Category Archives: public speaking

How good are the pictures you create when you speak?

Watching the Canadian Grand Prix I found myself getting confused from time to time because of the way the commentator was describing the action. Here’s an example of the kind of thing he was saying (not an actual quote).

Imagine you are actually watching the race, and get someone to read this aloud to you:

“Leading the race is Nico Rosberg. In second place is Lewis Hamilton, third is Hulkenberg, still on a one-stop strategy, using the super soft tyres, and the gap has widened to over 11 seconds, to the battle between Perez of Force India and Vettel. Button is cruising along in sixth place, with Felipe Massa in seventh. He’s catching up fast because his tyres are younger than Vettel’s.”

How easy was that to take in?

It’s easy enough to take in the 1-2-3, because they are described as a list. But the next bit creates a totally different picture because it is described in a different way and actually interrupts your understanding of what is going on. It creates a succession of disconnected images

When making a speech or presentation, it is always worth considering the pictures we make with our words, and check that consecutive images are consistent with one another.

Effective communication depends on connecting with the way our listeners receive and understand what we are saying. That’s why triads and repetition work. Repetition reinforces the message.

In a written text it is quite attractive to change the way in which a list is described. Not so in a spoken text. If, in the example above, the commentator wanted to make a point about the gap between drivers, he could have said:

“Leading the race is Nico Rosberg. In second place, just one second back, is Lewis Hamilton, with Hulkenberg third and only a couple of seconds behind him. Those are the three podium positions. Behind them the gap has widened to 11 seconds, to the battle for fourth place between Perez and Vettel. Down in sixth place we have Button, with Felipe Massa seventh.”

Read both version aloud and see which feels easier to understand.


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10 Tips for doing business in India

At Party - Copy   I am about to travel to India later this month, and it occurred to me to share some tips on doing business in and with that country.

1. Business is conducted at a slow pace. Be prepared for a good deal of discussion, followed by a long wait for final decision
2. A handshake signals an agreement; but business contracts will be scrutinized and this can take weeks or months.
3. A direct ‘No’ is never possible; Indians will say many things that sound like ‘Yes’ but aren’t!
4. Phrase questions carefully, i.e. “Where does this road lead?” not “Does this road go to Mombai?” Indian responses can be ambiguous or they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear so as not to upset you.
5. Always budget for “commissions”; you will be expected to pay for any introductions or favours. These payments are the oil that greases the wheel.
6. Indians are often seen as the best negotiators; they’ll drive a hard bargain, and then drive it some more! Negotiating teams are led by management and supported by technical experts. High-level management make the decisions but they may not be represented on the team. Try to make contacts at the highest levels and provide incentives for middle managers and assistants to help make your case.
7. Relationships are important, along with good contacts for business. Building trust is vital.
8. A win/win approach is aimed at, though compromise is acceptable, but trust makes everyone flexible.
9. Don’t expect people to use their initiative and make things happen; strong fatalism and predestiny play a large part in people’s thinking
10. Don’t give criticism as Indians easily take offence; be sensitive to, and respectful of, the concept of Face. Harmony is extremely important.

Above all, remember that Indians are proud. They have their own way of doing things, and that may not be the same as yours. Stand alongside them rather than head to head and you’ll go much further.

I shall be posting more tips of this ind on

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And what do you do?

handshake4  In this age of Networking, there are many versions of how a person should introduce themselves.

Some Networking groups (Breakfast meetings, typically) start with a round robin, with everyone given between 60 and 120 seconds to make what they call their “Elevator Pitch.”

This is fundamentally flawed thinking for two reasons. First, when someone asks the standard question, “What do you do?” they are unlikely to be prepared to listen to such a long answer.

Secondly, the word “pitch” implies asking for business – even before getting to know the other person. And that is unpopular anywhere east of the Atlantic ocean.

The correct term is “Elevator Speech”.  It’s a mini (persuasive) speech.

The name derives from the hypothetical situation in which you meet a potential business contact in a lift, and s/he asks you, “What do you do?”

You have as long as it takes for the lift to go from the ground floor to the first floor (15-20 seconds) to say something that prompts the other person to say, “Tell me more.”

Most people reply with a label: I’m a Surveyor / Marketing Manager / Shipping Clerk / Sales Consultant / whatever.

Wrong! And a wasted opportunity. Your job title is unlikely to encourage anyone to say, “Tell me more.”

The other day I went on a discussion forum where an American was guiding his readers in how to construct and deliver an Elevator Speech. He got it badly wrong.

He recommended saying, “People hire me to …” in order to communicate that you are only interested in those who would pay you.

He advised against saying, “I help people to …” because that does not signal the need to pay for your expertise. In his opinion.

