Public speaking

Is there a real role for ‘uptalk’?

One of the commonest verbal irritants I encounter in my communication skills training courses is ‘uptalk’ – a rising inflection at the end of sentences that makes statements sound like questions.

I observe this speech pattern most commonly among younger women, and I invariably urge them to try to change a habit that makes them seem – to my mind at least – uncertain, hesitant and lacking in authority.

But am I right? Could it be that uptalk is a much subtler and more strategic linguistic tool than I had recognised – useful for confirming understanding, inviting engagement and forestalling interruptions?…

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8 presentation hacks for holding attention

Presenting is a difficult business and presenters face numerous challenges if they are to be engaging, memorable and influential – the three key objectives of presentations.

Of these challenges, none is more critical – or more tricky – than holding the attention of the audience.

If you Google ‘audience attention span’, you will find endless dispiriting graphs of average attention, like this one from the Netherlands-based Syncat Academy for scientific leaders of the future.

Image result for Syncat Academy audience attention graph

You can see that practically everyone is listening at the start, hoping against hope that the talk will be inspiring and entertaining.…

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Presentations and the crucial importance of first impressions

Of all the suggestions I make to people on my presentation skills training courses, the one they find hardest to follow is to seize the audience’s attention from the get-go.

They usually pay lip service to the idea that first impressions are vital, and you don’t get a second chance to make one; but when given a chance to put theory into practice, they still revert to something like the following:

‘Good morning, my name is [title] from [Institute] in [country], and today I am going to talk to you about [topic].…

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When did you last change your mind…

…about something really important?

 This week I read something very unusual in my daily newspaper. A former practitioner – and passionate advocate – of naturopathy described how she changed sides and became an equally passionate sceptic after she discovered evidence of fraudulent claims in relation to cancer treatment.

‘Once I realised that, everything changed virtually overnight’, Britt Maria Hermes told The Guardian. ‘By Monday morning I had hired a lawyer and I quit the practice.’

Earlier this month I heard something equally unusual on the radio.…

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The six worst forms of PowerPoint abuse

Is it the TV’s fault if a programme is boring? Surely not! Is a drill to blame for a poorly hung picture? Hardly! So why is it that PowerPoint is so often forced to take the rap for the dull, uninspiring and unmemorable presentations delivered daily in meeting rooms, conference halls and lecture theatres across the land?

I believe that PowerPoint is a useful and versatile tool when used as designed – as a visual aid for audiences. But it is a lethal weapon in the hands of its growing legions of abusers, which is why we now face an insidious epidemic of ‘death by PowerPoint’.…

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How to be persuasive in 3 simple steps

How to be persuasive in three simple steps

 Of all the forms of torture inflicted in corporate life, Death by PowerPoint is the most pervasive.

It’s not just because the software encourages a lazy approach to presenting, with the speaker usually playing a poor supporting role to slides loaded with text, dripping with bullet points and peppered with impossibly complex visuals.

It’s also because PowerPoint presentations tend to rely on factual information alone to convey their messages and move their audiences to action.…

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Lessons for public speakers from Sir Tim Hunt’s downfall

As a communication skills trainer I have always tried to impress on clients that while good spoken communication can raise profiles and enhance prospects, poor communication can damage careers and trash reputations.

Nothing demonstrates the truth of this assertion better than the vertiginous fall from grace of Nobel Prize-winning biologist Sir Tim Hunt, whose poorly judged remarks about women researchers at a global meeting of science journalists made him the target of a vicious social media campaign,which led within hours to the loss of his honorary research post at University College, London, and his place on the Science Committee of the European Research Council, among other indignities.…

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