public speaking

  • The 5th level of competence

    I was talking to a Sales consultant recently, and he was asking me about my special skills. It’s a conversation I have had before, when I was exploring the skills of a friend or colleague. Now the boot was on the other foot.

    At some point I said, “I don’t know what I know.”

    I explained that I could articulate the subject matter of my training courses, as I have done on my website and in promotional literature or ads promoting specific courses, but that would not really explain my special skills. It’s a common problem, and one that you must have encountered yourself.

    Think about situations when you have been training or helping someone to solve a problem within your area of expertise. Under pressure, you come out with insights that derive from a deep understanding of your subject – wisdom that you’d find hard to explain or call to mind out of context.

    You could call that the fifth level of competence. It’s what distinguishes the true expert from the specialist.

    The other four levels are well known:
    1. unconscious incompetence, when the person is unaware of a deficiency in knowledge or skill
    2. conscious incompetence, when the person realises that deficiency, perhaps when trying to apply it
    3. conscious competence, when the person can apply the skill at will, recognising the level of competence and noticing how it improves with practice
    4. unconscious competence, when the skill or competence becomes automatic and second nature, like driving a car

    Some people progress further. Their knowledge of their subject moves to a higher level, so that they understand the principles underlying it, and can enable others to cope with any problems within it. Unconscious competence is about being able to carry out the skills themselves. The fifth level is about becoming expert and developing ‘wisdom’.

    Think about medical consultants, or lawyers who can find unexpected interpretations of the law. They, too, would find it hard to tell you what they know, but it’s much more than the stuff you’ll find in text books.

    When it comes to communication in business – speaking, leadership, presentations, sales letters and such like, I don’t know what I know. But I know I’m at the fifth level of competence. That’s my ‘specialness’.


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  • The secret to getting attention

    There was a small crowd filling the pavement of the Calcutta street, surrounding two men who squatted face to face at the centre. The bearded one was reading the palm of the other and gabbling in a musical baritone. The audience were enthralled. I listened for a while and realised what was so compelling about what he was saying.

    Fade in a different scene. This time it was myself, aged 14, on board the ferry that took the school party from the broad gauge terminus on the banks of the Ganges, up river to where we would pick up the metre gauge train on our way to Siliguri and then Darjeeling.

    I sat on my suitcase, surrounded by a small group of younger boys who hung on my every word, and I recalled the Calcutta scene. So what did the bearded man and I have in common? We both told stories.

    In New Guinea story telling is a way of life. Knowledge is passed on from generation to generation through stories. In United States, one of the most popular comedians is Bill Cosby, whose monologue routine consists of such hilarious stories as “Noah”.

    It’s not just the stories themselves, but the story telling – to coin a phrase, it’s the way you tell ’em.

    In your speeches and presentations, weave your messages into stories and you will get and hold the attention of your listeners. And you’ll make the message more accessible.

    One more thought: consider them to be your listeners, rather than your audience, and you’ll be on the right track.

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  • Connecting with your audience

    If you believe that a Presentation’s purpose is to communicate information, you need to change your thinking.

    If you want to pass on facts, email or snail mail will do the job better.

    When you make a live presentation, pass the facts through your personal filter, so that your listeners can understand your take on the message. Tell them what you think about the information, and what you want them to think about it.

    As you prepare your Presentation, every time you convey a fact, answer the “So what?” question:

    • why does your listener need to know that…
    • how is it relevant…
    • why is it important…
    • what’s the accompanying benefit?


    To get your point accepted, consider this: the most effective way to persuade is to find out what your listeners want, then offer it to them. But how do you ask them questions during a Presentation? Because direct feedback may be difficult during a Presentation, a useful device is the Rhetorical Question.

    It requires no answer, but it makes the listeners feel involved.

    Because it is an obvious question, it causes them to nod their heads in agreement, as though you had asked the question for them. It’s the question they wanted to ask.

    So, instead of saying, “Let me tell you why this is important”, you might ask “Why is this important?”

