Can AI improve your presentation skills?

By | January 11th, 2022|Blog, Communication, Performance, Presentation skills|

Our Head of Coaching, Nicola Hainey, reviews Microsoft Powerpoint’s new feature: Presenter Coach.

An AI tool to help rehearse presentations? In honesty, we were slightly sceptical. However, having reviewed Microsoft’s new Presenter Coach in Powerpoint, we do think this tool could have some value to us and our clients.

How does it work?

When ready to rehearse your Powerpoint slides, under the ‘slide show’ tab, there is the option to ‘rehearse with coach’. Once clicked, it launches your slideshow and monitors how you present giving you live feedback as well as a summary report once you’ve finished presenting.

Here’s what we liked about the tool:

Firstly, it’s intuitive and easy to use with clear feedback.

Secondly, the sheer range of what the tool monitors is impressive. This tool will tell you if:

• You’re going too fast or slow – benchmarked against an optimal rate of 100 – 165 words per minute
• You’re using too many filler words (ums, errs, like etc)
• You’re sounding monotonous and not varying your pitch enough
• If you repeat a word too often – examples being ‘basically’, ‘nevertheless’, ‘technically’
• Your body language/visual appearance is not supporting your presentation – e.g., you’re not looking into the camera enough or if how you dress or your background is distracting
• You swear or use culturally ‘insensitive phrases’ – e.g., suggestion to use ‘police officers’ instead of ‘policemen’
• There are words you are mispronouncing

Lastly, it’s pretty accurate! We agreed with its findings and also the recommendations for improvements.

A few limitations of the tool:

The live feedback mechanism is distracting and although it offers useful information, it almost certainly interrupts your flow as you stop to read the comments which pop up on screen. It should only be used for rehearsing though and never during live presentations. The irony that even ‘you’re doing great, keep going’ can cause you to stumble!

Moreover, the advice can only take you so far. The problems that the tool identifies are often quite hard to fix. Changing your presentation speed or getting rid of filler sounds can take some sustained and targeted work. The danger is that people can identify what is wrong but not know how to fix it.

Our verdict

This tool is useful in identifying blind spots in our presentation style and offers some potential quick fixes. However, much of what is diagnosed would still require tailored and focused work, ideally with a trained communications professional to improve. Much like an initial consultation when you’ve hurt your back, the diagnosis is essential but it’s the subsequent physiotherapy that makes the sustained difference. So, from our perspective, we’re not out of a job yet! We are however, excited about using this tool to help our clients measure their progress over the course of their coaching sessions with us.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts on the Presenter Coach so do let us know.

5 ways 2020 has changed how we communicate

By | January 5th, 2021|Blog, Body Language, Communication, Online meetings, Online video|

The impact of Covid 19 transformed the world as we knew it last year. We have been reflecting on what this has meant for the way we communicate as humans. It feels that we have adapted from age-old, ingrained, means of communication to entirely different norms in a rapid period.

Here are 5 ways 2020 changed how we communicate:

1. A window into your home

‘Dress to impress’ was the adage pre-2020 to remind us that people judge the visual as much as our content in communicating. Now we must think one step further thanks to the rise in video calls. We need to ‘window dress’ our backgrounds as every video call allows a little window into our homes. This is all the more obvious when we see reporters, journalists and interviewees in their homes on TV news – sometimes it’s hard to believe that they haven’t thought more about their backgrounds because whether we like it or not, this gets judged as much as we ourselves do.

2. Interpreting communications through a mask

So much of how we communicate is nuanced in micro facial expressions but for much of this year we’ve been communicating with each other through a mask. It means that we need to work harder with both our words and our tone of voice to convey more explicitly the sentiment of what we’re saying.

3. New language adopted instantaneously

New terminology has emerged constantly that is suddenly the jargon on everybody’s lips. Furlough, pandemic, Covid, PPE and of course, festive bubbles – which until this year meant something entirely different in previous years!

4. Greetings with elbow bumps

Physical contact is a primal need. Will we return to shaking hands when the world returns to normal? People may take different approaches. Expect some awkward moments when we do go back to some face-to face meetings.

5. Gathering as groups online

Last but not least is of course, the omnipresence of video calls and meetings as working from home became the standard practice. Again, we’ve lost a lot the subtlety that body language brings into communicating. This has led to some bumpy moments on Zoom calls such as speaking over one another or where everyone has their camera turned off and you feel you are speaking into a void!

