Coaching in Presentation Skills

My approach to Presentation Skills coaching is probably best addressed by answering the questions I am most frequently asked by potential clients:

What kind of people is your coaching best suited to?  

I seek to help almost anyone – usually in the business field, please see the A-Z of client sectors below - who needs to face an audience, be it in a boardroom, a conference hall or beyond.

Increasingly I work one-to one with senior executives in very large companies. I also work with teams, which has the great advantage of enabling members to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. A further benefit is that it enables us to work on ensuring that the team come over as truly ‘team-like’.

A-Z of client sectors in which I have worked includes: Aerospace, Charities, Consumer Durables, Education, Energy, Financial Services, Food Service, Gambling, Healthcare, Legal, Logistics, Marketing Services, Media, Packaging, Pharmaceutical, PR, Professional Services, Property, Publishing, Retail, Research, Tech, Trade Associations, Travel, Utilities.

What sort of scenarios is the coaching geared to?

They tend to be three-fold:

One: Sometimes my work is part of a programme to help in preparing the client to step into a top position; in other instances it may simply be a refresher process or a personal goal to improve their Presentation Skills.

Two: Other instances include preparation for a big presentation, examples of which have included the following: Awards panels, Board presentations, Community meetings, Company announcements, Conference speeches, Financial reporting, History lectures, Investment presentations, Internal communication, Investor pitches, New Business pitches, Motivational speeches, Reporting to clients, Sales presentations, Staff briefings, ‘Town Hall’ presentations.

Three: Personal needs identified by individuals and their employers that usually have their roots in a combination of nerves and inexperience. These can be worked on, with the potential for rapid improvement, provided that the individuals concerned get the opportunity to put their learning into action in the sort-to-medium term.    

Mostly though, it is a more a question of helping people who are perceived as ‘ineffective’ in terms of engaging their audience and achieving a desired result. My approach to helping all clients, and especially those in category 3 is to instil a greater sense of Confidence, Impact and Memorability.

Typical format of a coaching session?

The format is entirely dependent on the client’s brief for the session. Typically, though it will go as follows:

Short introduction by myself to the Rules of Magic
  • Explaining how they enhance key Presentation Skills principles 
Delegates each deliver a presentation of 10-15 minutes in length.
  • Ideally this should be a real presentation they have delivered recently ie with a specific audience and objectives.
I give immediate feedback to the presentation
  • In terms of both construction and delivery – and fellow team members are invited to add their comments.
Coaching follows, as determined by the initial presentations and specifics that have been briefed in advance.
  • Inspirational videos are used to illustrate key elements of best practice.
For full-day sessions, a working lunch break provides the opportunity for delegates either to:
  • Re-think their presentations according to advice given throughout the morning, or:
  • Rehearse a specially tailored magic trick that they will be asked to present during the afternoon.
Coaching continues in the afternoon, interspersed by re-presentations and magic tricks.

Group discussion on what delegates will do differently in future and techniques and materials they can share.

Summary of the key points discussed during the day, wrapped up in a Derren Brown-style mindreading trick.

Delegates each receive follow up notes of comments that have been made throughout the day and a copy of my book!

How does the magic element work?  

First, the back story: I started applying magical principles to my own presentation skills when, midway through my career in PR I got the bug for magic. I hired the magician Fay Presto to entertain my staff and I was bowled over – I immediately started seeking out the shops, magazines and conventions and seeking out magic shows wherever I could find them. The more I learned about magic, the more I came to realise that many of the psychological principles for directing attention, persuading and convincing that lie behind the tricks could be equally effective in real life. I soon found I was doing things at work that I had learned through the world of magic. Eventually I gained membership of the world’s most prestigious magic society, The Magic Circle. This enabled me to mix with some of the finest
magical minds and to use the extensive library facilities to further research what I was identifying as the ‘Rules of Magic’ – techniques that the best magicians use instinctively and which I believe prove equally effective in the world at large.

In terms of how I apply the Rules of Magic to my training, I should start by saying that I can play the magic up or down according to the brief. With some very high-level corporate situations there has been no mention of magic whatsoever; on awaydays, however, where the brief is often to have some fun (with the additional hidden brief of ‘team building’), I build in as much magic as possible – as long as it helps to make a point. Occasionally the perfect brief comes in – “we have been losing too many pitches and the feedback suggests we are lacking a ‘spark’. Can you help to add some ‘magic’ to our presentation style?”

I usually ask delegates to present a magic trick as part of the coaching. I always thought this would be useful in getting people out of their comfort zone and focusing on areas such as opening and closing, and working with visual aids. In fact, it has proved invaluable in a number of ways. Some delegates become overly stiff and formal when they get up to present and this is immediately apparent as they deliver their business presentation. When it comes to their magic trick, however, their body language loosens up, a smile comes to their face and that can be heard in their voice. They tell stories, often about themselves, which makes the audience warm to them and as a result everything they say comes over as more convincing. Above all, they realise that the success of the trick depends on the ‘ta-dah’ moment at the end that they want the audience to go away remembering and talking about. It dawns on them that ‘my business presentation needs one of those too!’ and one of the most common presentation pitfalls is addressed directly. They go away realising that the starting point to success in their business presentation is to be more like they were as they presented their magic trick. 