My response was to say, “The Elevator Speech needs to follow the rules of selling”, so the model I follow is:

  1. Establish a need
  2. Explain the consequence
  3. Offer a solution

Here’s one of my Elevator Speeches:

  • You know how some people are scared stiff of public speaking? (Did you nod?)
  • And others make presentations that are really boring? (Did you nod?)
  • Which means that they don’t make the impact they would like to make. (Consequence)
  • Well, what I do is to help them speak in public without fear, and in a way that makes others want to listen. (Solution)

Try constructing your own Elevator Speech, along those lines. It will help you to focus on your own added value, and what you bring to the table.

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Pietersen Personality


Kevin Pietersen’s career as an England batsman is over.

It’s an announcement that resonates well beyond the Cricketing constituency, possibly even within business. Certainly, there will be quite a few people thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

In simple terms, the Pietersen saga seems to be this: he is a huge talent in his chosen sport. World class, even. But he cannot get on with those around him.

The history of sport is littered with similar cases of exceptionally talented performers who rubbed teammates (and their public) up the wrong way. And not just in sport. That is almost to be expected. Brilliance, by definition, sets an individual apart from the rest.

Remember Cassius Clay? He was vilified at first. Mother Teresa wasn’t easy to get on with. Willy Birmingham worked wonders on behalf of the Dublin homeless, yet he was always at odds with the regular world.

Star players do things differently, as well as better than the others. Often they have a different mindset, contemptuous of ‘average’ performance, obsessed with improvement, driven to win.  Such people are mavericks — resisting the dictates of the group, unwilling even to fit in.

Today, as they read about Pietersen, they must be drawing a parallel with themselves, examining why they do not fit in, wondering (yet again) why their own brilliance has not made them popular or sought after by their teammates or colleagues.

I wonder if there is a current culture of intolerance towards mavericks. If so, that would be a pity, because mavericks push the boundaries back, set new standards, break the old mould. They challenge conventional thinking and demonstrate what higher achievements are possible.

In business, mavericks are essential.  But so too are team players. The challenge facing business leaders is how to give mavericks their heads without disrupting the group ethic. In the present economic climate, many a maverick will choose to go it alone, free to set their own agenda but missing out on what could be achieved with the resources of an organisation.

Interestingly, some of them join social media groups, where once again they go through the whole process of not fitting in, choosing to dip in and out, quarrelling with the cliques, perhaps questioning their own social skills.

The Pietersen personality is more widespread than you might suspect. And while I hold no brief for that cricketer, I would urge managers in business and in sport to develop an understanding of the maverick mentality, and learn how to incorporate brilliance into the team.

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How to speak so others want to listen

Blue hills

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice, it smells a funny colour.

It’s a popular saying from way back, and it carries a lot more meaning than at first appears.  “That tone of voice” implies a critical note, and one that causes offence.  Equally, you can convey much more than the words you use, through the way you speak.  In the words of the song, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.”

The way you use your voice can make you persuasive and plausible, or it can lose you business.  It can inspire people to follow you or it can distance them from you.  Unfortunately, too many people cause upsets without realising it, just through their tone of voice.

Does it matter?  Only if you want people to like you.

Can you do anything about your voice?  Almost certainly.  It depends on two things: your mental attitude and certain physical changes.  I’ll come to those in a moment, but first let’s consider some typical situations in which the tone of voice has played a major role.

I was running a training session in which I introduced the idea of the Elevator Speech.  It’s something I do very frequently, and I usually do it the same way.  I start by asking all the delegates present “What do you do?” and inevitably they give me their job titles.  I then jokingly say, “That’s so BORING!” and they all laugh.  Not this last time, though.

There must have been something on my mind as I said it, and it upset the people there.  Later they said I had been rude.  Whatever had been on my mind, it changed my tone of voice.  Everything else was exactly as it has always been – or so I thought.  But that slight, almost imperceptible change in my tone, made it sound as though I was being rude instead of funny.

Now consider the way you sound on the phone.

A customer calls and asks a question.  You are a bit busy, but you want to be helpful, so you give what you consider to be an efficient answer, to the point and without wasting the caller’s time.  You think you’ve done a good job.  The caller, on the other hand, may go away thinking you have been rather offhand, possibly even rude.

If you have a tape recorder, use it to understand the effect of your tone of voice.  Record yourself speaking on the phone to different people – a supplier, a customer, a friend, a family member.  Record yourself asking for help, and record yourself giving information.  Is there a difference?

The principal difference in attitude is this: when you are asking for help, you are the supplicant, the other person is the dominant.  When you are giving information, the roles are reversed.  The sales person is the supplicant, the client is the dominant.  As supplicant we use a more appealing tone of voice.

Not everyone in a dominant role will use a less attractive voice, but the temptation is there.  Check out your own voice and see if you detect a difference.