    At the end of a presentation in which each important section was introduced by a Rhetorical Question, the listeners feel as though they have participated in a dialogue. And that’s far more satisfying than listening to a lecture or a monologue.

    If you do not make the effort to engage your audience, your presentation will be one-way traffic, and it will probably fail. All people will remember is that you showed up and spoke.

    It’s one of the essential lessons in learning to speak so others will listen.


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  • When others take away your victory

    This year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone was fascinating for the dramas it presented alongside the race itself. At least four of the competitors (‘drivers’ is too mild a term for them) must have come off the track spitting feathers because of the actions of others.
    I shall not include Sebastian Vettel, whose extended final pit stop cost him the lead, because Alonso might have caught and overtaken him anyway.

    Consider Mark Webber. He qualified in pole position, but quickly lost out to Vettel and the usual clutch of Ferrari and McLaren stars. Still in contention, he also suffered a delayed pit stop, but fought through to third place and was challenging Vettel for second place on the last lap, when he received team orders, “Maintain the gap.” In other words, “Don’t overtake.”

    It must have seared the soul of the Australian whose every instinct is to strive for the highest position he can attain, and to challenge anyone who stands in his way.

    Then there was the 7-time World Champion, Michael Schumacher, who started well down the grid and fought his way from 16th to 9th, thus demonstrating that he still has it in him. How galling, then, to be handed a ‘stop and go’ penalty for accidentally colliding with Kobayashi. As he sat in the pits during the 10-second countdown, his body language was eloquent.

    Third up was Jenson Button. He was having a good day at the office when he came in for his final pit stop. It was quick, and as the lollipop went up, Jenson was off, only to be flagged down and told to return. One of the mechanics had failed to fix the wheel nut on his front right hand wheel. Marching back with his helmet still on, Jenson must have wanted to strangle the person responsible.

    Finally, Lewis Hamilton. In qualifying, his car let him down and he started in 10th place. Well before halfway he was up among the leaders, even though his car was still off the pace. The rain had taken away the technological advantages of Red Bull and Ferrari, and it was down to driver skill.

    With a handful of laps to go, Lewis was told to back off and conserve fuel, or he wouldn’t finish the race. Someone in Team McLaren had miscalculated. Hamilton was soon overtaken and finished fourth. Not a bad result, but so much worse than the podium position he would have had.

    The four incidents had one thing in common: those competitive sportsmen were robbed of the results they deserved, through the interventions and errors of people who were not themselves competing. It’s one of the hardest disappointments that a competitor could experience.

    In the high intensity of Formula 1 or any other top level competition, it will be felt most deeply. But it could happen to any of us in business too. And if it happened to you, would you have a Plan B?

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  • Ever been asked to get to the point?

    What’s the point you’re making?
    Get to the point.

    All within 3 seconds. That’s all the time you have to grab or lose your listener’s attention. Let me help you understand why it happens and what you can do about it.

    First, let’s consider why.

    Every day, each of us is assailed by thousands of messages – in print, in sound, in pictures, and even in person. It’s a deluge that overwhelms the senses, closing off those private moments of reflection that once we knew, forcing us to react to the demands of the moment.

    Result: we have been trained to switch off.

    As fast as we respond to those demands of the moment, we tend to lose interest and turn our minds to some other pressing matter. Attention Deficit has reached epidemic proportions.

    It is therefore vital to be able to make your point in just a minute, because two of the dominant characteristics of advanced nations in the 21st century are a short attention span and instant gratification.

    In the early ’90s, Steven Silbiger wrote a best-selling business book called “The 10-Day MBA”. He wrote that his aim was “to cut to the heart of the top MBA programs’ subject matter clearly and concisely – the way only an MBA can, and the way academics would not dare.”

    An MBA in only ten days?! It struck a chord with thousands of people who rushed to buy the book. I know many of them. I’ve seen the book on their shelves, and heard them confess that they had not actually read all 348 pages.

    The book is excellent. It offers what many people want: a step-by-step guide to mastering the skills taught in top business schools. In a hurry. Yet it is not “instant” enough for those who cannot, or will not, spare the time to sit and read the book, digest its information and decide how to apply it.

