Tag Archives: building rapport

8 Reasons Why You Should Stop Presenting From Behind a Lectern

On Stage RBS lectern 1b

I have been a speaker and/or an attendee at hundreds of conferences and events and it often surprises me how many presenters are happy to stand behind a lectern and deliver a speech; it really doesn’t do them any favours when it comes to communicating their message effectively.

Here are 8 problems connected with presenting from behind a lectern:

  1. It creates a physical and psychological barrier to what you’re saying
  2. It can seem like you’re hiding which can portray a lack of confidence (you may well be feeling less than confident but in most cases you don’t want your audience to know!)
  3. When your hands are not in view it can create a mistrust of you
  4. It restricts your movement and gestures, therefore limiting an essential part of your communication
  5. It can feel like you’re giving a lecture which in most people’s minds equates to boring so they switch off and don’t listen to you
  6. You will be tempted to lean on it or grip it instead of using gestures
  7. It can be more difficult to see the audience and their reactions to your presentation
  8. It can be more difficult for the audience to see you and if they can’t see you they are less inclined to listen to you

It can also look ridiculous if you’re short like me as the photo above taken at Royal Bank of Scotland Conference Centre shows. Compare that with the image below which really highlights the difference stepping out from behind the lectern can make.

On Stage RBS 7c

Whilst in some circumstances the lectern can define a position of power and credibility that you may not have, in most cases the benefits of coming out from behind the lectern are far greater. For example:

  • It portrays the message that you are pleased to be there and that you want to communicate effectively with your audience
  • It shows that you know your content and that you don’t need to hide behind a lectern
  • It makes you seem more approachable
  • It helps you to build rapport and create a better connection with your audience
  • It helps you appear more natural
  • It increases trust
  • It helps you to make good eye contact with your audience
  • It adds visual interest for your audience
  • It stops you relying on your notes and helps you to speak from the heart
  • It ensures people can see you and your entire body, therefore you have more of your communication tools available to reinforce your message with your gestures and movement – behind a lectern you only have your voice and face (if you’re tall enough for people to see you!)
  • It gives you the opportunity to anchor different parts of your speech to different parts of the stage or presenting area e.g. walk to a position and stop to deliver your next point before walking to another part of the stage

I don’t know about you but as an audience member I always find that talks and presentations delivered without the lectern are far more engaging; the speakers may make themselves more vulnerable but there is power in that. As a speaker I like to move about the audience where possible and when I do so I find I get a much better connection with people. There are of course challenges with that, such as moving out of the light, away from the microphone or out of camera shot if it is being filmed. However, if the organisers know in advance that you want to step out from behind the lectern they will usually be keen to make sure you have this option; just make sure you give them plenty of notice of your requirements and always ask for a lavelier microphone where possible to give you the most flexibility.

As a presenter it can sometimes be scary stepping out from behind a lectern, but the benefits to the way your audience relate to you and receive your message are so great that I encourage you to give it a try (even if you’re usually a lectern gripper like the woman in the cartoon below!)

LecternGripper_Final_2 sm

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_




How to Take Your Presentations From Good to Great


When was the last time you attended a conference and came out absolutely buzzing with ideas and inspiration? That’s what happened to me following the Professional Speaking Association 3 Day Mega Conference at the Cumberland Hotel in London this month.

There were so many highlights and just over a week later and I’m still buzzing so I wanted to share some of the nuggets I learned. I had the privilege of hearing and speaking with dozens of speakers but one in particular spoke on both Friday and Saturday and provided loads of helpful tips for presenting. Patricia Fripp is an award-winning keynote speaker, business presentation expert, sales presentation skills trainer and in-demand speech coach. She has been named by Meetings & Conventions magazine as “One of the 10 most electrifying speakers in North America.” During the event Fripp (as she likes to be called) put presentations under the microscope and offered advice for how to make a good presentation great.

