Corporate trainer Charles Serio explains why communicators and leaders need to polish up their presentation skills.

8th November 2019

At a time when people are questioning what they hear in the media, and doubting politicians, poor presentation in business is a big issue. The rise of social media and bitesize content is making us look positively on the efficacy and power of speech – but people aren’t convinced by what they are hearing. There is a pressure to find the human touch through communication.

Public speaking is not something we are all comfortable with – in a Jobsite survey of 2,000 British employees in 2019, it topped a list of 12 commonly held phobias.

The way leaders, managers and communicators present themselves has ramifications across the workplace, because it affects culture – negatively or positively. Is what you say and the way you say it making people feel valued? Are you demonstrating that you trust your people? Our words need to persuade our audience how to think or feel, or to do something.

Pillars of strength

When I teach presentation skills, one common mistake I see is a failure to grasp the essential task – to connect with the audience, to lead them along in a forward momentum, and to influence the audience to respond in some way to what you are saying.

I get people to think differently about what they already do. When we prepare a presentation, we first think about the main points to cover. My “pillars” methodology makes these headings the spine of the presentation – a super structure that allows the presenter to lead the audience along, pillar by pillar, in a forward momentum. I sometimes think of these like buoy markers – keep following these and you know where you’re heading. You won’t run aground.

Pillars help your presentation to be paced, not raced. If you’re not working towards your next pillar, you can lose your train of thought or get bogged down in supporting information. With your pillars in place, you can slow down, consider your breathing technique and better manage the articulation of words.

Have your audience dance to your tune

For 24 years, I was a professional dancer. That has given me experience in managing behaviour and body language – and thinking on my feet. A lot of the issues with presenting are down to a lack of self-awareness. People tend to lose their body language during a presentation – they rock back and forth, slump in a chair or wave their hands about with no purpose.

Reboot by remembering your hands, feet and head. If you lose control of your hands, drop them to your side. That’s a neutral body shape. Always keep your feet in contact with the floor, whether you are seated or standing. And keep your head parallel to the ceiling. These practical reminders will help you stick to the task of connecting.

One thing I learned from my dance background is to gesture to the end of the extremity. Your energy goes through your toes, and the tips of your fingers. In dance, you keep a line. If you point at a slide, gesture with your full arm. It increases your presence and helps you keep command of the room. It gives the audience confidence in you. They feel like they are being led.

Get into the big room and out of the little room. Put yourselves in the moment – the big room – and stop running an interior monologue in your head, the little room. Kill off the hidden voice, the third eye that looks down. A tennis player at Wimbledon who concentrates too much on the crowd ends up missing the ball. Gesturing fully helps you be in the big room and accept the given that they will be seen.

Why are we here?

Not so long ago, I was asked to a community event hosted by a government group. It was a rather hostile audience who had come to voice complaints about promises made by the group that had not materialised. None of the members of the group addressed this elephant in the room. When the chairperson opened the floor to questions, all hell broke loose – it turned into a shouting match. The panel lost control and respect because they were fielding questions that were not in their presentation. They were rushing to answer without giving the comments due consideration. I feared for people's safety.

When you present, you need empathy. Consider what the audience needs and wants. Why are you there?

On another occasion, a major software company told me they were having a problem addressing potential clients. The sales presentation material they were using was – I am not kidding – 273 slides. This company was obsessed by content. It was a tough fight to get them to accept they could present their new offering without covering every single aspect of it in the body of their presentation.

When a big group prepares a presentation, everyone will chime in with something and it becomes unwieldy. And when messages are repeated, it undermines the pace.

Be selective. The presenter is always the primary focus; not the supporting material. Focus on the pillar first and then the slide. Leave some slides blank. If you later find you really need to fill in some details, you can go back to it. Otherwise, just delete it. Or address it in the Q&A section if you need to.

Keep practising

You can only learn more about presentation skills and how to manage your behaviour by doing it repeatedly, in a workshop. You can read up on it, but that won’t give you the same skills as practising. You could read or watch videos about swimming, but you’re not going to know how to do it until you’re in the water.

Communicators and leaders are no longer afforded the option of not presenting. Face the givens – the basic reality of what’s happening. People have come together in a room to hear and see you speak – so do it the best way you can.


1    Connect with people in the room and be clear on your agenda – lead your audience in a forward momentum, pillar by pillar.

2    Adjust your manner to connect with different audiences or to highlight a pillar. Any adverb can serve as a manner of delivery: serious, humorous, commanding, seductive…

3    Articulate all sounded consonants. If it is sounded, it is heard. It clarifies your message and helps control the tempo.

Charles Serio is a corporate trainer for the public and private sector, running workshops on personal impact and presentation skills in the workplace, and sales processes. He is also artistic director of arts charity Serio Ensemble, having run his own London theatre venue for 12 years.

On 4 May 2020 (1-2pm), Charles will be leading an IoIC webinar on Presentation Skills. Click here for more information and to book your place on this course.

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