Present Yourself with Polish

What is more feared than spiders, heights or death? Public speaking. The thought of standing in front of a crowd and delivering your wisdom is enough to induce palpitations in even the most high-powered business person. Yet to operate successfully in the business world, we must control our racing heartbeat, wipe the sweat off our palms and deliver confident presentations.

Feeling nervous about presentations is natural. After all, you have to grab the audience’s attention immediately and hold it for several minutes, not an easy task when you’re dealing with time-pressed, multi-tasking business people. The good news is that you don’t need to be Barack Obama to deliver quality presentations. You just need to invest a little time thinking about what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Think about what you’d like the audience to know that they didn’t know before you began your presentation. Use that as the cornerstone for your presentation. Say you want to convince small-business owners that taking out insurance against loss of income is a good idea. In your first paragraph, set out your stall and explain that this is the aim of your presentation. Appeal to the audience’s interest by asking them relevant questions or telling them an anecdote. And don’t be afraid to make them laugh. It’ll lighten the mood for all of you and make your presentation memorable long afterwards.

In the main body of your speech you can then elaborate on the benefits of this insurance and the options available. To make things easier for yourself, aim to make one point for paragraph. If you’re an instinctive type of person, write down all your thoughts on the subject and choose the most important ones. If you prefer to plan, create a structure with the points you wish to cover in each paragraph.

When you’ve written out your presentation, pick key words in each paragraph, which will act as signposts to guide you through your presentation. If you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation, the keywords will form the basis of your sides. Otherwise, you can write the words on a flipchart.

Once you’ve written your presentation, it’s time to practise, practise, practise. Rehearsal is the key to eliminating those pesky nerves. Say it aloud to yourself. Add in your non-verbal signals. Think about the gestures which go well with what you’re saying. For example, if there are three products that you want to inform the audience about, you could hold up three fingers of your hand. Your speech is a whole package, voice, gestures and content. Rehearsing will help you deliver that package.

Think about how your voice will sound. Identify places where you can slow down, or add a little lightness to your tone. Also, find places where you can pause and collect yourself. You can pause at the end of each paragraph, but commas also offer an opportunity to take a mini-pause. If you pause, you’ll resist the temptation to race through your presentation. After all, you want people to absorb your message. Using these tricks will help you to deliver your presentation at the right pace, in a voice that’s calm and measured, but also full of variety.

A lot of people like to use visual aids as an anchor. They can certainly add an extra dimension to your presentation and add impact to your message. PowerPoint presentations tend to be the visual aid of choice. Apparently, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, isn’t a fan of them; he feels that they’re stale. I agree with him. I’d rather just hear the message, pure and simple. If you’re a visual person, you might consider a more inventive option. For example, if you want to talk about the fine art of making jewellery, why not bring a few samples along.

On the day itself, don’t beat yourself up if you’re still nervous. A certain amount of nerves are necessary to give your presentation an edge. If you’re too complacent, your presentation will seem dull and unoriginal. To overcome that initial burst of nerves as you stand before your audience, follow this useful tip I picked up at a Bizcamp presentation last week. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and look around the room. This gives you and your audience time to collect yourself. Then take a deep breath and begin. Remember, everyone there will want you to succeed. Good luck.

The Blog Whisperer

Once upon a time, I thought blogs were a form of verbal diarrhoea spewed onto the Internet by people with little time on their hands. ‘I have enough real articles and stories to write,’ I thought to myself. ‘Why would I want to write about my navel fluff, or my cup of coffee (I already do that on Facebook!)’ Blogging was almost a dark art in my view, part of a strange sphere I had no desire to enter.

But then I went to a presentation given by one Damien Mulley, a perfectly sane person who is widely respected in the field of social media and who is also a blogger. He is evangelical about the power of blogging to help you gain recognition for your business, so much so that he has been instrumental in creating an awards scheme for Irish bloggers. As he guided us through the world of blogging, I became infected with his enthusiasm and a germ of an idea began to form in my mind.

I was at the start of my business journey when I heard him speak, didn’t even have any clients yet, so I was receptive to all insights that might help me fly the flag for my new business. The magic words, ‘Google search engine placings,’ also had a bearing on my decision to convert to blogging. So it was for purely practical reasons, I found myself on WordPress. I filled in a few details and hey presto, I was a blogger.

My conversion was swift. I was soon pestering my web designer to integrate my blog with my website, so the whole world could be privy to the wanderings of my labyrinthine mind. I decided to write once a week, generally on a Friday, dividing my time between musings on the state of the media and more concrete insights into how I work as a copywriter. I wanted my blog to act as a resource for my clients, with information they could really use.

I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy my therapeutic one-hour rant every Friday. But I’ve also discovered that blogs are far more than just a sounding board. I’ve written this blog entry to spread the word about the benefits of blogging. Blogs are particularly useful for service-based businesses which don’t have a tangible product. They give you an opportunity to explain how your service can help you. Blogs add an extra dimension to your business, letting your customers see the person behind the product or service.

In the rest of your business, you have to be conscious about your brand and how your message is being perceived. While your blog ties in with that message, it gives you freedom to display your passion for your business. You can give your customers an insight into what drove you to set up your business, your business philosophy and your goals. You may promote special offers in your shop or on your website, but in the blog, you can reveal some of the methods you use to deliver value for money for your customers.

You can give your customers the inside track on how your business works, discussing trends in your field. You can drop hints about new product lines you’re introducing, or feed them with useful information and links. A blog for an organic hamper business that I visit discusses events and initiatives that promote organic food production and the slow-food lifestyle. This ties in neatly with their products.

