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Presentation Genius: Conversation with Simon Raybould

Friday, November 06, 2015
posted by Geetesh on 9:30 AM IST



Simon RaybouldSimon Raybould is a speaker and trainer. As a speaker, he specializes in resilience, emotional robustness, public speaking and presenting. As a trainer, he is the director of the training company Aware Plus. He has a particular speciality as a trainer and coach helping anyone who wants to make better use of their voice or who wants (needs?) to make better presentations. Basically, as he says, "it all boils down to 'impact'". His clients range from start-ups to multi-nationals such as Dell Computers and football teams in the English Premiership!

In this conversation, Simon discusses his new book, Presentation Genius.

Geetesh: Tell us more about why you wrote your book, Presentation Genius and what's the special takeaway for any reader?

Simon:Presentation Genius sits on the borderline between entertainment and research -- there's almost no "opinion" in it -- and that makes it special. I've read nearly 400 research papers from all kinds of backgrounds and areas, and 'translated' them into easily-understood English. What's special is that it's a book based on science.

Presentation GeniusFar, far too often books about presenting are based on what works in the author's experience. I'm not saying they're bad books, but what works well for one person, in one set of circumstances, with a specific personality is not necessarily what's the best thing for a different person in different situations, with a different personality. What this book does (like our training!) is get beyond just my opinion and look at the scientific principles in question, so that people can see why some things work and then figure out how to apply them in their own circumstances.

Can I give you an example that I heard only last week? In fact, I hear it over and over again -- that presenters should get out and about to greet their audience before the presentation starts. There are two things wrong with that advice, potentially. The first is the obvious one that it's simply not possible for a lot of presenters, logistically, and if you're a novice presenter, not being able to do what you're told you 'should' do can cause some angst.

But more subtly, some people are introverts. Doing a happy-clappy meet-and-greet will simply stress them, put them off their work (and possibly do the same to their audience), and therefore make them more likely to make a mistake. Sure, there are some positives, such as being able (occasionally) to pick up ways of customising the presentation, but for introverts the costs can far, far outway the benefits.

So why has this idea become such a popular piece of received wisdom for speakers and presenters? Perhaps firstly because it can make some kind of instinctive, intuitive sense at the superficial level but also because a lot of presenters are extroverts... and they don't have the training to understand that not everyone is like them! They simply assume that everyone is like them, and give blanket-advice... despite it being ill-advised for about half the population!

Presentation Genius is something of an antidote to things like that -- where people are sharing information without checking how useful or how accurate it is! To be honest, this approach probably comes from my background as a research scientist. I worked in universities as a research for 24 years before I became a trainer and author. The result is that everything we cover in our training and everything I cover in the book is validated with hardcore research references.

I'd like to think it reads easily though. After all, if I can't write in a reasonable style I'd be something of a hypocrite! :)

Geetesh: Unlike many other books, Presentation Genius need not be read from cover to cover -- you can just open any section of the book and benefit from the knowledge learned. What do you believe is the benefit of this structured approach?

Simon: You're right, Presentation Genius doesn't need to be read in order -- though it certainly can be, and I expect many people will do exactly that. I've carefully put the chapters in order to make it interesting if that's what people do -- and to increase how much they'll remember -- but there are other ways of reading it. For example, each chapter points to related chapters and there's a set of 'flows' that people can use that I give right at the start... but it can be dipped into and out of.

Why?

Simply because having carefully focussed chunks like I've used is the best way of making the book easy to read and easy to learn from. You don't have to read it in a safe, concentrated way but instead you can read useful, self-contained bits whenever it's convenient for you.

In other words, it's structured like it is because that's the best way to help people use it and learn from it! :)

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