How to win friends and influence people

28th September 2007 at 01:00
There are many ways to give a good presentation. A sure sign of a bad one is the response given by one young girl whose class was taken to a wildlife lecture and asked to comment on the experience afterwards: "This told me more about penguins than I wanted to know."

The schoolboy delivering a presentation at the end of last term in the Mitchell Library Theatre in Glasgow was in no danger of making a similar mistake: "My talk is about good health," he says. "First I'll tell you about drugs. You shouldn't take them. They're bad for you." He makes an expansive gesture. "I don't know why people do it. Now I'm going to talk about fruit. Eat five pieces a day."

The presentation is short, sharp and effective, the boy's voice is strong and assured, and the audience is gripped. A few of the primary and secondary pupils taking part in this demonstration by participants in a new approach to public speaking and personal development could have comman-ded a stage naturally, says Libby Hammond, who runs Tailored Talks, a public speaking agency. "But most would have been terrified at the thought."

The secret, she says, is authentic confidence. "Before I began working in schools three years ago, I was delivering courses to the business sector. What I noticed was that no matter who was giving a talk, 97 per cent of them were competent but only 3 per cent were confident. Their presentation training had been all about skills and competencies. They hadn't been taught to think 'Who am I?', 'What is my natural delivery style?', What are my talents in communication?'

"People will never remember what you do or what you say. They will remember how you make them feel that's a quote from my brother Robert Sieger, who wrote Natural Born Winners."

The topic of the presentation and the outward appearance of the speaker may differ between classroom and boardroom, says Ms Hammond, the author of Is There a Speaker in the Room?. But there are more similarities than differences inside their heads. The aim is to create people who are "comfortable in their own skins", whatever the circumstances.

"There are plenty of courses that teach you skills. Ours is different. We tackle your internal terrorists the things that sabotage your confidence inside your own mind."

These are widespread, in boardroom and classroom. So although the move into schools came about almost by accident when the local primary invited Ms Hammond to give a motivational talk to its pupils it has been very successful, says Sheila Reynolds, principal teacher at Airth Primary in Falkirk.

"After that visit, we started working with Libby on adapting her course for schoolchildren. Basically, it's about the same thing whether you're in business or schools you are either going to bore your audience or entertain them."

But the steps to achieving one and avoiding the other vary with the individual. "Some children would write screeds when preparing their talk. But we found that some who didn't like to write they might just use key words or ad lib were very good at getting up and talking. That did surprise us."

The focus was on gaining confidence. "So Libby gave them a sheet and they worked with a buddy on what they liked about themselves and each other. She got them to talk in small groups at first, to get them used to speaking and listening and sharing their enthusiasms."

Gradually, the programme was developed and adapted for every stage. "We have a formal progression and a programme of work we can build on each year," says Mrs Reynolds. "The younger ones are getting a chance to see what the older ones can do. We are even giving it to the kids in the nursery.

"My P7s have been doing it for almost three years and have come on a lot. They are getting up at assemblies and happily talking off the cuff when they're asked."

While catching kids young is always effective, Gift of the Gabs also works well with secondary school pupils, says Linzi Sloan, an English teacher at Castle Douglas High in Dumfries and Galloway, where eight secondaries and 13 primaries are using the programme. "A few of our kids started out confident and have built on the skills they had. But most would have been mortified at the idea of standing up, even in front of their classmates."

Two full-day workshops for the second year have been followed by lessons delivered by teachers using materials provided by Gift of the Gabs. "There are kids in my class I'd never have believed would have been able to stand up and give a presentation on a subject without any preparation," says Mrs Sloan.

"The people who delivered the course got them to look at their career aspirations, which gave them a focus. They got them thinking about what made them stand out as individuals. They came from a diverse range of backgrounds, which made the kids see what is possible."

At the heart of Gift of the Gabs is a focus on who people are, rather than what they do, says Libby Hammond. "We are aiming for an internal shift in these kids, by helping them build a set of ideas and a vocabulary around who they can be. As a result, they start to feel good about themselves.

"We are not looking for the slickest presentation. I believe in the value and significance of the individual. I'm passionate about people. The words kids learn about themselves in Gift of the Gabs form a shelter they can be safe in when things get tough on the outside. If they're thinking 'I like myself because... ' it provides a sanctuary if people tell them they're stupid.

"They get in touch with their feelings. You can see their personality and behaviour change on the programme, and their confidence growing. This isn't wussy stuff. It's about learning to communicate in a kinder way."


Primary: pound;1,500 for schools with more than 200 pupils. This covers a full-day CPD session and classroom materials for early years to P7.

Secondary: pound;2,000 for unlimited numbers, from S1-6. Individual teachers can be trained as trainers for pound;250 per annum.


Andrew Hunter Blair, S2, Castle Douglas High

I was keen on being a farmer before, because that's my background. Now I fancy studying politics and history at university. I think I might become a politician. I come from a family of five and we often have big arguments. I'd do all right in the House of Commons, I think.

I don't really mind if I say something wrong or if people don't agree with me. I'm not scared. Maybe that's why I was voted best talker in my group. If somebody asked if I would like to go up now and do a presentation without any planning, I could do it.

I was confident to start with, but I got quite a lot from the programme. They showed us about body language, such as using your hands and making gestures, and they told us we should be ourselves and not try to act. That's important.

Jamie Weir, P7,

Airth Primary

I gave a talk on fossils, which is something I've been interested in since I was about five and I watched Jurassic Park. I brought the best fossils from my collection. You'd be surprised where you can find them. I fancy being a palaeontologist when I leave school that's a person who studies fossils. You can do that in the field or in a museum.

The high point of my talk was all of it, I think. It was fun. The first time I had to give a talk, about three years ago, I was really nervous and it was only to about 20 people, not like today. I could never have done it in a place as big as this. No way.

The first year we did it we had little tick charts, and people we worked with would tell us what they liked, or if there was something we could improve on. Then we'd do vice versa.

My first talk last year I thought was good, but my teacher said it was too long. I thought the longer it was, the more confidence you must have. But I did a shorter one after that. I accepted the criticism.

We talk about lots of different things. There isn't anything I find boring.

John Davidson, P6,

Airth Primary

I've only been doing the talks for a year. My talk today was about my family and my mum where she works, what age she is and stuff like that. She is a nurse. I wanted to tell people how good my family are.

I was nervous before I went on. I'd done it before in class, which was OK. More people make you more nervous, but it was all right when I got started. What I've learnt is to keep cool and take deep breaths. That makes you feel more calm.

When I was at the optician last time I saw all the stuff they do. It was really interesting. So I want to be an optician when I leave school. I think you have to go to university. That's my plan.

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