Mirror Mirror on the Wall

January 23rd, 2013

Who is the greatest presenter of all?

This is a bit of an ambiguous question I know but just have a think about who YOU think is a really good presenter – on TV; at work, a public speaker, a politician, sitting in a conference; a meeting. Now ask yourself why they stand out, what was it about them that made it so memorable.

Now have a think about the rather larger percentage of really bad presenters that you have seen – what do you remember about those? I can guarantee the answer will probably be ‘nothing’ or ‘how boring it was.’

OK last one – now have a think about how you present yourself (not just necessarily standing up to speak in front of a big audience) but how you communicate with people – your colleagues, clients in meetings etc. Does your communication style differ from personal to business – a tenner says it does.

We hear time and time again about long, boring, unimaginative presentations/speeches and unsuccessful business pitches that have to be endured because nobody really remembers what was said.

Business people are constantly looking for ways to improve business: the sales, the profits, the size of their business, their employees but really what it all boils down to is, they underestimate the fact that improvements often start with themselves.

We get asked to work with a variety of people from wide spanning backgrounds and business sectors to improve their communication presentation/speaking skills. In some cases, we are asked to mask the name of the training (Confident Communication & Presentation Skills) to make it look like something else!! WHY? Because some think that it is an easy thing to do to stand up and present EFFECTIVELY and don’t realise how shockingly bad they really are. Just because they have worked hard on their career and are incredibly knowledgeable about their chosen field, that does not automatically mean they are good at presenting. The trouble is, nobody likes to tell them so.

Just think about top sports people and athletes – they have risen to the top of their game but they still have on going coaching and training – Roger Federer still works with his tennis coach every day even though he is the world No 1. There are always improvements to be made.

The thing about making the changes to how you present is that we are not reinventing the wheel and we are not teaching you anything new – all we are doing is guiding you to stop interfering with how you communicate naturally as a human being! You have to stop for a minute and have a good look at yourself. Awareness is 80% of change.

Here are some Top Tips to be aware of when you present!

  • Smile!(not the big cheesy, toothy, LA smile) we’re talking about the smile in the eyes – this is where the passion you have for your job should be shining from!
  • Speak slowly– If you rattle off a presentation at the speed of an express train – be assured, your audience will have got off at the first stop.
  • Full Stops– Although you are speaking, not writing, you STILL NEED full stops. Not only does it allow your audience the chance to absorb what you have said, it also gives you chance to breathe.
  • Connect with your audience – whether it is one person or a room full – make that eye contact and really engage with them so they are hungry to hear what you have got to say.
  • Use your whole body – your voice and your body are connected. If you don’t allow your body and hands to move naturally, your voice will become boring and monotonal. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz say no more!

Most people spend 99% of their preparation time for a presentation on what is being said – the words, the content, the slides, but only 1% on how they are saying it.

Take a look in that mirror – what do you see?


Bells & Whistles and a whole lot of passion

September 19th, 2012

By Helen West

Something came to me whilst on my recent holiday which set me off thinking about how we do business. Let me tell you the story….

We have been going to a place in Gran Canaria for a number of years and during one of the first holidays there, we visited a small village, set around a port – warm weather, low rise buildings, lovely scenery, beach,restaurants – you get the picture.

Set amongst all the restaurants in the village square, in the very corner, we came across what looked like a cross between a junk shop and a slightly down at heel, partly open-air coffee shop – very small (room for only about 20 people.) Everything was very rustic – wooden tables, church pews, candlelight, old artefacts and knick-knacks adorning the walls and a ceiling made out of a patchwork quilt – hardly your Michelin star restaurant.

There didn’t seem to be a formal menu as such but the owner of the establishment was standing outside to welcome people in. A large, handlebar moustache-d man wearing chefs whites (he was Austrian but could also speak 4 other languages) He drew us towards him and started chatting to us. His manner seemed a little brusque to begin with but my goodness, he was infectious. He invited us in to his restaurant and explained that whatever food was on today’s menu was not written in stone – he could cook it anyway he wanted and that we should trust him. He had sourced he ingredients from far and wide and he explained in great detail for every course, where it came from and how it was going to be cooked. Each dish arrived on a slab, in a sizzling pan, on a board – bang smack in the middle of the table for us to help ourselves. We asked for the wine list to which he informed us that “I am the wine list”

We watched him cook our food (6 courses in all) in the back of the restaurant – the clashing of copper pans, the sizzling, the sauté-ing, the drizzling and the mixing. The smells were sublime and the subsequent tasting was out of this world. We spent a good 5 hours at this place, during which we chatted with (as we now knew, Stefan) and listened to this amazing man as he told his stories with such gusto and passion. We left that restaurant absolutely promising to return.

