The pre-show rituals of singers can sometimes provide useful tips for aspiring speakers. Maybe the best was Elvis Presley and his “1000-yard walk”. When singing at a large venue, he insisted that his trailer was parked exactly 1000 yards from the stage. Continue reading


Video shows advantages of cue-cards

So you’re a speaker, preparing your next presentation. You’ve decided on, planned (and maybe scripted in full) your content. What next? What are the most useful speaker aids to help you remember what you’re going to say?

When I spoke recently at the Rotary Club of Bristol Bridge, this was one of the areas I discussed. I quoted Philip Collins (not the singer; this Philip was Tony Blair’s speech-writer) who said: “Don’t ditch the script. Very few people speak well off the cuff, though everybody thinks they can.” (I don’t agree that everybody thinks they can; but maybe he was talking about politicians.)

I said that I agreed with having the script there on the day; but only as a comfort-blanket. In my opinion there is nothing worse than hearing somebody read from their script.  I thought that nowadays that practice had died out; but I do occasionally see it; and it’s depressing.

In my opinion there is nothing worse than hearing a speaker reading from a script. My immediate reactions are: (a) “this is boring”; (b) “this speaker lacks confidence” and (c) “just give me a copy of your speech, because I can read it more quickly than you can speak it; and I’ll be able to select the bits that interest me, instead of listening to the whole thing.”

At that Rotary Club, I said that a good strategy was to memorise the start and finish of your presentation and to prepare aides-mémoire to guide you through the “meat” of the speech. So far, so good; but which type of aide-mémoire?

In the past I used cue-cards, with just a few key-words per card, and that’s a good method. But I said that I’d now switched to mind-maps in general. I therefore suggested trying both methods and adopting whichever suited one’s own style.

But there is at least one situation where cue-cards score better than mind-maps. That’s if there is nowhere to put your mind-map – no lectern or podium or table – and anyway, many experts say you should avoid such “props” anyway, as you can speak with more freedom and authority (and be able to move, which is valuable) if there’s nothing between you and the audience. In that situation, having those small cue cards which you can hold in your hand is clearly a good solution.

Are you familiar with the wonderful and varied TED talks? Many of the speakers there seem to use no aides-memoire at all; but that could be because they have an autocue, or they use their visual aids (PowerPoint etc) to guide them via easily-viewed monitors.

However, one very compelling TED speaker, Candy Chang, used cue-cards for her talk “Before I die …”:

What is interesting is that she doesn’t look at the cards often. You can notice at the end of the video that in front of her there are a couple of small monitor screens at floor level; they obviously repeat what’s on the big screen and thus help guide her speech; but when she wants to report someone else’s words (and therefore wants to get it 100% right) she looks at the card.

On the same principle, at that Rotary event I used a mind-map; but in two cases where I wanted to report someone else’s words, I used a cue-card.

For other useful input, see this blog post by Ben Decker, entitled “The Five Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make in Speaking”. Even if you are not a CEO, the “mistakes numbers 5, 4 and 3” are universal; and I liked that picture of the speaker and his typescript with last-minute handwritten alterations:



Book: “The Art of Speeches and Presentations; the secrets of making people remember what you say.” Philip Collins.

Book: “Mind Maps at Work; how to be the best at work and still have time to play.” Tony Buzan.

Link to the “Presentations” section of my website:



My public-speaking blog thread is relatively new, so it is an under-populated country at present; but that will change. This morning (13 Sept) I delivered a talk to the Rotary Club of Bristol Bridge. The title was: “Thinking on your feet”. It had a positive response, which confirmed my view that this is a topic of interest to many people and many organisations. Here’s a summary of the topics I covered:

  • “The lion story”. (Sorry, no room here: but it is a good one. Book me to speak at your club or business and you can hear it!).
  • My subtitle: “What make a good presentation?” (not “good presenter”, as even good ones sometimes underperform)
  • Kipling’s key questions: What, Why, When, How, Where & Who.
  • Where and When are already known (that’s part of the problem), which leaves:
    • What are you going to say?
    • To Whom are you going to say it? (what do you know about them?)
    • Why are you going to say it? (Type of presentation? Desired outcome/s?)
    • How are you going to say it? (“the $64,000 question”)
  • These basic questions produce 12 “elements of a good presentation.” We focused on three:
    • Knowing your audience in advance (the why and the how thereof)
    • Speaker aids / resources on the day
    • Confident delivery, how to achieve / develop
  • Backgrounds & expectations of listeners?
  • Expectations ditto? Is there a fit?
  • Meet the meeting arranger / facilitator?
  • Get attendee list: e-mail them with mini-survey: their wants and needs from your presentation.
  • Script: OK as comfort blanket and template for next time but …
  • Don’t read it!
  • Visual aids: helps re multiple learning styles
  • PowerPoint? Limit no. of slides & amount of info per slide
  • Cue cards: my previous default but use registry tag in case of drop!
  • Mind maps: now my default aide-memoire.
  • PA: can you avoid by better projection?
  • If can’t avoid PA (size of room / audience), avoid handheld microphones.
  • Strong start & strong finish; memorise both, use cue-cards and /or mind maps for the “meat” in the sandwich.
  • Stress management, create positive expectations via two methods of visualisation:
    • Muhammad Ali and “future history”
    • NLP: method of “anchoring” positive past experiences
  • Move, and focus on audience, while speaking: both help reduce tension
  • Improvisation skills? If not, rehearse rehearse rehearse!
  • Last-minute prep: can we learn from other types performers (When and Where are known)? e.g. popular singers: Chris Martin, Stevie Nicks, Robert Plant, Leonard Cohen; finally …
  • Elvis Presley and the thousand-yard walk
  • Arrive early; set up resources; ensure water available; walk round the block.

