To note or not to note

Everyone tasked with speaking in public has the same choice to make: to make the speech with or without notes. The opinion of some people is that using notes is unprofessional. But is it?

In 1914 a young Winston Churchill stood to speak in the House of Commons. Churchill had memorised his speech, but part-way through he lost his way. He repeated his previous sentence, hoping that would jog his memory. It didn’t. Churchill had to sit down, humiliated. He would go on to make many impressive speeches, all of them with the aid of notes.
So if using notes was good enough for Winston Churchill, it should be fine for all of us to use them. Right?
According to professional keynote speaker Bob Ferguson, a three-time Toastmasters champion, the answer is yes.
And no.

“It all depends on WHY you are giving the speech in the first place,” says Bob. “At one end of the public speaking spectrum there are Professional Speakers. Speaking is their job. At the other end there are business speakers. Speaking is part of their job.”

Bob identifies two major differences between a Professional Speaker and a Business Speaker:

1. Content

Professional Speakers may have three, perhaps four speeches. Some have just one. The Professional Speaker will customise a speech from their arsenal for each engagement, but essentially they are repeating the same performance again and again.

Business Speakers stand up in front of audiences in a variety of circumstances, perhaps covering project updates or sales presentations or team briefings. They’re dealing with new material almost every time they make a presentation.

2. Preparation Time

When Professional Speakers develop their keynote speech(es) they spend a lot of time crafting both the content and the performance. They allow themselves time for research, rehearsal and trial runs. They’ll organise feedback from friendly audiences and hone their product.

That’s not the world the Business Speaker inhabits. Pretty much each speech focuses on new subject matter and will often be delivered at short notice.

Professional Speakers and Business Speakers may seem to be doing the same thing, but only in the way that Usain Bolt and Mo Farah seem to be doing the same thing.

For a Business Speaker, using notes makes sense. Their audience isn’t there to be dazzled by performance, they’re there for information. And if notes help the Business Speaker deliver that information effectively, what does it matter?

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about how we use notes.

Bob Ferguson says, “When I have to use notes I either use small flesh-pink card (so the audience doesn’t see the flash of white on my hand as it moves) or I use a speech map (rather like a mind map) which I put on a music stand set at under waist height. That way I can see my aide memoir clearly but it doesn’t interfere with my engagement or eye contact with the audience. I also put small props on my music stand so I’m not retreating to the back corners of the stage, where the lecterns normally are, to retrieve my visual aids.”

For those still feeling a little sniffy about the use of notes, consider this: What do these iconic speeches have in common?

• John F Kennedy’s Man to the Moon speech
• Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech
• Winston Churchill’s We will fight them on the beaches speech

They were all made behind a lectern … with notes!

If you would like help in becoming more confident with your speeches then we have courses planned across the UK and we can also come to your business.

10 Reasons your Public Speaking is sending the audience to sleep

Public speaking is an art – ask anyone who’s sat through a poor presentation.

It’s a sad fact, but overall the standard of public speaking falls well below where it should be, and that’s a pity, because being an accomplished speaker is an excellent route to raising a business profile.

And with that in mind, here are some pointers from Barbara Moynihan, a Past President of Toastmasters International (Dun Laoghaire club). Barbara believes there are 10 ways a public speaker can sabotage their presentation:

1. Poor rapport. The easiest way to get an audience on your side is to smile, start on time, dress appropriately for the occasion, and ensure you finish on time.

2. Not being authentic. The best speakers are confident, and it’s easier to be confident if you’re comfortable, and it’s easier to be comfortable if you’re being yourself. But sometimes we need to practice being ourselves. Try recording yourself on your phone, or even video yourself. Is the person you see and hear really you, or someone who looks like you pretending to be something you’re not?

3. Not minding the gap. Silence can speak volumes. Emphasise your key points by using pauses to add impact.

4. Being stone-faced. Engage the audience by engaging the 80 muscles in our face. You can produce around 7,000 facial gestures. Use more than one.

5. Avoiding the audience. Don’t be afraid, look them in the eyes. Do not spend your talk turning away from the audience to read from your PowerPoint. Slides should enhance your talk, not act as subtitles.