We did indeed return to that restaurant many times after that – although we were now having to book in advance because others too had been infected’ with the bug. The lovely thing was that everything still stayed the same – he didn’t try to extend the restaurant, make it more grand, up-grade it to something it wasn’t supposed to be and the food remained consistently, mouth-wateringly brilliant.

On about our 6th visit, we excitedly got ready for another gastronomic extravaganza and we were met my Stefan – still with the handlebar moustache, still with his chefs whites on, still Austrian and still a little brusque – the only difference was that he was in a wheelchair as a result of a nasty motorbike accident.

We still had the most amazing food – Stefan cooked the dishes with the passion and flair he had always displayed as he wheeled himself up and down and continued to provide his customers with everything they expected and more.

This year, we returned once again to find our beloved restaurant. The tables, chairs, artefacts etc were all still there, apart from the patchwork quilt or candles (perhaps Health and Safety has infiltrated Gran Canaria too.) The food was still delicious, the wine was nicely chilled but there was something not quite right about it – Stefan had gone – he had sold up and moved away. The waiters working there that day were pleasant enough, they did what most waiters do – they took the order and served the food – to the 6 people eating in the restaurant that night!

It was then that it I realised actually it wasn’t just the food and the surroundings that had made it the unique experience – it was mainly down to Stefan – his unending passion for his craft and his ultimate desire to make that experience one his customers wouldn’t forget and would come back again and again. Sadly for us, this last visit would truly be just that.

We are on a quest to inject passion into British business and one of the things that we talk about all the time in our training is ‘passion’ for what you do. You might work 15 hours a day and know your business inside out but without actually really exuding that passion, are you really getting through to as many people as you would like? and are those people coming back for more?

I spoke to someone recently who reckoned to be completely passionate about what he does – unfortunately he didn’t let his face show it and actually appeared to be quite the opposite. What he actually was, was very knowledgeable about it. Don’t confuse knowledge for passion – let it show – it’s infectious.

It’ also worth remembering that it’s not the bells and whistles that sell themselves – it’s the person who polishes them!!


Animate to Communicate

August 21st, 2012

How many times have you sat through a presentation or at a conference and felt utterly bored and totally uninspired by the speaker? How many times have you been in a meeting or at networking event and found yourself drifting off, wishing you were anywhere but listening to the monotonous drone of the person in front of you?

In the few years since we started Redvoice, my business partner Helen and I have met with countless businesses and individuals; we have networked our way around Yorkshire and have worked with many speakers to prepare them for presentations and conference speeches. Without doubt, the one thing that differentiates the “interesting” from the “boring” is how much they animate their voice when they speak – How much they vary the pitch, the pace, the tonal quality of their voice – how much they engage us with their words.

Whatever your line of work, one thing is certain – we all interact differently with people we find interesting – we listen more, we engage more and we communicate more when we feel that our interest is being held. However important your subject matter, it is physically impossible for the human ear to stay focused on a monotonal voice for any great length of time. We automatically switch off, we disconnect from the material.

In an age where communication is so often short and snappy, audiences are out of practice when it comes to focusing for long periods – they want to be hooked and they want to be inspired… from the very beginning!

When someone stands up and speaks in a voice that is animated and energised, you can literally see the “audience” switch on. Their body language changes, their listening changes and more importantly they start to really engage with the message being delivered. So why then, do so many of us fall at this hurdle?

In my experience it comes down to one simple factor… underestimation!!

People totally underestimate the level of animation needed to hold the attention of an audience. The way we hear our own voice and the way they hear us is very different. What we think sounds animated and interesting, to our audience sounds flat and monotonal. I’ll give you a good example: When you record the voicemail message for your mobile phone you feel as though you are doing it with energy and enthusiasm – then you play it back! “Oh No!!! Do I really sound like that?” is so often the response! What you hear sounds flat and uninspiring.

The reason why this happens is because we are unaware of how easily our vocal energy can drop. We spend so much of our time communicating electronically, when we do use our voice, we forget that we need to work harder to engage the listener.

