Gavin Ingham Interviews Michael Portillo About How To Improve Your Presentations

Here are some tips on how to improve your presentations from Michael Portillo… Recently, I was speaking at the ISMM’s Successful Selling conference and was on stage after Michael Portillo. Chatting with him beforehand we were talking about the art of presenting and he shared a few of his personal thoughts about the critical importance of presenting for business and personal success and his philosophies on presenting. This was so interesting that I grabbed my Flip HD camera and shot a quick video which you can watch below.

Unfortunately, it was a little windy so incase you missed the odd bit, I had it transcribed both on the video and below. I am sure that you will find some presenting tips on how to improve your presentations in this video no matter how experienced you are. Enjoy!

Here I am with Michael Portillo. We’re going to have a little chat. I’m at the ISMM about to do the Successful Selling conference and Michael’s the keynote speaker this morning. A friend of mine was just doing a quick chat with Michael and one of the things that came out was the importance of presenting and success and, as my friend said to me, “I’ve never heard that in an interview before,” so what I wanted to do was grab a couple of tips from Michael about presenting and about how presenting has been successful for him in his career. So hello Michael, nice to meet you….

Very, very good to see you indeed… 

Michael, so tell me a little more about that… 

Well, I feel rather diffident because I don’t really know if I am a good presenter or not but when I present, I tend to operate, by the way, without notes. That’s partly because I do it all the time but I have a feeling that people really concentrate on what you’re saying if they’re not distracted by what your body’s doing, you’re not fiddling with bits of paper, you’re not fiddling with too many slides. I try to engage the audience, with my eyes. I look all the way around the audience and because I’m not using notes I have the capacity to do that. By the way, because I’m not using notes, I also have the capability to chop and change my material as I go along. So, if an audience is responding to something that I’m saying, I’ll give them a little bit more of it. If my jokes are going flat, I’ll cut short the number of jokes. I give myself a lot of flexibility. What I like to think is that I speak with conviction. I’ve chosen what I’m going to say, what I’ve decided to say is what I believe in; I think it’s truthful, genuine, and sincere. I think that’s absolutely vital to the message. And beyond that, well, of course I’ve had a lot of practice. I’ve been public speaking, and on television for many many years. I haven’t had training, which probably I should have done, so I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m sure if I went through training, I could be improved in all sorts of ways, but naturally, doing something repeatedly, testing it out with an audience, gives you a lot of feedback, gives you a lot of understanding about how you might want to adapt it in the future.

I always think there’s always something slightly stilted about somebody who walks up, puts their notes down, and then just talks from the notes. And I guess there’ll be people who are listening to this who will think, “Whoa, no notes! That’s gonna really freak me out. If I put my notes down, I’m gonna forget what to say, I’m gonna forget what I’m talking about, I’m gonna lose the thread of things.” What advice would you have for those people?

I would say, build up to it. I mean, the fact is that most of us say the same things again and again. I don’t mean we always make exactly the same presentation, but we have kind of modules in our head don’t we? You know, we’ve got an introductory piece, we’ve got a piece about a particular product, or a particular thought, or a particular idea, and most of what we say is actually putting these modules together. So as long as you’re dealing with these modules quite frequently, you’ll find that actually you do have them in your head. But by all means, have a bit of paper, which is just there for that panic moment, when you’re moving from thought one to thought two, you know, paragraph A to paragraph B. Just have it there so you know in a word or two what the next point is, but try not to use it and it’s like riding a bicycle of course… riding a bicycle without any support is terrifying when you begin, but afterwards you can’t imagine that you needed someone holding on to you.

I know you mention the panic moment there and I know I’ve had a few panic moments stood in front of groups. So Michael, would you be happy to share with us, have you had a panic moment? If so, can you tell us something about it?

Yeah, absolutely, funnily enough I had a panic moment quite recently. I went onto a stage to do a presentation and I just had a panic. I just felt the curtain come down. And I think luckily it has only happened to me once, but it was recent,  I was surprised by it. I said, “Do you know? I’m awfully sorry, I can’t remember what I came here to say.” I walked off stage and came back a minute later. And then it was all alright. But yes, it can happen. There’s no guarantee.

And what was the response to you saying that?

Well I think they were slightly embarrassed, then I think they were warm when I went back. You live to fight another day.

The world didn’t end and you got on with it, which I think is great advice. I think when people watch presenting, one of the things I talk about, is what differentiates a great presentation, from a ‘so-so’ presentation? So, not necessarily from your own skill set, or  yourself, but what presenters do you like? Who do you respect? Who do you admire? And what is it about them that you think, “Wow”?

Well, I think they never lose engagement with the audience. By the way, I find myself at a great disadvantage if I can’t see the audience. I did a speech last night where the audience was in the dark and my performance absolutely suffered. You know, I hadn’t realised they would not light the audience. Terrible. So you never lose your engagement with the audience, you always speak with passion. So the voice is going up and down, there’s variety of tone and pace, the arms are working with it. You’re probably not moving your feet too much, but the energy is coming out through your body. Probably the messages are limited in number and pretty clear. There’s got to be some humour in there. It probably comes out at unexpected times and it’s not a bad thing to tell people what you’re going to say and then say it and then tell them what you’ve said, so that they’re aways aware of the structure. People get a bit ‘panicky’ if they don’t know where the thing’s going. I’m about to make a speech that begins quite a long way from where it ends up and so I’ll have to tell them at the beginning the reason I’m beginning here, which is not where you’d expect, is because eventually I’ll come to where you expect me to be. 

Fantastic stuff. One final question for you, How important do you think the ability to present is, in today’s society, whether as an individual or in business?

Well, on a scale of 1-10, 10.

10! Fantastic. And why do you think that is?

Well, I think it’s because, you know, we are human beings and we relate to public human beings. And despite all the technology that is there intermediating between us, ultimately we want to hear a message, or we want to buy something, or we want to spend time, or we want to have a meal, or we want to make love to, or we want to marry a human being. And that’s why being able to express who you are, what you think, the idea you want to put across, the thing you want to sell, whatever it is, seems to be, absolutely, the most important thing of all.

I think it would be wrong of me, while I’ve got you here, not to ask you one sort of personal interest question because the thing with online video is people always want to know a little bit more about the person than just the straight stuff. So, out of interest, who for you is the most interesting person you’ve ever met and why?

Probably Nelson Mandela. He was just, well he’s still alive of course, he is so extraordinarily charismatic. I met him, this is a bit of a name dropping story, but he was the president of South Africa and I met him at a lunch, at which the Queen also attended. He was very funny, he made an excellent speech, told some excellent jokes about how he’d disgraced himself staying at Buckingham Palace and the Queen was there and it was very, very funny. But what I remember most of all was, we were in the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane and at the end of the lunch I was chatting to him. He was the President of South Africa, I was just just a fairly ordinary minister in the British Government, he took me by the arm into Park Lane, and HE led me out of the hotel. He was in my country, HE led me out of the hotel and I was standing in Park Lane, and he saw me to my car, and I thought, “Hey guys! I’m standing with Nelson Mandela! Can everyone see that I’m standing with Nelson Mandela?” What amazing charisma and magnanimity.

Fantastic. Michael, thank you so much. I know you’re going to go on stage in a moment but it’s really great of you to come out here and spend a little time chatting and so, thank you very much. Thank you very much. So there we go! Presenting, life, success, sales, business, Nelson Mandela, the Queen and of course, some incident going on that we will probably never know what that was. Thanks very much for paying attention and being here.