6. Too much tech-talk. Avoid TLAs. People don’t like it when they don’t understand Three Letter Acronyms. Unnecessary technical detail is another turn-off. Keep your message simple, and in English.

7. Being too serious. Everyone likes to laugh, but that doesn’t mean you have to be Michael McIntyre. If you can tell a joke, great. But if that’s not you, there are other ways to inject humour into your presentation. Try anecdotes, relevant pictures or short movie clips; Google and YouTube are your friends.

8. Poor planning. Your presentation is like a novel or a movie. It needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Keep the structure of your talk simple, with clear signposts and transitions to help your audience follow your narrative.

9. Lacking energy. Don’t be Mister or Ms Monotone. Project your voice, vary your pace and pitch, and be animated, using gestures to emphasise points.

10. Being boring. Adjectives, adverbs, metaphors and similes are what Toastmasters champion Andrew Brammer calls “linguistic sparklers”. Remember to sparkle.

Hopefully those tips will encourage you to polish your presentation skills and reap the benefits of public speaking. And if you really want to be inspired, join us on our Keynote Speaker Course and we will help you sparkle in front of your next audience.

MARKETING TIPS #3: Improve website calls-to-action

SEO has been one of the hottest, must-do marketing tactics for any small business over the last few years. However, according to William Buist of xTen, great SEO can only take your website so far. Making it to the top of Google’s organic search list, or generating traffic with ads, won’t do your business any good if visitors don’t actually convert into customers. When it comes to improving your call-to-action, most businesses don’t need a dramatic overhaul; it could be as simple as tweaking the size, colour and location of your Call To Action (CTA) button or slightly altering your messaging.

Look at your click-through rates (CTR), bounce rates and page views to determine where in the sales process potential customers are leaving your website. Do you rank highly in Google search results but have a low conversion of visitors to customers?

Can customers find the information they need? Do they start to buy but not complete? Do you have subscribers but no conversations or engagement? Improving your calls to action is the first step to addressing these problems and converting more prospects into customers.

It’s not something you can leave – you need to measure and test, and change seeking always to improve and learn from what happens. Having a clear strategy for what to test and taking the actions to do it matter.

See also Marketing Tips #1 Implement a Strategic Content Marketing Plan and #2 Revamp your Social Media Strategy

See also our Sales and Marketing Skills Courses

Marketing Tips #2: Revamp your social media strategy

Are your tweets and Facebook posts hanging somewhere in social media cyberspace or are you actually connecting with your customers? While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn continue to dominate the social media world, depending on your business, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr and SlideShare are equally important social platforms.

William Buist, founder of xTen, believes that an effective social media strategy starts with a clear understanding of which networks are most relevant for your customers and clients. Jut like with content marketing, social media marketing requires a clear plan-of-action.

So, how do you know if your social media strategy is missing the mark? Look beyond the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes and focus on engagement and amplification metrics. What makes content “go viral” or generate leads? Social media marketing, like content marketing drives leads to you by building awareness, attracting interest, and cultivating relationships. If your Twitter feed is a constant stream of promotional sales posts, you need to re-think your strategy. Potential customers and clients are more likely to favourite and re-tweet your posts when you share information that’s relevant and meaningful to their daily life, and then prompt them to click on a link in your tweet to learn more.

For example, tweet a surprising new stat from a new industry study and your brief analysis of this stat along with an invitation to learn more (that links back to your company blog). Keep an eye on your amplification metrics (e.g., re-tweets, shares, re-pins, etc.); these metrics are a clear sign your content is resonating with your target audience and that your social media strategy is working.

If you need help with your social media strategy then call us on 01423 861122 or email us at and we will ask one of our experts to call you.

Once you get your strategy right and need help in developing your selling skills then look at our many sales courses available for in-company delivery and/or accessing one of our scheduled courses.

Link back to Marketing Tips #1

See also Marketing Tips #3 Improve Website Call-to-Action

Marketing Tips #1: Implement a strategic content marketing plan

2014 was the year major brands got serious about content marketing; did yours? William Buist, founder of xTen, advises that instead of relying on disruptive (and unpopular) banner ads, marketers are investing in long-form storytelling both online and offline. They’re getting smarter about targeting customers with original, compelling and informative content.