It is also, I believe, very typical of a British communication style. Having worked all over the world, I think that the “British Reserve” is still very present. We constantly understate our enthusiasm for fear of being perceived as over the top or inauthentic. We feel that if we communicate in a way that is very “matter of fact” and just say what needs to be said, we are safely in a space where we won’t be judged.

But it is time for a re-think…

The truth is we are boring each other. Millions of pounds and hours of time are being spend travelling around the country (or indeed the world) to attend meetings that bore us! The planet and the economy are struggling to sustain this – so if you’re going to make the effort to travel, then make the effort to communicate well when you get there! Hold the attention of your audience, engage them and make sure that your message is delivered and your effort has been worthwhile – Animate to communicate!

It’s an “Emperors New Clothes” situation – Everyone is feeling it – inside we are all dreading that boring meeting or the presenter that drones on. Trust me, sooner or later, the “little boy” will stand up and tell you you’re “naked”… so get dressed now and save yourself the embarrassment!

Pace Yourself

July 10th, 2012

by Victoria Pritchard, Professional Actress/Presenter & Voice expert

For 15 years, I have worked with individuals and businesses helping them to improve their communication skills. I have worked with a whole range of people from those preparing for an important interview to people who are about to take to a ‘world stage’ and deliver a presentation to thousands.

Through this vast range of work, one thing has always amazed me – I have NEVER had to say to anyone “that’s too slow, you need to pick the pace up!”

A funny thing happens when we communicate under pressure – we lose our sense of time and speed. What feels to us like a normal pace, to our ‘audience’ it feels very different. It is due to a combination of factors: firstly the adrenaline we release when we are nervous or under pressure mmediately makes us sharper and more alert, our reflexes and our responses heighten and we interact with the space around us very differently. Our instinct is to ‘get on with it’ and get away from the thing we find ‘scary’ as quickly as possible. For that reason, we subconsciously pick up speed.

The second factor is that what we are talking about is something we are, no doubt, very familiar with – we are speaking about it because we have knowledge and experience of it. What we forget is that the audience are in a very different position – they are hearing this information for the first time and therefore need to be given time to absorb each point and digest the detail of what we are saying.

Time feels very different for an audience listening than it does for a speaker. This is true in all communication situations, not just presentations. Communication is a journey we are taking our audience on – we need to keep them with us at all times – if our pace is too quick, then we lose them. If an audience are unable to keep up with us they will very quickly switch off and leave us to make the journey on our own. Unfortunately when we feel this happening, our instinct is to speed up – we are losing them so get through it quicker. In truth, the opposite is needed, we should be slowing down and making every effort to keep them with us throughout the journey of information.

Speaking slowly under pressure is without doubt, one of the hardest elements of good communication to master. However it is also the one that quickly and easily differentiates professional speakers and experienced presenters from the rest of the pack. Those who ‘take the space’ and lead us slowly and clearly through their communication are the ones we enjoy listening to time and again – I’m sure you know one of these people!

So the next time you’re are looking to communication with clarity and confidence, do one simple thing … pace yourself

See more of Victoria’s Top Tips video

Take a deep breath

June 26th, 2012

by Victoria Pritchard, Professional Actress/Presenter & Voice Coach

For those of you who have read our previous blogs, you will know that the voice does not come from the throat – it comes from the diaphragm.. It is the breath that is ‘punched’ from the lungs by the diaphragm and hits the vocal chords that create sound. This ‘exciter’ as it is known is therefore crucial to good vocal technique and to clear audible communication.

There is a good reason why people walk around when they are on an important phone call or why they stand up during an argument when the
volume level goes up and the shouting starts. This is partly the non-verbal signal suggested by this action but it is also because standing up allows more breath in to the lungs – it allows the diaphragm to ‘punch’ harder thus increasing the volume and the intensity of the voice.

As I talked about before, posture is key to allowing the breath to work freely. If we interfere physically with this action, we run the risk of throat problems, of losing our voice and certainly of being too quiet. A baby can cry for hours (literally!) without straining their voice in any way. This is because they cry from their diaphragm, not from their throat – the breath flows freely and generates the sound – their voice is working the way nature intended.

When we are nervous or anxious about speaking, two things happen; firstly we collapse physically, we lock our hands, round our shoulders and sub-consciously try to inhabit a physically ‘smaller’ space. The effect of this is that our breathing becomes restricted. We can’t get enough air in and our vocal quality deteriorates.

