Play to your strengths: finding a presentation style that works for you

Public speaking is one of the most important professional skills you can learn. However, there isn’t just one method that guarantees a good presentation; it varies from person to person.

“This is because you have to be authentic and choose an individual presentation style that plays to your strengths,” says Pat Hayes, Managing Director at Be First and an experienced public speaker. A mentor at Future of London’s January Speaker Showcase, Pat has embraced his own style: avoiding slides and notes, and using a confident, conversational manner to put the audience at ease.

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Pat Hayes, Be First

This style isn’t for everyone, but that’s the point. Pat admits that it’s taken considerable practice to get here. Finding a style that works for you will take time. But there are steps you can take to get there faster – and this is exactly what FoL’s Speaker Showcase is all about.

Part of FoL’s Speaker Diversity Network, the Showcase is a free, peer-led public speaking practice session where everyone delivers a three-minute, three-slide presentation on a topic of their choice. The atmosphere is friendly and informal but also constructive, with feedback on presentation delivery from the mentor and fellow participants.

The Showcase attracts a wide array of professionals from the built environment like Mariam Sani from One Housing, who presented on the rise of modular construction and its potential impact on the housing sector. And Olivia Russell from BPTW, who raised the issue of how older people’s housing is classified in the planning system.

Although it’s a fixed format, being able to choose their topic gives participants the opportunity to present on one of their interests outside of work. Tom Gill from GLA presented on the need to introduce carbon labelling on food, and Joshua Bwire from LB Hackney on the threat of technology to face-to-face communication.

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Speaker Showcase participants

There are times when you won’t be able to choose your topic, or even your slides. How do you apply your own presentation style and remain authentic in those situations? Pat’s advice is to speak to the author of the slides and learn the content as thoroughly as possible. “Get to the point where you can say it in your own way,” advises Pat. “Avoid the corporate lexicon and say it as plainly as possible.”

Pat gave lots of encouraging feedback to the participants. Here are a few of his top tips.

  • Messaging: This is the starting point and your presentation should be planned around it. Keep it clear and structured.
  • Tailoring: Think about your audience; their background, interests and prior knowledge of the topic and tailor your content to fit.
  • Slides: Don’t feel like you must use slides, particularly if they don’t fit your presentation style.
  • Notes: If you need them, try to move from a script to bullet points on small neat cards.
  • On the day: Don’t be rushed and get to the venue early to see the room layout and whether there’s a lectern, microphone or a stage.
  • Networking: Your presentation is a profile-raising opportunity. Stick around after the event for networking to make new connections.

The Showcase is the gateway to FoL’s Speaker Bank – a vetted database of public speakers from different backgrounds and disciplines in London, predominately from under-presented groups in the built environment sector.

Being part of the Bank brings development and profile-raising opportunities for speakers. And it’s a free-to-use resource for any event organisers looking to widen their network and diversify their speaker rosters.

Find out more about Future of London’s Speaker Diversity Network, supported by housing association L&Q and design and management consultancy NPS Group, and register for the next Speaker Showcase on 7 May (here) or our complementary Professional Presentation Skills workshop on 14 May (here).