a great line because so often you see business speakers ‘speaking to the dark’.  General thoughts to a non-specific audience, with no ‘connection’ empathy or concern.  When we should really be talking (in Miranda’s words)-

”To the guy with the grey hair and nice smile, standing in the third row back, with the beautiful lady that I assume is his wife.  The guy I’ve had ‘a moment’ with as I walked on and looked at the people in the crowd…”

For context, the globe has 1600 spcaes for people to see the play, with 500 ‘groundlings’ standing right in front of the stage. Coupled with the fact that the Globe is an open-roofed theatre, therefore lighter than your usual dark theatre, makes for a wholly different relationship with the audience for the players.

But that makes it much more like a business presentation doesn’t it?  Where we can see everyone in the room.  So how well do we make a connection?  Do we get reviews like this?


The Independent on Sunday, 2010 
“Her instant rapport with the audience goes down a treat.” 

* * * * The Daily Telegraph, 2010  
“Miranda Raison’s radiant, intelligent, beautiful Anne.” 

The Stage, 2010 
“It’s a mouth-watering part for Miranda Raison to play and she does it with charm and gusto in a lavishly dressed production.”

For an outline of the play and Miranda’s press see here- Shakespeare’s Globe: Theatre – Anne Boleyn / Shakespeare’s Globe.

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Great presenters always tell lies. Don’t they?

At a fundraiser for the Globe Theatre in London last night. Listening to playwright Howard Brenton talk about ‘Anne Boleyn’, and its successful run at the Globe in 2011.  He was very interesting on creating a story and reminded us of an Oscar Wilde quote-

‘Playwrights tell lies to make a general truth…’

A brilliant line and an insight into what presenters do to make things interesting and concise.  We cut out the whole truth to make a general one.  Don’t we?

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Do you try too hard?

I had a really interesting challenge the other day,  to speak to  30 or so 14-16 year old girls about ‘personal impact’.  I had 30 minutes to make an impression and help them make the most of the event they were at. The event was a ‘bring your daughter to work’ day,  arranged by the fabulous people in Diversity & Inclusion Team at RBS, Global Banking & Markets in London.

Bring your daughter to work? It’s a great idea isn’t it? Break down the misconceptions that girls have about investment banking, as soon as you’re able to get them interested, then keep in touch with them over their later school and university years, and then have them really understand that there are hundreds of interesting opportunities for young, bright women, in a world that otherwise might have seemed male-dominated and girl-unfriendly.

My challenge was obvious.  How to ‘connect’ with girls who terrified me when I was 14, and mystify me today.  I’m 47, male and have three boys, and had no real idea of who they were and what might be relevant.  So in those circumstances, what does a guy do?  Research of course.

I spoke to Jessica Chu and Emily Bryant at RBS.  They gave me some great insight into what they wanted, and their view on what it’s like to be 14 and female (hideous, I’m led to believe).  And I talked to a few of my friends’ kids of that age and just asked them what would be interesting to them, and how and old geezer could build a rapport with them about the issue.  Very interesting.

 ‘Treat us like adults’, ‘don’t patronise’, ‘give us some ‘sick’ (sic) tricks…’

OK.  I’ll give it a go.  Then I talked to my 9-year old son, William.  I said, ‘just give me a bit of advice…’ and he said a brilliant thing.

 ‘Don’t try to be cool…’

And I got it.  There’s nothing worse for an audience, any audience, than a speaker trying to be something they’re not.  And you see even really experienced speakers trying too hard to do all kinds of things.  Trying to be-

  • Funny
  • Likeable
  • Intelligent
  • Clever
  • Tough
And a million other things, and the problem with the verb ‘to try’, is that it suggests failure.  So don’t try to be something you’re not; be something that you are, and you’ll be 80% more convincing than otherwise.
So I was 47, kind and slightly challenging of my female audience.  I wasn’t cool at all.  And I didn’t try to be. It was good.
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Do you ‘over-sell’ the message when you speak? ‘To Fly to Serve’ does it worse

It should be brilliant, but it’s not.  It’s BA’s new brand message in wide-screen, film-shot format.

British Airways relaunches itself with new slogan that nods to its imperial origins | Mail Online.

It’s expensively made, lavishly appointed and brilliantly placed for the TV viewers it wants to lure back to the arms of the self-appointed ‘Flag Carrier’ for the UK.  Trouble is it’s not much good overall.  It’s the oppostite of the typical corporate presentation.  The story is great, the pictures are delicious but the telling is terrible.  Not even competent.

The voice-over artist spoils everything.  He gets in the way of the pictures, he undermines the story and murders the ‘punchline’.  The famous thespian should be shot (but this time without sound).  That’s the problem with actors, particularly famous ones, they tend to act.  Brilliant actors just say the words and trust that the words will do the work.  And if the words are good, they will.

The pilot wondering which voice over actor they'll get to mess it up this time

Watch it for yourself and tell me that the script, simply spoken, with no added drama, would not have made you moved much more than this fifth-form, forced ham-fistedness.  I bet the writer and the director are fuming from their summer homes in the Bahamas.




Posted in Developing Flair, Uncategorised | 1 Comment

Bullshit Bingo- Ed Miliband’s bargain basement speech

Here’s a lovely trashing of Ed Miliband’s conference speech last week. It’s by the elegantly uptight Martin Shovel and if you haven’t visited his blog yet.  Please do, it’s really rather good.  Here’s his view.

Ed Miliband’s bargain basement speech.

I thought Ed’s speech was like the worst ever bullshit bingo entrant. Someone in the crowd would have won the prize after 10 seconds.

As I suggested here a few years ago, there’s a really simple way to make sure that you don’t sound like an accountant next time you get up to speak- Ask someone for help- don’t just think it doesn’t matter.

Who does Ed have these days?

He should ring Martin.

Posted in Developing Flair, Stand Out, Useful Role Models | 2 Comments