So here is an overview of Fripp’s top tips:

  • You get paid for what you know; you get paid well for what you know if you speak about it. Speaking is the number one skill that is guaranteed to position you ahead of the competition. It’s in your interest to get good at it!
  • Record every speech you do then have it transcribed so that you can hear exactly what is coming out of your mouth and refine it each time.
  • Putting together a good presentation is not magic; it’s technique. You have to master technique before you can abandon it. Don’t rely on inspiration; learn how and practice to get good at it so that you are great every time you speak.
  • The creative process is messy (PowerPoint is too tidy!); it is difficult to be creative in isolation so get input from others as to how you can make your presentation great.
  • The first 30 seconds and the last 30 seconds have the most impact; work on these and learn them so that you have a powerful start and finish.
  • If you want to own the room, don’t talk to the room, talk to one person one hundred times.
  • Be aware of self-deprecating humour – don’t knock yourself too much!
  • Instead of opening with ‘Did you know…?’ try something like ‘Would it surprise/shock/horrify/amaze you to know…?’ This brings more emotion into the question.
  • Instead of opening with ‘Have you ever…?’ try ‘How often have you…?’ The first question indicates the past; the second question indicates that it is an ongoing problem.
  • Instead of saying ‘I’m going to talk about…’ try ‘You are about to learn…’ This will make it audience focused.
  • Speak in short phrases; when drafting your speech write them down the page rather than across.
  • How you stand represents the stability of your ideas and the stability of what you represent; therefore, stand solid in your centre rather than moving about. Standing still is verbally underlining what you’ve said.
  • When you pause; freeze your gesture as well for more impact. If you drop your gesture you lose the power out of the words you just said.
  • Be specific with your word choice; non-specific words dilute the impact of your credibility.
  • Orchestrate the presentation; don’t wear your audience out by starting at 100% energy; try starting at 80% and add variety as you go.
  • When telling a story rather than report on it, tell it in dialogue as the character; it will make it more real and add interest.
  • Make friends with the stage; get to know the space you’ll be presenting in before the event.
  • Be your own warm up act; meet people beforehand so you can get to know them and build rapport before your presentation as well as glean information to help make your presentation more relevant to your audience.

The tips above are just some of the many I noted during Fripp’s sessions, and there were loads more that I didn’t manage to write down. Many of them won’t be new to you but I found that Fripp has an incredible way of explaining and illustrating her points that helped me see things in a new light. I witnessed her transform the opening lines of people’s presentations with a simple tweak of the words or phrasing. I also admired her delivery style; her powerful use of pause has the audience hanging on her every word!

One of the events during the annual PSA Mega Conference is the Speaker Factor contest where speakers from around UK and Ireland compete. This year Patricia Fripp was a judge and I was delighted to be selected as a finalist to speak on a stage in front of 200 of my fellow professional speakers (a scary audience if ever there was one!)

Given the great advice Fripp had provided during her sessions, following the contest I asked her for some feedback and guidance as to what I could do to improve my speech. Her answer was ‘Don’t change a thing. You were fabulous!’ So out of all the highlights of the conference that one comment has to be mine!

I hope these tips get you thinking about how you can take your presentations from good to great. What do you think? Do you agree with Fripp’s suggestions? If you’ve got some tips that have taken your presentation from good to great I’d love to hear them – just add them in the comments section.

Mel Sherwood is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, a company passionate about providing the seeds to speaking success. Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer.

Specialising in helping others transform their life and their business through clear, confident and credible communication, Mel empowers business people to clarify their message, engage their audience and use their body, voice, mind and heart to enthusiastically and authentically express their ‘inner oomph’. To find out more go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

How to really connect with your audience (hint: it’s not about you!)

It's not about you

When I run any presenting skills workshop I ask participants to discuss and decide which is more important – audience, content or presenter. The question often leads to some interesting debate.

“Well it has to be the content, doesn’t it?” says one participant. “Without the content the presenter can’t present anything.”

“No, it’s the presenter,” argues another, “because if the presenter isn’t engaging no one will care about the content anyway.”

The chat continues and sometimes, but not always, they come to the conclusion that in any speech, pitch or presentation, the audience is the most important factor – more important than the content and certainly more important than the speaker. The reason? If you don’t know who your audience is you won’t be able to craft content that will meet their needs, or effectively deliver it to them.

For many people when they’re asked to do a presentation, they will open up PowerPoint or Keynote and start to create a presentation that focuses on what they want to tell people. But a presentation is never about the presenter, it should always be about the audience.

To know what they want to hear, what will connect with them and what will ensure they get the best take away from your talk, you need to know a bit about them.