If buzzwords like “native content” and “branded content” sound like the same thing to you, then it’s time for your small business to get serious about its content marketing strategy. Effective content marketing is more than publishing the occasional post to your company blog. You need a clear strategy. Buist recommends you start with a content calendar.

So, what’s a content calendar? A content calendar maps out the over-arching strategy you will follow for your blog. It keeps you consistently publishing original content, establishes clear deadlines for drafts and posts, organizes your ideas for future content into a coherent plan, and keeps track of holidays/major events (e.g. industry awards), around which you may want to offer customized content.

If you need help in how to plan and implement then call us and we will spend time with you and your team in developing an effective strategy. You can call us on 01423 861122 or email us at

Alternatively you can join us on our Practical Marketing Skills Course in Leeds or we can run the course at your business – click here for more information.

Link to Marketing Tips #2: Revamp your social media strategy

See also Marketing Tips #3 Improve Website Call-to-Action

Why You Should Invest In Business Networking

Most of us have had to engage in business networking at some point in our careers and will probably need to do so again. Perhaps you attend an early morning breakfast networking, are a delegate at an industry conference or you simply network with your colleagues and co-workers. Whatever type of networking you do, it’s an essential professional and personal skill for your career and business development.

While a few people enjoy networking, you’re not alone if the thought of it makes you feel really uncomfortable. It’s not easy to walk into a room full of strangers, strike up a conversation and turn that conversation into a long-term relationship. Even the guy who bounds in full of confidence is likely feeling a little hot under the collar.

Fortunately we have some really practical business networking courses which are designed to help you prepare properly and perfect your networking skills in a safe environment. We also have some great content on our blog about effective communication skills, all of which will make you a better networker.

Why should you invest in networking?

So, we have you covered when you’re in a networking situation, but the question we hear lots is ‘why should I invest in networking?’ Networking does cost money and time, so it’s easy to see why you may question the usefulness of networking and whether or not it’s a worthy business investment. There are so many great reasons to invest in networking and we’ve listed three below:

1 – Make Connections

Richard Branson said that, ‘Succeeding in business is about making connections’. Branson is talking here about connections between people, but also connections between ideas and inspiration. There’s no better way to connect with great like-minded people and generate new ideas than networking. You’re able to meet regularly with the shared goal of building relationships and helping each other grow, which pays huge dividends in the long term.

2 – Become a Better Listener

Of course it’s not just about making connections, it’s also what you do with those connections that matters. As an effective networker you should know how to ask great questions and listen actively so that you really hear what the person is saying and where they’re coming from. In doing so, you can spot opportunities and get really valuable feedback on your business. Effective questioning and listening is an incredibly valuable sales skill and something we also cover in our Principles of effective selling course.

3 – Perfect Your Pitch

Effective networking also requires you to present yourself and your brand really well. The simple act of introducing yourself over and over at different networking events is a brilliant way to get your elevator pitch just right. Practice makes perfect when it comes to crafting a great introduction, and networking is a brilliant practice ground. Use every new encounter to test different introductions, see how people respond and make a note of the questions they ask. Before long you’ll be pitch perfect!

ROI of Networking

When considering the actual Return on Investment (ROI) of networking, you simply need to keep in mind the old saying that ‘People Buy People’. The very fact that you have widened your network provides greater opportunities for new leads. Go into a networking situation with the intention of meeting great people and building lasting relationships (rather than just selling). In doing this you will find that it brings the reward of referrals long after the initial meeting takes place.

According to Robert Davis form the University of San Francisco, ‘people who participated in networking groups appeared to be above-average networkers, which resulted in more referrals and more clients’. Ivan Misner who is the Chairman of the much renowned networking organisation BNI, talks about this and more in his post on about the ROI of Networking.

Never Stop Networking

Although most networking events take place at a specific location and point in time, the addition of social media tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter ensure that you stay top of mind with your new found connections. Support them by commenting on their blog posts or retweeting them on Twitter. Make sure you drop an email to catch up once in a while. Many networking experts will tell you that the one-to-one follow up is crucial in converting those connections into customers. Social media, email and even the good old phone are brilliant ways of bridging the gap between exchanging business cards and ‘shaking hands’ on a deal.