In summary

We think these changes demonstrate the incredible ability humans have in adapting to their circumstances. It will be interesting to observe in 2021 which of these new habits in communicating we keep or if we’ll revert back to old ways. Or perhaps more likely there will be a combination… transparent face masks anyone?

A simple guide to improving your articulation

By | April 14th, 2020|Blog, Building Confidence, Client skills, Online meetings, Online video, Presentation skills, Uncategorized, Video, Voice|

Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks shares simple tools and techniques to improve articulation. This is another part of our series to ensure impactful communication at online meetings.

How to use intonation to keep people engaged at online meetings

By | April 8th, 2020|Blog, Building Confidence, Client skills, Online video, Video, Voice|

Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks provides tips, techniques and exercises specifically geared to great communication at online meetings. This video covers Intonation.

Hate watching yourself on video? Don’t worry, you are in good company.

By | March 25th, 2020|Blog, Body Language, Building Confidence, Online meetings, Online video, Personal Profile, Uncategorized, Video|

One of the side effects of having so many online meetings is that we cannot avoid seeing ourselves on screen. Some people find it distracting and others even say it makes them feel anxious.

This short blog is written to assure you that you are not alone. Many actors refuse to watch their performances and go to great lengths to avoid it. Recently Adam Driver walked out of an interview to avoid seeing himself on screen.

This may seem particularly strange for an actor. It feels a bit like a chef refusing to eat their own food!

Whenever we use video in our sessions with clients we always give a health warning. Most of the video we see is on television and film. As the end credits show there is a small army of people ensuring the actors look good (or sometimes bad). This includes a lighting team, sound team and a number of make up artists. 

This can mean that even if we are doing a great job at our online meeting it might not look that way. If we judge ourselves by the standards of TV and video then we will always be disappointed.

More tips will follow on this blog to help us look as good as possible but in the meantime, a really good option is to get a desk light like the one we recommended in an earlier blog.

If all else fails, hopefully you can take some comfort from the fact that even the professionals with all their support teams often find it difficult as well.

Donald Trump: Storytelling in 140 Characters

By | January 31st, 2017|Blog, Featured, Perception, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Storytelling|

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!”

So says President Trump. Whatever you think about the personality or the policy, one thing is for certain: Donald Trump knows the art of storytelling.

Villain, Victim, Hero

One of the classic storytelling techniques we cover in our workshops is the Villain, Victim, Hero formula. It is so familiar to us that our brains expect it and respond to it. From bedtime stories as a child to Star Wars, the formula’s power is used again and again.

To summarise how it works:

Villain: this could be person, think Lex Luthor, or a “thing” such as the shark in Jaws or a volcano about to erupt.

Victim: the poor, innocent victim.

Hero: Superhero or ordinary person doing extraordinary things  (or both in the case of Superman/Clark Kent).

To make the story more dramatic, make the Villain more dastardly, the victim more worthy of our pity or the hero more compelling.

Donald Trump uses this formal in a relentlessly consistent and simple way:

Villain: the establishment, “crooked Hilary”, “the swamp” in Washington.

Victim: You! The honest, decent hard-working ordinary soul.

Hero: An outstandingly successful businessman with stellar talents and dealmaking prowess…….

Instead of varying the message, Donald Trump is a master at giving more impact to his storytelling by repeating and strengthening the formula. He makes his villains ever more villainous. The victims and their suffering, “the horrible mess” from the tweet above, is presented in colourful and dramatic ways. And of course, the more dangerous the villain and the more wronged the victim, the more impressive the hero is!

Using storytelling in your presentations

We may not want to emulate Donald Trump but we can certainly learn from how he tells stories. If you have to present data and facts in a way that will have your audience paying attention, try to think about:

  • Who is the Villain?
  • How bad is that Villain?
  • Who is suffering because of the Villain?
  • What is the impact on the Victim?
  • How can this be solved?
  • What are the qualities of your hero?

Next time you hear a speech from Donald Trump listen out for Villains and Victims. You will hear what an impact storytelling can have.

Martyn Barmby

MSB Executive Client Satisfaction Survey Results – 2016

By | January 24th, 2017|Blog, Uncategorized|

Happy New Year to all! We hope that 2017 has been successful for you so far. At MSB Executive we have been reviewing our work last year. We are looking to understand what we did well, what we can do better and work on new ideas for 2017.