I have worked time and again with people who say “I have no problem on a one-to-one basis but as soon as I stand up to deliver a presentation, my voice goes weak and my throat gets tight” This is nothing to do with the vocal chords – this is all about the breath – the reason this happens is because they have stopped supporting the voice.

The other thing that happens is that nerves make the voice shake. There is nothing worse than trying to appear credible and in control, opening your mouth and sounding like a nervous teenager out on their first date! When we get nervous, adrenaline is released into our body – this fight or flight hormone is very valuable if we use it well. The effect adrenaline has is to speed up our heart rate – the breathing becomes shallow and therefore the ratio of oxygen to adrenaline in the blood is out of balance. When someone is panicking or in shock, we say “take a deep breath!” – we say that for a reason. Taking in more oxygen helps to balance out the adrenaline surge and slow down the heart rate thus helping to calm the vocal tremor and physical shaking.

Unfortunately most people, when they’re nervous, forget the importance of breathing, in fact most people take fewer, much shallower breaths and therefore increase the problem.

The next time you are faced with an anxious situation when you want to appear calm and in control, the answer is simple .… stop and take a deep breath!

See Victoria Pritchard’s top tips video

See also previous blogs in this series Eyes Wide Shut and The Power of Posture

Eyes Wide Shut

June 19th, 2012

If you ask anyone to name a key component of effective non-verbal communication, the most likely answer you’ll get is “good eye contact”.

If you ask anyone to name a tell tale sign that is demonstrated when someone is lying, there is a strong chance they will say “they can’t look you in the eye”.

Without doubt, we are all aware of the importance of eye contact and how we constantly use our eyes to communicate with the world around
us (either honestly or dishonestly!) but in truth, most people don’t really understand what good eye contact actually is or how to use it to maximum effect.

The first thing to consider when we’re exploring good eye contact, is that the eyes are a target for the voice. We don’t walk up to someone, shake their hand and shout “Nice to meet you” at them!

Likewise, we don’t whisper to someone who is on the other side of a large room. The eyes inform the brain what is needed vocally – they help the brain adjust to the volume and intensity level required in the given situation.

With this in mind, it is crucial that we make eye contact with all our audience – whether it is a single person, or an auditorium of three hundred, the same rule applies.

We have all experienced the frustration of inaudibility – sitting there, unable to hear the speaker in front of us. The next time this happens, look again… the chances are the speaker has thoroughly ‘prepared’ their script and they are reading from the paper in front of them. Their eyes are telling their brain that the audience is only the size of the space between them and their notes – no wonder the volume level is too low.

Even when working with a microphone (which is nearly always the case nowadays) It is still important to make eye contact with the whole audience – this will tell the brain what intensity and level of energy is required by the voice to fill that space.

We have also all experienced the frustration of talking to an individual whose voice is so quiet we are constantly asking them to repeat themselves – there are only so many times you can ask before every bone in your body is screaming for a way out, for fear of having to say “pardon” yet again!

Very often it is lack of self-confidence that has us avoiding making eye contact with the person we are talking to. We feel self conscious and anxious and try to dilute this feeling by looking away. However, what is worth noting is the way this simple action can be perceived by the person on the receiving end. It may be seen as lack of interest, or indifference to them and what they are saying and in many cases it is seen as arrogance – ironically, the exact opposite of what it actually is!

As babies we learn to read the body-language of people through our eyes, long before we learn language. We learn to recognise a smile, a warning, an angry look and our response develops instinctively and subconsciously – we never lose this!

Our audience is constantly “reading” us, processing the information and responding accordingly. If we want to be clear about how we are communicating – and more importantly, how our communication is being received by our audience – we need to open our eyes!

And by the way, it is a myth that liars don’t “look you in the eye” – as eye contact is one of the easiest forms of body-language to control, it is the one thing they will subconsciously make sure they do. If you want to spot a liar in action… listen to the type of language they use!!

See more of Victoria Pritchard’s top tips video



The Power of Posture.

May 23rd, 2012

We all have our own specific physicality. Our own way of standing, walking, of moving – it is part of what defines us as individuals. We’ve all had the experience of seeing someone at a distance or on the other side of a room and although they may have their back to us or are too far away to see their face clearly, we know who it is purely from their physical movements. We recognise people as much from their physicality as we do from their face or their voice.

