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!


“Previously, on this subject …”

About thirty years ago, I was lucky enough to get some great advice about public speaking, which has stayed with me ever since.

I was at an industry conference in the States, where most of the presentations were on technical or business subjects; but I’d discovered previously that US conferences often have a motivational speaker of some kind too. This one was no exception; it had a football coach, who was renowned as a motivator; but it also had a man who was a million miles from being a football coach, as you will read, but was a motivator extraordinaire. His name was Kenneth Wydro …

Now read on …

In my last post I mentioned some of the tips Ken Wydro gave for terrified (and even experienced) speakers. His talk was so powerful it kick-started me on a 30-year career as a speaker, so it’s clear to me that some more of his wisdom is worthy of recycling here.

“All those eyes”

Ken has trained and consulted at many large corporations in the States. He tells the story of a senior executive who said: “I was perfectly composed … before I took the platform. I was confident, prepared … until I saw all those eyes. Then the lights went out. I went blank … embarrassed myself terribly. I was cold and sweating at the same time. My mouth was dry.” Ken’s experience has told him what a challenge this is for so many people; I venture to say that’s it’s sometimes even worse presenting to six colleagues or a small board than to hundreds of conference delegates.

Last week, at a UK meeting, the head-hunter and personal branding guru John Purkiss used a very dramatic comparison when talking briefly about this particular challenge. He said: “many people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying.”

So Ken Wydro, John Purkiss and scores of other experts know what a problem this is. How can we minimise the potentially scary effect of “all those eyes”?

 Push your own buttons: learning to relax

Ken Wydro says that if we are to push our own buttons, we must learn techniques for relaxing ahead of any stressful event, especially public speaking. His book contains some good tips on this and I recommend it.

You may already know that meditation, affirmations, visualisation, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) techniques, hypnotherapy, all have a place. I have known speakers who successfully used Valium to counter the pre-speech nerves. It’s a question of finding what works for you; what reduces the butterflies yet still leaves you with enough of nature’s fight-or-flight adrenaline to give you an energy boost and let your brain be a few words ahead of your tongue, which is the way I think of the beneficial effect of adrenaline.

On this blog I will be discussing a variety of techniques to handle the “all those eyes” problem; because unless we can do that it’s pointless talking about the other important aspects of public speaking, including the more practical aspects of preparation; structure; delivery, etc. You may or may not know that Muhammad Ali is not only the most famous boxer in history but was also a great exponent of using visualisations and affirmations to manage his subconscious mind before a big event. Yes, the events were boxing matches, but the principle is the same.

I shall also be inviting some successful speakers to share their thoughts as guest bloggers or as interviewees.

Watch this space!



To get up-to-date info on US author Kenneth Wydro, click here.

For info on his book “Think on Your Feet”, click here.

To find out more about my talks; or to book me to speak to your club, group or business, click here.



I’m a speaker with 35 years’ experience and I’m also a confidence coach for speakers, musicians and actors. I’m also a professional voice actor and a presenter on community radio.

During those 35 years I’ve spoken at dozens of business conferences and corporate events of all kinds during a long career and I’ve run my own training company.

‘Back in the day’, I was the founder of a conference and exhibition at the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow, which used to attract up to 400 delegates annually. I was the host and keynote speaker at that conference every year from 1979 to 1990.

In the last few years I’ve spoken at dozens of venues in the West of England, where I live nowadays.

For how long do you speak?

“If you want me to speak for twenty minutes, I need two weeks’ notice. But if you want me to speak for two hours, I can begin now.” (Winston Churchill)

As long (or short) as you like, is the answer.

What topics do you cover?

I cover a wide range of subjects and am adding to the list all the time.

  • “Confidence in action”: how do high-profile musicians, actors and speakers prepare themselves for their performance?
  • “Age cannot wither, nor custom stale …”: inspirational stories of ‘oldies’ who defy ageism and stereotyping.
  •  “The self-publishing revolution”: how you too can become a published author of both e-books and paperbacks.
  • “Thrift is fashionable now”: a finance coach’s approach to making budgeting fun.
  • “When I’m sixty-four”: planning for and adjusting to retirement. Or, as I prefer to call it, reinvention.
  • “Brunel’s legacy”: triumphs and tragedies of public transport in the twenty-first century.

I am also happy to speak to your brief, if given adequate time to research the topic. (Preferably two weeks, as Churchill suggested.)


How can we book you?

I am available for public speaking engagements; I also coach speakers, musicians and actors. Please do get in contact so we can discuss your needs.


Testimonials for Michael’s Speaking


Michael gave us a great talk on the skills for preparing for and delivering public speaking effectively. He is an engaging, interesting and highly relevant speaker. He took the time to meet us first and find out about his audience and our requirements for his talk. He certainly practises what he preaches!

… a well planned and executed talk that was engaging and interesting.

Thank you once again for your meticulous preparation of your speech and for the professionalism with which it was delivered. … very pleased with the evening and have only heard words of praise from those who went … your contribution to the success of the event was immense.

…so positive… attitude that shines through and inspires the audience. A great voice and lots of it… he doesn’t really need a PA system. He’s what I’d call verbally creative…loves interacting with an audience.

…an effervescent personality… sparkling and spontaneous wit…ability to ad-lib. Plus the ability to put people at their ease…to tailor his material to the audience. His natural optimism… bubbles over into speech. Always seems relaxed when speaking and that relaxes the audience…a most engaging personality, which many possess but few can project when they speak in public.