Speech of the Month, June 2021 - Gary Webster

Gary Webster proves that you don't have to be super-confident or charismatic to own a room. Read on to discover what you do need....

Speech of the Month, June 2021 - Gary Webster

When a courtroom spontaneously gives a witness a round of applause, as happened after Gary Webster finished giving evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry, then that room has been on the receiving end of some top-notch public speaking. But when we think about a person who can blow away a room with dazzling oratory, Gary Webster probably isn’t the person we draw to mind. 

We’re picturing someone with fab posture, a strong voice with plenty of range and resonance, eyes that cover every inch of the room and stare directly into the souls of their targets, large, elegant gestures, a clear, inspiring message with moments of humour that zing like an aromatic top-note. Basically, we’re thinking Barack Obama. 

Gary Webster possesses few of the Obama attributes. Click on this link to see him in action and I’m sure you’ll agree. Yet, as un-showy as Webster’s delivery style is, he still has plenty of presence. And it’s his presence that makes him such a must-watch and a must-listen.

So that’s great news, isn’t it? You don’t have to be Mr or Ms Charisma to own a room. But you do need to grasp what presence is; the habits that boost it and the habits that disappear it. 

You have presence when you appear accessible, engaged and in the moment; you’re focused on what you’re saying and the people you’re saying it to. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you achieve presence:

Do bring the true you to your presentation

Being professional does not mean being bland. But in a working world of appraisals, it’s easy to see why so many choose to play safe and park their personalities. Bland will be safe, and we can’t be criticised for being safe. But bland is never memorable. 

Conversely, some who'd be happy to be themselves morph into bland, professional robots because, only by assuming this persona, can they say the words they know they’re expected to say. They couldn’t make those ringing endorsements as themselves because it wouldn’t be genuine. And I sympathise with that. But even if you’re not wetting your knickers as you present those bus shelter designs you should be excited about, if you can still get across the message that you care about shelter and succinctly tell the tale of that day when the heavens opened as you stood at a shelter-less bus stop for a service that failed to arrive for that all-important job interview, then you won’t feel like a phoney and your story will strengthen the objective of your presentation – and that’s great. 

Don’t do a last-minute mental rehearsal minutes before you go on 

Now is not the time to worry about pronouncing a certain word or name or recalling the details of some statistics. Nor is it the time to check your emails and get all hot and bothered by someone’s sniffy response to a note they clearly haven’t understood. No. Now is the time to keep calm and focus on your breathing. 

Do listen to yourself as you speak

Often, if we’re imparting information we've given scores of times before, it’s easy to go on auto-pilot. But your audience will sense this and when your brain re-joins your mouth, you’ll be shaken by the verbal freewheeling you’ve just done. So listen to yourself. It will keep you in the moment. 

Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong

Okay, so there was a certain point you intended to make on slide 4 and it’s when you’re on slide 7 that you remember it. What to do? Go back and make it? Probably not because your talk has moved on. So because the moment for it has now gone, many of us will decide to brutalise ourselves. 

As we’re presenting we’re screaming internally, ‘How could you have forgotten that? This is so typical of you! Miss Clarke (a toxic geography teacher from school) was right when she publicly declared you useless.' But all that self-flagellation is doing is distracting you. So, instead, don't go there. Take your attention to your audience and hearing yourself. Besides, you’ll probably be able to bring up that point you forgot during the Q&A that will follow. 

Take two of those tips and use them to boost your presence. And rejoice – you don’t have to have jaw-dropping poise or polish to own a room. 

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Five stars
“I have known Emma a long time, and she is my 'go to girl' for all things public speaking/presenting. At the University of Salford she would help us prepare our Graduation presenters - inspiring them, giving them strategies to cope under the spotlight and confidence to deliver. At UCLan, Emma delivered a workshop aimed at helping us teaching staff to 'use our voices' - and I still do the exercises in the car travelling to work. She is a joy to work with, always delivers, 'tailors' her approach (and yes a deliberate pun) and is really empathetic with her clients. What's not to like?”

Max Rawlings - UCLAN

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