Each of us have developed our own physical style that allows us communicate in a way that works best for us. Maybe we are very tall and therefore our physical stature has become slightly “round shouldered” to accommodate the shorter people around us! I worked with a woman once who was worried that she used her hands too much when she spoke – both her parents were deaf and her second language was sign language so her hands played a crucial part in her communication style. Whatever it is that we’ve developed over the years, it works for us.

However, although it is important that we don’t sensor our natural communication style it is also really important to understand that when we are delivering a presentation or speaking in a situation where we need to be clear and audible, our physicality and posture are key.

Many people believe that we speak from the vocal chords, that the voice is located in the throat – this is not the case! The voice starts with the breath – it starts in the diaphragm and the lungs – this breath is called the “exciter”. In order to maximise our vocal function, the abdominal area needs to be working freely and effortlessly. If our posture is collapsed, if our shoulders are rounded and our diaphragm squashed, then it is much harder for the breath to travel freely from the lungs to the vocal chords.

The impact this has on our vocal quality is to reduce the power and support of the voice. It can create problems with the throat (from over using the throat and under using the diaphragm) It can leave people feeling unconfident about their ability to command a conversation as their voice is “weak”. It can also result in us running out of breath when we speak, especially if we are nervous – which is always a big giveaway!

So, consider your posture – work to correct habitual, physical mistakes. Open the shoulders, releasing them back and down and make sure that your diaphragm and abdominal area are free and open. The feet should be hip distance apart and the weight evenly down both legs. Avoid standing with one hip thrust sideways – not only does this affect the voice production, it can also look too informal for certain situations and may give an impression you don’t want to give!

Remember, we speak from our body, not from our throat!

See Victoria Pritchard’s top tips for Voice Technique

Conference Season is upon us

October 11th, 2011


We were delighted to be involved with the second Brand Yorkshire event at Elland Road Football Stadium earlier this month. Once again, Helen hosted the Redvoice stand in the Bremner Suite (feet are still aching) whilst Victoria did what she does best – she took to the stage, not only to host and introduce the speakers, but to deliver her own interactive presentation all about presentation skills. It was tremendously well received and we had some wonderful feedback from the audience.

One of the things that came in that feedback was about her energy and passion and how watchable and memorable she is when she is presenting and how they wish they could be like that. Doesn’t every speaker want to hear that about themselves? more to the point, don’t most speakers THINK that is what is being said about them? Actually, the reverse is often true because, as in many presentations of all sizes, from small meetings to international conferences, the time, effort and preparation has been put into 7% of the impact – the content (the words, the PowerPoint slides)

We keep banging on about this but in order for the message to be remembered by the audience, it isn’t just about WHAT we say, it’s about HOW we say it.

We all know what it takes to put a conference together – months of organisation, co-ordination and frustration but it is always a shame when the speakers don’t quite cut the mustard and the audience come away disillusioned because they don’t remember the message that was being communicated.

We often advise people to ‘observe aggressively’ (that doesn’t mean BE aggressive) but to really make a point of noting everything about someone when they’re presenting – at a conference, a sales pitch, an internal meeting a one-to-one, even on TV (Policitians are good to watch). How memorable are they and how much of what they have said can you really actually remember?

The speakers can either make or break a conference – is it worth taking the risk?






Corporate Online Video Presenting

August 30th, 2011


Corporate online video – oh my goodness how much fun can one person have watching these corkers?

A few years ago, websites were very basic but as time has moved on, so have websites with their moving images, flash, e-commerce, social media interaction, blogs etc – everything is that bit more sophisticated and businesses started to realise how important it is to have a top notch website to convey to their clients, their shop window.
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Blogs and Blogging

July 4th, 2011


By Helen West

Whilst sitting with my foot in plaster and having been ordered to keep it elevated for at least 3 weeks, I’m sort of restricted in all areas of my life! My Consultant said he would give me sick note for 3 months – who do I give it to? Myself? I’m running my own business here and I don’t want to be out of it for 3 months!!

Mobility considered –I’m not able to get out to meet people at the moment, so it’s a good opportunity for me to update my Social Media, read blogs etc because that’s what everyone is advising me to do. I have embraced social media and am really enjoying learning more about it every day and meeting people on-line (even though I prefer the face to face meetings)
Like everybody else in the business world, I am trying to let everyone know what we do and inform them as to what the benefits would be to them by working with Redvoice.
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