So before you even start to think about what you will put into your presentation, it is important to find out as much as possible about who will be listening. Take some time to think about it, ask the event organisers and even survey the audience if you have the opportunity. You could also consider polling people similar to those who will be attending as well reviewing the event materials and information about a previous similar event.

The types of information that will help you to craft a presentation that really connects with your audience are:

  • age, gender, occupation, level of education, beliefs
  • the theme and purpose of the event
  • their level of knowledge about the topic
  • their familiarity with jargon or technical terms you may use
  • what they are expecting to hear
  • whether they know who you are and why you are speaking
  • how they are likely to feel about your presentation
  • whether their attendance is voluntary or mandatory
  • what time of day they will be listening
  • what they will be wearing

Once you have a good understanding of your audience, you can start to think about how to enhance your content so that it aligns with them and you can create a stronger connection with them.

The amount of time you spend analysing your audience will vary depending on the length and importance of the speech. But it is a crucial step to enable you to develop your material around what the audience needs to hear, rather than what you want to tell them. You can then use appropriate vocabulary and incorporate stories and other information they can relate to. This shows that you are interested in the audience enough to create content that is relevant and interesting to them; therefore, setting yourself up for success in the delivery.

If you would like a questionnaire template to help you analyse your audience, click here to download a free Know Your Audience Guide.

And for further hints and tips about confidence and public speaking, go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow me on Twitter @Grow_Potential


9 Attention Grabbing Ways to Open a Presentation


In a previous post I wrote about 7 worst ways to open a presentation, so this post will give you some ideas about some of the best ways to capture your audience’s attention from the beginning of your talk. During the first 30-60 seconds of your presentation, your audience will decide whether they like you and are interested in listening to what you have to say. It’s a very short time to draw people in and it’s important to ensure that you don’t waste those first few precious moments to effectively engage them. Here are 9 attention grabbing ways to open your presentation:


A good story has the power to take your audience on a journey. They connect emotionally with people and are very memorable. As I wrote about here, they help your presentations to sizzle. Opening your speech with an interesting, well told and relevant story is a great way to engage your audience from the beginning, ensuring they identify with you on a personal level.


Asking a question, whether rhetorical or not, immediately involves people as they have to take a moment to think. Questions can encourage your audience to participate and make them more receptive to your message. Just remember to ensure that your question or questions are relevant to your topic.


Quotes are another good option for getting people thinking. Referencing the thoughts of an expert in the topic you are about to speak about allows you to impart wisdom on your audience and create a transition to your own thoughts on the subject. Once again, ensure that it is relevant. Explain how it connects with your talk and why it is significant.


Depending how you use them, statistics can be either incredibly boring or a fantastic way to engage your audience, particularly if they are shocking or interesting. They can give people a frame of reference and lend credibility to what you are saying. Often they can be emotional which ensures they are more memorable. Be careful to help the audience understand them by putting them into context and in a way that makes sense and explain why they are important.


Humour can loosen up the audience and make them receptive to you and your message. However, a word of warning: a bad joke can be worse than no joke at all. Make sure you have thoroughly researched your audience and that any jokes you use are appropriate; what one person might find funny, someone else may not. If, like me, you are not naturally funny, it is probably best to avoid joking in your opening remarks!


Starting with the word ‘imagine’ and then describing a scenario in vivid detail is like telling a story except that you are asking the audience to create the scene in their own mind. This can be an excellent way to engage them from the beginning of the speech and can be particularly effective if you suddenly change course with the scenario. For example, your audience might be imagining swimming in a beautiful blue ocean filled with colourful coral and exotic fish and then you ask them to imagine the impact of 3 million barrels of oil pumping into that environment…


Incorporating the element of surprise is a fantastic way to start a speech and capture your audience’s attention right from the start.

In a recent speech competition (which I won!), I started my speech by not saying anything at all. I just stood centre stage, focused on the audience and counted off 7 seconds on my fingers before explaining the significance of 7 seconds. Doing something completely unexpected piqued their curiosity and by being almost completely still the audience’s attention was entirely focused on me as they watched my fingers counting the seconds and waited to hear what I had to say.

In another speech I started by singing a line from an award winning musical which also worked because my audience wasn’t expecting it and they were intrigued to find out more.