You can give customers tips on how to make the most out of what they buy from you. Or else you can dispense useful advice, which will help to establish you as an expert in your field and give your customers the sense that they’re buying more than just a product or service. For example, if you’re an accountant, you might blog about the ways that good accounting practises can save you money. Another blog I know, created by the owner of a wedding director, discusses wedding traditions and how you can use them to make your day extra special.

Blogs are certainly time-consuming. You need to think about what you want to write and then take the time to write it. It can be useful to write several blog entries in a batch during quiet periods, rather like squirrels storing nuts. Then you can dip into them when you’re too busy. You don’t need to write one as frequently as I do. Once a month is usually enough. It can also be as long or short as you want it to be. Mine tend to be the length of a feature article, but a brief message can often be the most effective, particularly for an audience that’s accustomed to consuming bite-sized peices of information.

Still, I’ve become so addicted to blogging that I’m happy to write blogs for other people who are stuck for ideas. I plan to style myself as a sort of ghost blogger, acting as a mouthpiece for their views and shaping their words into a coherent form. For me, my blog has become another branch on the writing tree, one that I’ve come to enjoy hanging out on. Just call me The Blog Whisperer.

What’s Wrong with Text Language

What’s Wrong with Text Language

Gr8. C u l8tr. Depending on your viewpoint, this set of almost words will either make you scream and put your hands over your eyes, or shrug and get on with texting your buddies. There has been a lot of wailing and wringing of hands about the invasion of text language in recent years, with considerable chunks of the media devoted to decoding the phenomenon.

I should be among the decriers of text language. After all, as I mentioned in a previous blog post (The Rogue Apostrophe), the slightest grammatical error prompts me to launch into an Eats, Shoots and Leaves style rant. But I do think there is a place for text language.

Up to 500 years ago, English words were spelt whatever way the writer imagined they should be spelt. People spelled according to how they pronounced the word and there was a lot of inconsistency. At one stage, according to Melvyn Bragg’s outstanding book, The Adventure of English, there were 50 ways of spelling church.

With the arrival of print, the shape of the language changed. Print was a new medium and in order to work successfully, spellings needed to be standardised, otherwise the workload would have been impossible. Now, the print medium is dying, or at least becoming less central to our lives.

The mediums of web and mobile phone communication are taking centre stage, so it makes sense that the language will bend to fit those mediums. Freed from the restrictions of print, the language can run riot a little. This may amount to butchery for some, but it is also leading to wonderfully inventive phrasing and humorous acronyms.

At one point, the English language was weighed down with rules, particularly in the 18th and 19th century. The creation of dictionaries and grammers was a national obsession.  Some of these rules were artificial and were designed to prove how educated the inventors were. This new language is more democratic and accessible. The compressed nature of text and web language means that people must choose their words carefully, removing a lot of the dense language which made older texts so difficult to understand.

The rulebook is still being written on text and web language, as we struggle to come to grips with communicating in a new medium. At the moment, web and text language is still difficult to understand and needs to be refined. Until people become more familiar with this new vocabulary and the situation settles down, there will be a lot of confusion.

When it comes to print texts, it’s still wisest to adhere to conventional grammar rules, because web and text language is still too raw to be easily integrated with traditional print language. There will always be a place for the solid presence of print text; web language is too ephemeral to stand up by itself. Young people will still need a sound grounding in written grammar in order to play with the language and take it to new levels.

The arrival of text and web language does not sound a death knell for the English language. The language is simply evolving and adapting to a new medium. Before print, medieval English was playful and informal. It reflected how the people spoke and lived their lives. In a way, web and text language is a return to that, making English a language of the people.

There have always been protests whenever a new grammatical convention or word has been introduced. But in time, they have become as much part of the background as a favourite chair or a burbling radio. Soon enough, we won’t remember a time when we didn’t end our texts, or even our blogs, with ‘c u nxt wk.’

Surviving the Networking Jungle

I’ve been enjoying my journeys through the networking jungle over the past few months, after so long stuck at home on my own. However, though I’m a sociable person, I’ve realised that networking meetings require a different approach to normal social occasions. Recently, I’ve developed a strategy for ensuring that I get the most out of the meetings and I’ve decided to share my wisdom with you. Though what I say may seem like basic common sense, I hope my insights will be of benefit to anyone who suffers from ‘networking nerves.’

1. Decide what you want to achieve from the meeting. For example, you might decide that you want to make five new contacts, or that you want to make people aware of a particular service that your business offers.

2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Have a quick look over your elevator pitch to ensure that the points you want to make are fresh in your mind. Take the time to make sure you have all the materials you need.

3. Grooming. You may already look professional in your office clothes, but a quick spritz will give an immediate lift to your spirits.

4. Take several deep breaths. It’ll keep you calm as you enter a room full of people.

5. Find a common ground. Commenting on the venue, the quality of the coffee and the size of the crowd is often a good ice breaker.

6. Ask about their business first. It’ll show how interested you are and it’ll also give you an idea of how you can be helpful to them.

7. When describing your business to someone, describe it in terms of what it offers them. Talk about the service you offer which is of most relevance to them, or about clients with similar businesses that you have helped.

8. If you’re new in business and don’t have a business card, take along a one-page precis of your business, with your contact details and a brief description of what your business does.

9. Remember, you have a skill that no one else in the room has. Even if there are a few people who run similar businesses at the event, none of them offer it in the same way that you do.

10. Follow-up. If you got on particularly well with someone at an event, arrange to meet up with them for a coffee so you can discuss ways of working together for the benefit of your businesses.

I know this week’s blog is a little off topic, but ultimately, networking is a form of communication. People deserve to know about your business. If you spread the word about it in the right way, you’ll reap the rewards.