    So how is that relevant to spoken communication and making your point in just a minute?

    The relevance lies in the time pressures that govern our lives in the western world, and the need to decide quickly what is useful and discard what is not. We live in an age of Information Overload.

    The important consequence is that we are being conditioned to tune out and switch off the information we do not want. It has become a universal conditioned reflex. It means that most people cannot concentrate for very long. Our brains can think several times faster than people speak, so even while we are listening to someone else, our brains are dealing with something else, especially if what’s being said is less than riveting.

    In conversations, speeches and presentations, people drift away. That’s why we need to develop the skill of commanding and retaining the attention of our listeners. That’s why we need to be able to make our point in just a minute.

    Why contain your message in just a minute?

    The most important reason for being succinct is that it makes you and your message more acceptable. “Get to the point!” is the anguished cry in everyone’s head (including our own) when others launch into a long-winded account of an event or a proposal. A common variation is, “What’s the point you are making?”

    In contrast, it is truly refreshing when we receive a communication that is brief and to the point. Even our language has changed. In the previous paragraph I first wrote “discursive account”, but changed it to “long-winded” – not shorter, this time, but it reaches your understanding quicker.

    First impressions

    The same principles apply to face-to-face meetings. As you know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That first impression may be created in a fraction of a second. It’s part of the process of communication.

    Think back to the last time you met someone you instantly liked or disliked. Why? What did they say or do? And are you letting others make similar snap judgements about you?

    So what can you do about it all?

    In a business context it is important to think through your positions and your propositions. Know what you believe and why, and be clear about the benefits of your offerings. Practise making your point, using simple structures such as Problem, Cause, Solution, as though a resistant business prospect has said, “You have 60 seconds to tell me why I should listen to you.”

    At the 2009 meeting of world leaders, Gaddafi was given 15 minutes to speak, and rambled on for an hour and a half. Most of us don’t have that luxury.

    When you know how to make your point in just a minute, you create a communication style that projects a sense of purpose. You’ll connect better at networking meetings. Your opinions will be better received. Strangely enough, you’ll even learn to listen more.

    And that’s what wins friends and influences people.

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  • Make your presentations worth hearing


    When you make a presentation, however short or long it is, and whether it is for a grand occasion or not, always make an effort to make it memorable. That way it will benefit both you and your audience.

    There are 9 essential elements that make a presentation worth hearing, and I’d like to offer you a simple way of remembering them all. So let me start with the image. Picture a shed high up on a mountain.  Behind it you can see the snow-covered Alps. The shed belongs to your mother. Got the picture?

    Now remember this phrase:

    Please Remember Frozen Alps Behind My Mother’s Mountain Shed.

    Got that? Now let’s take the initial letters in turn.

    P = Purpose. Why are you making the presentation? What are you hoping to achieve, and what do you want to happen when you have finished?

    R = Relevance. Will your presentation be directly useful to your audience? In what way? It must relate to their interests.

    F = Focus. Is the presentation for the benefit of your audience … or yourself? Are you aiming for applause or action?

    A = Authority. Why should they listen to you? Make sure that you an authority on the subject. It helps if you have written a book about it or can demonstrate your credentials in some way.

    B = Benefit. How will they gain from listening to what you have to say? Give them something they can take and apply to make their lives or their business better.

    M = My. The first M stands for Message. What sits at the core of your presentation? What matters is not the information you impart, but its significance. Be clear about your Message. What should they take away and remember about your presentation?

    M = Messenger. The second M is about you. Why do they need to hear the Message from you? What makes you the custodian of the Message?

    M = Method. The third M stands for Method. You must develop the skills to put across your Message and deliver your presentation effectively. Otherwise you will just waste the opportunity. The content will not speak for itself. It needs you.

    S = Sincerity. You must walk your talk. If you really believe in your Message, speak with conviction and sincerity. You can’t (and must not try to) fake it.