Years ago I watched a winning speech in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest where the speaker J. A. Gamache blew a whistle and shouted ‘All aboard!’ before launching into his speech. It was a great way to begin his story and immediately transport the minds of his audience to a train journey (he used the same technique at the end of his speech which signalled that the speech was complete and that he had returned to where he started). You can view the speech and an excellent critique of it here.


Regardless of what technique you use to open your presentation, the key is to ensure that you build rapport with your audience and make them interested to hear more from you. And whatever method you choose, it must be appropriate and relevant to the topic and your talk or you’re in danger of losing the audience you worked so hard to connect with as you move into the body of your speech.

What do you think? Have you tried these techniques or has something else worked for you? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

If you enjoyed this article, please leave your feedback by clicking on the Leave A Reply link and don’t forget to share it with your friends and colleagues.

And if you’d like some further hints and tips on communication skills, follow me on Twitter @Grow_Potential or go to http://www.grow-your-potential.com

7 Worst Ways to Open a Presentation


When giving a presentation it is crucial to fully engage your audience and build rapport from the beginning of your presentation; however, many speakers get their talk off to a bad start by not effectively using those first few moments. There are many ways to start a presentation that captures your audience’s attention and I’ll be writing about them in a future blog post. In the meantime, here are some of the phrases that you should absolutely avoid:

“Can you hear me?”

In most large venues, you will be offered either a lapel or hand held microphone and the event organisers will ensure that it has been tested. They will adjust the sound as you speak to ensure that you are heard. If using your own sound equipment, it is your responsibility to check it and, if you’re not using sound amplification, to project your voice accordingly. Asking ‘Can you hear me?’ is unprofessional and a wasted opportunity to engage your audience effectively.

“Sorry I’m not sure how to use this equipment; bear with me”

Once again, this statement shows a lack of professionalism and a lack of preparation. Always check that you know how to use the equipment and practice with it to get familiar with it so that your presentation runs smoothly; the last thing you want at the beginning of your presentation is for your audience to be distracted from your message by you fumbling about trying to work the equipment.

“I’m tired / nervous / hungover…”

Your audience have given up their time; in fact, they may have also parted with their money to hear you speak and they don’t care if your plane was delayed and you haven’t slept for 48 hours or whether you’re petrified of public speaking. If you want your audience to respect you and what you have to say, avoid sharing anything negative in your opening remarks.

“I’ll try not to bore you too much”

If you think you’re going to bore your audience then you haven’t done your homework. The first step to preparing a presentation is to research your audience so you can craft a presentation that is interesting and relevant to them. By saying up front that you’ll try not to bore them, you are setting up an expectation that they will be bored and they most likely will be!

“I’ll try to keep it short”

Why would you want to keep it short? You will likely have been allocated a certain amount of time and presumably you have an important message to share. The audience will feel ripped off if they are expecting your presentation to be a certain length and you tell them you are going to keep it short. Don’t undermine your presentation before you even get started by setting up an expectation that the audience won’t want to listen to you.

“I have a lot of slides to get through so I’ll go through this as quickly as I can”

People will generally be interested in what you have to say if you prepare well, grab their attention, build rapport from the start and help them know what to expect. If you mention you have a lot of slides to get through they’ll be expecting death by PowerPoint and will probably switch off before you even begin!

“I’ll start by telling you a bit about me”

Ideally you will have been introduced before you begin speaking (make sure you give the host/MC/event organiser your bio and introduction); if not, you may need to include a bit about yourself in your talk to establish your credibility. However, it is never wise to start your presentation speaking about yourself. Your audience want to know what’s in it for them so ensure that you gain their attention and interest before mentioning anything about yourself.

As speakers, presenters or trainers, we are in a privileged position of being able to inform, persuade, entertain and inspire large groups of people. Therefore, it is essential to show your audience that you respect them by prepared. You can do this by:

  • knowing your audience
  • crafting a presentation that is interesting and relevant
  • practicing
  • arriving on time
  • checking your equipment
  • preparing your mind, body and voice to give your best

The beginning of your presentation is the most crucial part and you have approximately 10 seconds for your audience to decide whether you are worth listening to. Avoid the statements above and avoid losing your audience before you begin!

If you enjoyed this article, please leave your feedback by clicking on the Leave A Reply link and don’t forget to share it with your friends and colleagues.

And if you’d like some further hints and tips on communication skills, follow me on Twitter @Grow_Potential or go to http://www.grow-your-potential.com