So what can you do to make your own voice sound more attractive? Here are a few simple techniques:

  1. Keep a mirror on your desk to check if you are smiling when speaking – until it becomes a natural thing to do.
  2. Practise speaking lower than usual, especially if your voice is high pitched.
  3. Get feedback from trusted friends on the sound of your voice.  Change what they don’t like.
  4. Sit up straight. Posture affects the voice.
  5. Drink lots of water, especially if you do a lot of talking on the phone.
  6. Practise proper breathing from the diaphragm.
  7. Put a note on your desk that reads: “Hello old friend!” to remind you to speak to everyone as you would to an old friend you haven’t seen for ages.

Be friendly, show everyone respect and develop a mellifluous sounding voice.  It’s an unbeatable combination.

For help with your own voice, go to

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Brown envelopes get opened!

Brown envelope

Brown envelopes.

They have long been associated with ‘bungs’ and payoffs, referred to with a smirk.  Filled with cash to avoid a paper trail.

But brown envelopes were also used frequently for official mail – stern warnings and timely reminders from the Inland Revenue, utility bills, circulars, and the original junk mail.

When I worked at Reader’s Digest, we devoted much time and creativity to making our outer envelopes look enticing. We mentioned the £250,000 Prize Draw, we suggested that a prize may already have won, we encouraged an immediate response to avoid missing out. We even designed envelopes that had to be destroyed to get at the contents.

Anything but a brown envelope.

The market followed our lead, and it became the norm for direct mail to come in message-laden envelopes that were white or even coloured. But not brown.

Brown envelopes are back. Because ‘official’ correspondence from HMRC has continued to arrive in brown envelopes, we have been pre-conditioned to open them at once, often in trepidation.

Two brown envelopes landed on my mat this week. One was from HMRC, demanding money which I had already paid. The other was an almost identical cover carrying a pitch for an equity release scheme.

It was clever. Whoever created the latter mailing has a good understanding of the effect of conditioning.  We are conditioned to respond in a number of ways, and it is sound marketing to make use of that conditioned response.

You should do the same.

For example, in Direct Marketing is makes better sense to aim at existing users of someone else’s brand and try to win them over to yours, than to try and convert non-users.

Existing users are already sold on the benefits of your (kind of) product, and are accustomed to buying it. Your task is simply to place your brand between them and their usual choice.

It works in B2B as well. I was advising a large financial organization recently, in their pitch for a prestigious account. Initially they wanted to put the entire story into their presentation. I advised them to cut down the content drastically.

I pointed out that the target company was already buying the kind of services they were offering. That’s a given, I said. Just focus on how you do it differently, but package that with a reminder of how your service meets ‘official’ requirements and keeps them on the right side of the law.

Their conditioned response goes like this: “Oh, we have got to have this in place, and you can make sure it is.  That keeps us safe and out of trouble.”

That’s the brown envelope argument.


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Who writes those dreadful cold calling scripts?

Male with steam

“Could I speak to the person who deals with elfin safety, please?” asked the caller. I replied that there was no such person here, so the conversation ground to a halt and she hung up.

What could she have said differently about Health and Safety that would have engaged my attention? What could she have said about the danger of not addressing H & S?

Could she have said something like this: “Who would be the person responsible for dealing with a complaint from a former employee about an unsafe computer?”

Or what about, “I’m calling from XYZ to ensure that companies like yours are not at risk from problems arising out of faulty office equipment. Who is the person I should speak to?”

The caller who rang had no chance at all with the approach she used. But is there a different approach that would get your attention and keep you talking?

I’ve no idea who writes the scripts for call centres, but most of them are so bad that they couldn’t possibly have been written by a professional copywriter. Cold calling scripts are specialist skills and can only be written by someone with first hand experience of selling.

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10 ways to transform your sales letters

Big Tick

Do you write letters for business? What happens to them?

We all write letters. Some of them are emails, some of them are to sell our products or services. Most of it is junk mail, and therefore a waste of time and money.

Consider the junk mail you receive. What makes it junk? Is it because the product or service being offered is of no value to you, or some other reason? Do you reject it out of hand within, say, 3 or 4 seconds? Well, perhaps that’s exactly what happens to the letters you send out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If your letter is dumped immediately, you have wasted your time and money.

If your letter gets read and then dumped, you have not only wasted your time and money, you have also begun the process of training others to ignore you.

What’s worse is the low level of expectations. I once saw a testimonial from an SME thanking a copywriter for increasing their conversions from 0.58% to 0.7%. Although that was a 21% improvement, it was still a 99.3% failure rate!

There will almost always be a high rate of wastage, but you can improve your results quite easily, and at no extra cost.