Become a Better Networker with Ripley Training

As mentioned in the post we have two networking courses aimed at both internal and external networking. These courses will help you to master the art of networking now that you’ve decided it’s a great business investment. We also have a great range of sales courses which can help you question and listen effectively, pitch to perfection and negotiate a great deal when the time comes.

How to Pitch for New Business

Attracting and impressing new clients is essential to any business looking to grow. Ambitious companies are all vying for new business alongside you, and having an edge over your competitors through an exceptional presentation can mean the difference between a contract and a handshake goodbye.

However, pitching for new business is one of the most intense and nerve-wracking parts of business today. As tensions run high, you can start to feel the pressure. This is because your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, which increases your heart rate and makes you sweat. Cortisol can limit your creativity and leave you incapable of interacting with the room. This means you’re in danger of failing to nail the pitch and win that all-important contract. So how can you stop this happening and ensure that your pitch is successful?

Preparation is Paramount

An effective presentation comes after much preparation. Your number one priority is to prepare properly. You need to research the company that you are meeting, figure out their strengths and weaknesses. Make sure that you aren’t just selling them your idea; you are selling them the perfect solution – designed specifically for their company.

If you’ve gone over all eventualities, then you won’t have anything to be anxious about. Practice some ‘what if?’ scenarios, such as a PowerPoint failure, to make sure that you can deal with any scenario and have a back-up plan.

Telling your Story

All the pressure of the pitch can make you want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Professional public speakers recommend speaking 10% slower than you normally would. Remember that people have got to take in everything that you’re saying. Communicate with confidence by speaking in a lively, engaging way. Leave natural pauses for everyone to digest what you’re saying.
Be yourself, as people will quickly see through a façade. Don’t rely on jargon and buzzwords; instead, speak from the heart using the type of language that you use every day. Remember to leave time at the end for questions.

Consider your Body Language

Everything has an effect on how you come across to your potential new clients, not just what you say. According to researcher Albert Mehrabian, the words you use and your tone of your voice accounts for just 45% of communication with over 55% of communication deriving subconsciously from your body language.

In your meeting, slouching, frowning, and hunching all make you look smaller and less impressive. People are looking for emotional cues when they listen to you. Instead of acting uncomfortable, you must exude confidence. Stand up straight with your shoulders back, meet people’s eyes when you speak, and smile.

Richard Branson has some excellent advice for people pitching for new clients. He says: ‘Enthusiasm is contagious.’ If you can share your genuine excitement about working with a new client, you’ll no doubt impress them.

Perfect your pitch with a little help from Ripley Training

At Ripley, we offer a number of courses to help you nail your presentation, teaching you everything from effective planning and preparation, to how to Q&A sessions to help you engage with those on the other side of the table in a more effective manner. From basic courses to advanced presentation skills, we’re here to help you with your pitch and presentation techniques.

We run courses across the country to help you hone your voice and perfect your pitch. Give us a call on 01423-861-122 or fill in our short contact form.

How to Come Up With BIG Marketing Ideas

Having a ‘big’ idea at the heart of your marketing strategy is the only way to ensure that your target audiences will take any notice of your campaign. But how often do you actually create an engaging big idea that they cannot resist?

What is a big idea?

A big idea is what underpins your marketing campaign strategy. It helps to inform and determine which marketing channels you use to promote your message – such as advertising, PR or social media. Many channels might be efficient at communicating to the audience, but only some may be ideal for the campaign’s particular idea. Indeed, the media used can be the making of a great idea! Continue reading

Who Killed The Sales Opportunity?

Business today is complex and competitive; and there are many conflicting internal and external environmental factors which play a part in whether a customer chooses to purchase from you.

When those ‘sales opportunities’ are there, you don’t want to lose out on a sale due to a poor customer service experience! In today’s commercial environment, it isn’t just the sole responsibility of the sales team to win and retain customers. You need to be able to deliver exceptional customer experiences at every touchpoint. Continue reading

What are Your People Capable of?

Business owners may realise they need to invest in their marketing and sales people, to maximise their capabilities. But identifying skills gaps and prioritising development is never easy, particularly when budgets are tight. The simplest way to do this is to conduct a ‘skills gap analysis’ on your sales and marketing team to identify the appropriate training required to justify your investment. Continue reading