    Once again, there is the phrase to remember and help you reconstruct the nine essentials to make your speech or presentation worth hearing:

    Please Remember Frozen Alps Behind My Mother’s Mountain Shed.

    Phillip Khan-Panni

    If you’d like help with any of this, contact me here:

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  • 25 Ways to Keep Customers for Life

    1. Reward your customers.  Send them a gift or a lead for new business
    2. Buy or use their products or services.  Loyalty works both ways.
    3. Be accessible and return phone calls or emails promptly.
    4. Keep your word.  Deliver what you promised – on time.
    5. Under promise, and over deliver.
    6. Be flexible.  Be open for business outside normal hours, even on holidays.
    7. Thank your customers for their business. Send handwritten notes.
    8. Always look professional. Your customers should feel proud to do business with you.
    9. Have integrity.  Trust is hard to build, almost impossible to recover.
    10. Be supportive of your customers – like a good friend.
    11. Remember their birthdays and anniversaries. Send cards and small gifts.
    12. Promote their business to others. Believe in them.
    13. Be friendly. Aim to make it a pleasant experience to deal with you.
    14. Eliminate hassle. Make it easy to buy from you.
    15. Be a problem solver, not a hardware store.
    16. Have real people dealing with customer queries, not a multiple choice answering machine.
    17. Treat existing customers like pure gold.
    18. Occasionally, cancel an invoice, just for goodwill.
    19. Help customers get what they need, even if you don’t supply it yourself.
    20. Keep customers informed of all your new developments and products, and offer them the same special deals you offer new customers.
    21. Train your staff to have a welcoming, helpful and respectful attitude.
    22. Use Mystery Shoppers to check how customers are treated.
    23. Who speaks for your company? Call your business yourself to learn what callers hear.
    24. Never be indifferent to customers or prospective customers.
    25. Treat your staff well.  They are your partners in business.
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  • The 4 vital elements of the Marketing Mix

    Siva is the name of a popular Hindu god who destroys in order to renew and regenerate. It is also the acronym for the four essential elements of supply-side Marketing:

    • Solution
    • Information
    • Value
    • Access 

    Known as the Marketing Mix, the 4 elements prompt you to ask the right questions to establish if you are offering what your market wants, instead of just galloping into battle. The concept was first articulated by E J McCarthy in 1960, but is just as valid today.

    In order to make a credible new business presentation, you need to ask the right questions, to identify how your business offering fits with the needs of the client company, and to position yourself as a solution provider.

    The Product is the Solution to the customer’s problem. When you think of it in that way, you move away from a mere description of its features, and speak instead of how it addresses the customer’s needs.

    When Planning your pitch, the kind of questions you would ask are:

    • What is the need or the pain that this product can deal with?
    • How will it be used?
    • Is it complete on its own or does it need some other product as well?
    • How will it be recognised in the market place?
    • How does it compare with alternatives?
    • What makes it a ‘must have’?

    Information means telling your market about your product or service, which needs to be advertised, promoted, presented and supported. It is about identifying the target market and its needs, satisfying those needs effectively, and making sure the rest of the market knows about it.

    You would need to ask:

    • How are competitors promoting the same product or service?
    • Which media will reach your target market most effectively?
    • How and when is it best to interrupt them with your message?
    • Can you link your message to external events?
    • Are there seasonal influences to consider?
    • Can you use PR, sponsorship and other indirect promotions as well?

    The third element is Value. In the supply-side context, price is often the deciding factor. In customer-centric Marketing, however, the emphasis is on the Value provided. Price alone means little, except when the product is a commodity, or treated as such, indistinguishable from other brands of the same product. It makes more sense to build up the value and diminish the impact of the price.

    Price questions may be obvious, including:

    • What are competitors charging for similar products?
    • Is the product or the customer price sensitive?
    • Will a drop in price increase market share?
    • What is the perceived value of your product or service?

    The fourth element is Access. This is about getting the product to the target market, and making it easy for customers to find and get hold of the product. Brand loyalty drives customers to seek the product and will determine how tolerant they may be of delays in availability, before seeking alternatives.