Here are 10 elements to include in sales letters to transform results:

  1. Strapline: at the top of the page, it sets the scene for the Headline’s ‘come on’.
  2. Headline: absolutely essential, it must contain your strongest ‘come on’ and is worth 90% of your budget. (What – you don’t have a headline?!).
  3. Sub-heads: these are short headlines in bold type that break up the text and project a series of benefits, while making it easy for readers to skim read.
  4. Problem/solution: the best structure.
  5. Stories: they illustrate your message in memorable ways and allow you to make your points indirectly.
  6. Bullet points: use these to make your letter more visually interesting.
  7. Testimonials: third party endorsements are powerful.
  8. Transitions: these bridge the gaps between different ideas and maintain the flow.
  9. Call to action: Always tell people what to do next, but first make sure you have given them enough reasons to accept your offer.
  10. PS: this is the third most read part of a sales letter (after the Headline and salutation) and should never be omitted.

In addition, elegant language and good grammar play important parts, but I assume these are ‘given’. The 10 points listed above are all in the armoury of good copywriters.

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Even Brian Tracy can get it wrong!

Shooting foot small

Brian Tracy is a highly regarded ‘guru’ in the field of self development – a self-styled Best-Selling Author and Success Expert. He’s someone I have long respected for the wisdom he writes and says. But today I received a promotional email from him that put a severe dent in that esteem. This is what he wrote:

“According to Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, there are 3 elements in any direct, face-to-face communication. They are the elements of words, tone of voice, and body language.

The Elements of Words

 Words only account for 7 % of any message.”

When I first heard that claim, I thought, “What rubbish!” Then a friend of mine, the late Philip Smee, delivered a speech on the subject, in which he revealed that even Albert Mehrabian would have said the same.

It is now well established that Dr Mehrabian never made such a claim, and spends his time denying it. His test results have been repeatedly quoted out of context. So when Brian Tracy repeats the error, I am concerned about the quality of his research and of his understanding of the communication process.

Earlier in the same email, Mr Tracy wrote, “Nearly 85% of what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be determined by how well you can get your message across …”

And also, “Nearly 99% of all of the difficulties between human beings, and within organizations are caused by breakdowns in the communication process.”

As I am in the business of improving the communication skills of my clients, I want to use those stats. I want to quote Brian Tracy as the authority for them and for the notion that effective communication skills are vital for business leaders.

Like him, I believe that good communication skills will help you achieve clarity in what you think, say and do, and help you become known as a respected communicator wherever you go.

I want to quote him. But, as he has joined the legions who mis-quote Albert Mehrabian, should I do that?

I once walked out of a seminar in which that same Mehrabian mis-quote was made, on the grounds that the speaker couldn’t teach me anything if he was prepared to trot out that old chestnut. Because I have held Brian Tracy in such high esteem for so many years, I hesitate to dismiss him out of hand.

But I think he’s shot himself in the foot.


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Who wrote that letter for you, then?

Standard letters. They undermine customer relationships, undo the best PR, lose customers, conflict with a company’s marketing efforts.

I have no objection to the use of standard letters, only to the letters themselves. Because they are seldom written by copywriters. In fact, they frequently read like the scribblings of backroom workers with no interpersonal skills.

Years ago I accepted a brief from Citicorp British National (now renamed) to re-write all their standard Prospecting Letters. It may have arisen because I criticised one or two of the letters I had received from them.

Subsequently, at Reader’s Digest, I was equally scathing about their credit control letters, pointing out the gulf between the tone used in recruiting new customers and that employed when addressing those same customers about their accounts.

I was told that no copywriter would accept the brief to write those letters, so I offered to do the job, and re-wrote the entire portfolio of credit control letters, filtering their messages through the respect we offered new customers.

The company was surprised that I would take on a brief that other copywriters considered deadly boring, but I put it to them that ALL our correspondence with customers formed part of our business relationship with them. It’s a connection we should view in the long term, I said, and always remember that customers will speak well or ill of you, according to the way you treat them.

Which brings me to my own recent experience. I ordered a pair of boots online. They sent the wrong size, because they incorrectly converted the EU size to the UK size. I sent them back, asking again for the correct EU size. They got it wrong again, for the same reason, and it dragged on for more than two weeks – not really good enough, for an online ordering service.

Then the company sent me a standard follow-up mailing inviting me to write a review. In my reply I detailed the unsatisfactory experience I had received, asking, “Do you really want me to write a review?”

I got a standard email in reply. It said, “I am sorry to hear you have not received our usual high standard of customer service.” There it is – “our usual high standard”. In an apology to me they have chosen to praise themselves. It’s wrong thinking.

Standard letters should be written by folks who know what they are doing. People who understand how to address customers. Relationship builders. In a word, Copywriters.

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