Thank you to all those who completed our Client Satisfaction Survey. Here are the highlights from the results.

Improving Performance

All our coaching and training work is focused on helping people improve their performance at work. This made the following question perhaps the most important for us. The results were:

  • MSB Executive’s work with me/my team has helped to improve performance at work.
    88% of respondents Strongly Agree wth the remainder Somewhat Agreeing.

We will continue to focus on practical techniques to help people communicate more confidently.

Communications

Given what we do this is obviously an important area for us! The main points are:

  • MSB Executive communicates well with me about my progress / progress of the team.
    57% of respondents Strongly Agree wth the remainder  Somewhat Agreeing.
  • 100% of respondents Strongly Agreed that communication is good before and after training courses.

Some really helpful suggestions were received regarding feedback. People felt personal feedback was strong. With group training the request was for more specific feedback on weaker areas of the group as well as the positives. This has been noted.

Understanding our clients

This is another point we target strongly within the team. The results were:

  • MSB Executive understands what I/we do.
    80% of respondents Strongly Agreed and the rest Somewhat Agreed.
  • MSB Executive listens to our/my priorities and focuses its work on the most important areas.
    100% of respondents Strongly Agreed.

Dealing with MSB Executive

These question picked up on what it id like to deal with MSB Executive.

  • MSB Executive is easy to deal with.
    100% of respondents Strongly Agreed.
  • MSB Executive offers good value for money.
    50% of respondents Strongly Agreed and 50% Somewhat Agreed.
  • I feel that my time with MSB Executive is used efficiently.
    88% of respondents Strongly Agree wth the remainder Somewhat Agreeing.
  • The training materials I received (notes, manuals, exercise booklets) were helpful.
    100% of respondents Strongly Agreed.

Summary

Thank you to all those who replied for their thoughts, suggestions and insights. We were hugely appreciative of the many positive comments and equally glad to hear of how we could improve further.

Best wishes once again for a hugely successful 2017.

Martyn Barmby and the team.

Speaking Outside – 5 top tips for communicating in the open air

By | August 3rd, 2016|Blog, Building Confidence, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

Last week we enjoyed running a day’s team-building activity in the open air with the team at Bianca Sainty Personal Training. As well as looking at body language and posture we spent a large percentage of the programme exploring the speaking outside. In particular we worked on making yourself heard above the noises in a busy open air space.

On the day the conditions were perfectly challenging. In the park there was a tree surgeon felling branches with a chainsaw and someone mowing the football pitch. Along came a basketball game accompanied by amplified music. This is fairly typical London park noise and so most days a personal trainer will need to work hard when speaking outside.

Why is it important to be heard? First and most obviously so that the client can hear what you need them to do. Personal training can be quite intense and it would be a shame to break the momentum by stopping to ask for instructions to be repeated. Secondly it is all about trust. If you give directions in a clear, confident and audible way the client is more likely to trust that you are knowledgeable. Clients of personal trainers look for support from someone who can help them build their confidence so it is useful if the personal trainer exudes confidence.

The workshop covered many areas but here are 5 top tips for open air communication:

1. Face the clients

This may seem obvious but when explaining actions it is tempting for example to turn towards where you may want a client to run rather than stay facing them. In the workplace this often happens when a presenter turns their back on an audience to read their own powerpoint slide. First of all most people do not engage well with somebody’s back. Secondly people lip-read more than is realised and make up for gaps in what they have heard with what they can see. So always face your clients especially when speaking outside.

2. Hydration

Like the body needs to stay hydrated for muscles to perform the vocal cords are highly sensitive to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your voice strong and authoritative.

3. Voice from stomach rather than throat

Engaging the core isn’t just useful when performing physical exercises. It can really help increase the sound your body can produce. Standing in a strong neutral position, engaging the core and sounding from the diaphragm rather than the throat is key.

4. Keep the sun in your eyes, not your clients’!

It is natural to keep the sun behind us so that we can see clearly when speaking outside. This can mean clients are looking straight into the sun. As well as being uncomfortable this interferes with the lip-reading we mentioned in point.

5. Don’t stick your chin out towards your client.

We often feel the need to move closer to our clients to make ourselves heard by sticking our chin out. This puts a lot of pressure on the vocal cords which can lead to us losing our voice. Use you voice to reach out, not your chin!

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