Last word: “Most people will forget what you say; even what you do. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” How will you use that fact? How will you inject feeling, not just facts?

WANT TO KNOW MORE? If you ‘d like more information about my talks, or would like to discuss booking me for your organisation, please send me a message through this site or e-mail me:


Just got back from three wonderful weeks in British Columbia. While there, I was invited to speak at the Rotary Club of Trail, BC.

My subject was the art and science of public speaking. As most Rotary Clubs invite speakers on a regular basis, I figured that their members would all have their own views, so I phrased my title as a question: “What makes a good speaker?”

I included two of my favourite quotes on the topic:

On the importance of having a passion (or at least some enthusiasm!) for your subject: “Most people will forget what you say and even what you do. But they will not forget how you made them feel.”

On the importance of being clear why you are making the presentation: “When Aeschylus speaks, we say: ‘how well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes speaks, we say: ‘let us march against Philip.'”

I enjoyed it greatly. More importantly, as far as I could tell nobody fell asleep.

It was also a useful dry-run for a talk I’m giving on the same subject next month, at the Rotary Club of Bristol Bridge (UK). Looking forward to that!


I spoke at the Rotary Club of Bristol on Monday, where my intended topic was “Retirement planning: it’s not about the money.” I already knew that many Rotarians are already retired but, when I arrived, the affable Speaker’s Friend, John Bedford, told me that retirees were in fact in the vast majority in this particular Club, so the intended topic was a little too late for most of them.

I thus immediately dropped the word “planning” from my topic; moreover I asked the assembled members (a healthy turnout) to indulge me by being guinea-pigs, i.e. a test audience for my plans to write a series of articles, and maybe a book, on the topic. They seemed happy to do that; however my “memo to self”, à la Bridget Jones, is to note that lunchtime Rotary clubs tend to attract retired members, whereas Rotarians still working tend to favour breakfast and evening clubs, provided there is a choice. In Bristol there is indeed such a choice, as there are nine clubs already, with another one about to start.

I prefaced my remarks by quoting the Canadian retirement coach who told me: “in my experience, the people who are happiest in retirement are not the ones with the most money. They are the ones with a plan.”

What kind of plan? A plan that deals with how to spend all that time.

I had had a plan of sorts since my forties – that plan started from the viewpoint of never wanting to retire totally. Noel Coward said “Work is more fun than fun”; at the very least, a balance between work and fun seemed to me a desirable element of a happy life and one that should not be discarded at age 65. I also knew that going from 100% employment to zero overnight can, and does, kill many people. Of course the work / fun balance can shift as one gets older but it should still be there, I decided. As for what is meant by “work” in this context, that’s the interesting question.

In 2002 women then aged 65 could expect to live to the age of 84: for men it was 81. (ONS) Naturally this was a UK average; the figures increase markedly for those who are well educated and / or live in a good environment. So retirement lasts about 20 years on average but most people spend more time planning for a summer holiday than they do for these 20 years.

In the normal course of events, 250,000 people retire in the UK every year. To this figure should be added the increasing numbers who, in today’s economic climate, face involuntary retirement either through being persuaded to take early retirement or facing redundancy and then finding it impossible to get another job.

What should the plan entail? In a research project called “Retire 200”, 100 men and 100 women, all retired or soon-to-retire, were interviewed at length about their experiences and expectations. Here’s their consensus as to the elements of a happy retirement.

1. Being able to choose when to retire. (not a given these days)

2. To retire early enough: they recommended not above 55.

3. Financial independence – whatever that means for you.

4. “Purposeful” (sic) activities for at least 5 hours per week. Most retired Rotarians would probably laugh at such a small number.

5. Someone to rely on for emotional support.

6. Proactive health management.

7. Having a plan covering both the financial and lifestyle aspects.

8. Having received pre-retirement advice and education.

The armoury of many life coaches contains a set of questions called “Five Minutes that could Change your Life”, coined by US author Brian Tracy. The first question is “if you won a million on the lottery (or 10 million or whatever figure represents total financial independence for you) how would it change your life? Where would you live, what would you do, with whom, etc?” The power of this question is that it reveals the things that are important to you, or would be if financial constraints were removed, even mentally. However, many of those things that are important do not depend on millions to get started.

An accompanying question is “if you discovered that you would live only 6 months more – in perfect health – how would you spend that time?” Both questions are effective ways to challenge what are our priorities; or values, if you like.

According to Charles Handy, the tendency for jobs in organisations to go to younger people – ageism cannot be rooted out by legislation – should not be a source of complaint; where else are they to get their experience? Our response as we grow older should be to develop a “portfolio” of skills and talents that we can provide to a variety of “clients”. Some of those activities may be rewarded financially, some just by satisfaction, but we should not distinguish between paid and unpaid activities. It’s all work, says Handy.

Considering this concept, (“it’s all work”) a friend of mine says she would never call gardening “work”. Why not? Because she loves it. But who says you have to hate your work? Or because it’s not paid? The distinction is unnecessary, as Handy might say. After all, an unpaid labour of love might be developed into a paid activity, if so desired. “It’s all work”.

I concluded by saying that I had traded a business card describing myself in my former role as a managing director in the chemical industry for one that now reads “actor & voice-over; author; radio presenter; speaker” and considered myself a most fortunate person.

John Bedford discharged his duties as Speaker’s Friend by proposing a most charming vote of thanks. Even if it’s his custom to compliment all speakers as a matter of course, it was encouraging to hear him conclude, “You should write the book.”

Feedback on this post would be welcomed. If you are a retiree or are in the process of planning your retirement, do you have any commnets on any of the above?