The tricks I give them are all 'proper' tricks. Indeed, I ask them to sign a simple secrecy agreement in order to avoid trouble with The Magic Circle, but the tricks are easy to do, so that they can concentrate on their presentational style and techniques. Usually, I can tailor the tricks to the client, for instance incorporating key selling messages and perhaps building to a surprise climax that focuses on the company logo.

 Two ‘special’ formats.

1 Making PowerPoint the Presenter’s Friend

PowerPoint is ubiquitous and the default presentation aid for business people all over the world. And yet ‘Death by PowerPoint’ has become the instantly understood catchphrase to cover presentations that are ineffective, boring or generally substandard.

I believe PowerPoint can be a fantastic tool - provided it is put in its proper place and used as a tool to support a speaker in getting their point across to a specific audience.

By asking clients to deliver a business presentation early in a coaching session I can very quickly assess how much time will need to be spent on this particular topic.

For any individuals or teams who need to focus specifically on their use of PowerPoint I can gear an entire session in this direction under the banner ‘Making PowerPoint the Presenter’s Friend’. It is not about how to operate PowerPoint or make it look beautiful – it is about making PowerPoint truly support the presenter, so it includes all the elements of best presentation practice that were established pre-PowerPoint and remain essential today.

Such as session requires a full day, so that participants can re-think and re-build their presentations during an extended lunch break. They then return to re-present and surprise themselves at how fluent and impactful they can become once PowerPoint has been put in its proper place – as a tool to truly support them.

2 Company Awaydays

I am often asked to run or contribute to company ‘awaydays’ – typically where the team needs to have some fun and do some bonding, while enhancing their skills.  This can involve anything from a short talk to a complete magic show – performed by the team members. Please call me to discuss how I might be able to help in this area.

Ideal numbers for team sessions?

Between four and six for a full day is the ideal number. To gain real benefit you need to do a fair amount of actual presenting and that becomes restricted with bigger numbers. The best alternative if bigger numbers must be included and a second day is not an option is to get people presenting in teams. This both overcomes time constraints and introduces valuable lessons about team dynamics and pacing.

How much time?

This should be determined by the specifics of the brief and the needs of the delegates, but as a general rule:
  • Sessions for individuals are best as half-days (3-4 hours)
  • Sessions for teams are best as full-days (7-8 hours with lunch break)
Exceptions can occur in situations where delegates need to ‘re-think’ their presentations after an initial run through and some associated advice. This can often be covered by extending the lunch break, but is sometimes best achieved by arranging two separate half-day sessions.


Usually at the client’s offices or a venue they have arranged. I do not have facilities of my own, but can arrange them at cost price if required.

Working in the rooms that are used regularly by clients for their presentations has obvious advantages. It helps if clients can provide a projector, screen and flipchart but, conference facilities aside, I provide everything else.

I am based in London but work throughout the UK and enjoy going further afield. Training assignments to date have taken me to France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Portugal and Swaziland.

Do I video record participants?

I can video record and I always carry a camera, but I avoid reaching for it automatically as tends to happen with many Presentation Skills coaches.

There are a number of good reasons for this, which I am happy to explain. I prefer, however, to video record only there is a specific objective (the client’s or my own) for doing so.

Who are your clients?

You have probably already noticed the complete lack of familiar logos and highly polished generic quotes. I keep the identity of my clients and the specifics of my work with them completely confidential. Even if they are kind enough to offer a supportive quote, my response is that I want them to take full credit for their presentation prowess. If, however they would like to pass on some secrets of the source of their success discreetly to close colleagues that would be fantastic!

In in this forum I can do little more that suggest the following: If you think of the names of your providers of mobile phone services, insurance, property, education, banking, energy, betting, health, corporate catering, magazine publishing and retailing, I have probably worked for several of them!

If you need reassurance, then I am more than happy to meet up and discuss your specific needs. This will enable me to find someone similar you could talk to for a reference and I always recommend starting on a ‘suck it and see’ basis to assess how we both get on.

Do you run ‘Public’ sessions?

No, because they do not lend themselves to the confidential and tailored nature of my coaching. The exception is certain talks I do for organisations such as the British Library Business Unit; also certain trade bodies such as RICS, whose members can attend my talks as part of their CPD programme.

Do you offer other forms of coaching?

Aside from some coaching in Creative Thinking that I offer mainly for PR executives, I focus entirely on Presentation Skills. Through the leadership communication company Aziz Corporate I do, however, work alongside experts in areas such as Voice, Image, Influencing & Personal Impact, Pressure Management and Media Relations. I am happy to make introductions and can promise that my work can become part of a seamless overall programme where required.