    You need to know:

    • Where do buyers look for your (kind of) product or service?
    • Are your distribution channels sufficient?
    • How do your competitors go to market?
    • Are your distribution channels all profitable?
    • Do you need/use the internet?

    The four SIVA elements are relevant to the way in which you present your case to your market. For help with structuring and putting across your business case, contact

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  • How sound affects us

    Listening to Classic FM as I work, I have become conscious of the effect of a change of sound. The music itself creates a mood that could be jolly, contemplative or simply relaxed. But there are interruptions. Three in particular.

    The first occurs when the tuning on the radio dial slips. This creates a rising tension, despite the smooth, gentle music that may be playing, and I have to rise and give the dial a little twist. Of course this only applies to radios that do not have automatic selection.

    When this happens, it forces me to switch my attention from my writing and to the radio. It also makes me consider the lesson it offers: in relationships, if the tuning is slightly off, if we are not on the same wavelength, there is tension even if all the other ingredients are fine.

    The second interruption comes from the ad breaks. I have never understood why music stations do not exercise some editorial control over the sounds of the ads they broadcast. In the midst of a programme of sublime music, there could be a raucous sales pitch that lowers the tone. Even as I was writing this, a typical example was broadcast!

    A similar experience occurs in, for example, networking meetings. You could be enjoying a conversation with an interesting new acquaintance, when someone wanders up and cuts in, disturbing the rhythm of the moment. Are we guilty of such insensitivity ourselves, I wonder?

    The third interruption occurs when the programme announcer or DJ (is that what they are called on Classic FM?) speaks at the end of a piece, and introduces the next one, or when there is a break for news. Here too, I notice the quality of the speaker’s voice.

    Sometimes this station’s ‘classical’ music is served up by someone who sounds like a pub barman reading out the day’s specials from the blackboard. It jars. And it gets in the way of the information being imparted.

    Isn’t that also the case when we hear a speech or business presentation? We may want to hear the information being presented, but the speaker’s voice may get in the way. The voice is the vehicle for our spoken business messages, whether it is from the platform, across a desk or over the phone.

    If you’d like to sound more interesting, it’s worth making the effort to get a bit of coaching. It certainly makes the message so much more appealing. It will have that effect on you as well.

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  • 15 Top Tips for Public Speaking

    It seems to me that the main reason why people get anxious about speaking in public is that they are not sure what is expected of them. Here are 15 tips to help dispel that anxiety by making sure you are well prepared.

    These tips will help you feel confident that you know your stuff, and also that you know why and how it will be relevant to your audience.

    Tip 1: Imagine you are speaking just to me and answer this question: What do you want me to know?

    Tip 2: Why should I care about what you want me to know?

    Tip 3: Why do I need to hear it from YOU? What’s your special connection with the message?

    Tip 4: Would you pay to hear YOU speak?

    Tip 5: Record your voice and ask yourself and some close friends if your voice is attractive.

    Tip 6: What’s your reason for speaking? Money? Influence? Ego? Passion? Just be clear about it.

    Tip 7: When you have credible answers to tips 1-6, write your Core Message (the ‘carry away’) in a single sentence.

    Tip 8: Develop your message in 3 streams of argument or thought, e.g. Problem / Consequence / Solution.

    Tip 9: Decide on your call to action. What do you want people to do when you have finished speaking?

    Tip 10: Create an opening ‘Hook’ — something unexpected or dramatic that grabs attention right at the start.

    Tip 11: Write out and learn your opening and closing paragraphs. Just use prompts for the rest, to sound more natural.

    Tip 12: Decide on the ‘point of arrival’ or climax of your speech or presentation and build up the energy to that point.

    Tip 13: Practise in front of a mirror or camcorder. Watch your gestures and body language.

    Tip 14: When you are confident of your text, answer (aloud) the questions in Tips 1-3.

    Tip 15: Unless you are in a speech contest, don’t try to give a world class performance. Just be sincere and passionate.

    For more detailed help, go to or call 0845 165 9240 (local rates).

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