Updated: Jan 17, 2021
At the end of 2018, we were contacted by Chester Brock, a finance expert working for a global cocoa bean company, Barry Callebaut (annual turnover $5bn+). He was planning to give a speech to the organization in two months’ time and wanted to make sure he was on top of his game. He would be presenting his flagship project, an online finance academy, to approximately 120 people from the organization, including members of the board.
We met at his office in Zurich, found a small empty conference room (which was packed with furniture), and got to work.
At the beginning of every coaching session, I want to see how people are already presenting, so I ask them to just jump up there and begin their presentation the same as they would in front of a live audience. This is so I can identify their strengths, the parts of the talk going well, the parts they should focus on, and then any areas for possible improvement. Here is the first draft of his opening.
As you can see, like a lot of business presenters, he jumps right into the subject. This is normal, a lot of people do it, but the problem with this approach is that when speaking, we’re excited, we’re nervous – we’re a mix of emotions. When we get on stage, the adrenaline rush takes over and we try and get everything out as quickly as we can. But just because you are rushing to get it all out, it doesn't mean that your nervousness will subside. If anything, you'll make it worse.
And our audience? To them, a rushed opening seems like you want to get it over with or that you have somewhere better to be. Additionally, at the beginning of most talks, people are not fully mentally present (i.e. finishing small talk or other chats with fellow audience members or emails on their phones). So after you have rushed through your opening, anyone who might have been finishing an email or otherwise not fully tuned in will have missed out on much of the key information.
The trick is to space out the opening and not try to rush through it. As you go through what you practiced, you will feel your adrenaline and any anxiety fade be replaced by enthusiasm.
He and I decided to focus on a 3-stage opening. First off, he would carry out an audience poll to get his audience involved, then once he had their attention, he would share a relevant quote which connected to his subject and his enthusiasm for his subject, and finally, after grabbing his audience's attention, he would show them a demonstration video of his online learning platform.
Chester chose a relevant quote from Benjamin Franklin,
“An investment in education pays the best interest”
which covered both investment as well as education and connected him to his passion for achieving a return on investment through encouraging learning. After a few hours, here was his new and improved opening.
Regarding his body language during delivery I have been asked "is it OK to move back and forth like that?" to which the answer is (usually) "No" but this is a good example of what happens when we have to present with space restrictions.
People move when speaking passionately about something they have created, or something which is important to them and if you don't have space to move, it will end up as pacing back and forth within the limited space you have. Later, when he gave his final presentation to the full audience, he had the whole stage to use (and he did).
Whether on stage in front of hundreds or at home on your webcam, always give yourself space to move around.
His presentation was well-received and a success. Afterwards, the CFO shook his hand in front of everyone and told him he really liked it (earning him social currency) and his initiative was off to a roaring start.
Chester shares his experience below - thank you Chester for recording this for us!
How can we help you with your public speaking and presentation skills? If you want to further your own professional development, get in touch for an initial consultation at no charge.