The objective for the participants was to talk about an industry issue they feel strongly about in under three minutes with no notes and no slides.
This is the third time this event has run and we had our highest ever number of agencies applying to compete. The ten making it to the day were Valeria Danese from Wavemaker, Mark Lomasney from Total Media, Rachel Mulcahy from Reprise Digital, Liz Oakley from The&Partnership, Sangita Sivanesan from Generation Media, Ben Rooke from The Kite Factory, Hemal Soni from Geometry, Luke Thornton from JWT, Tom Uglow from Posterscope and Luke Wretham from MKTG.
We had a slightly worrying start to the day as only one person, Liz Oakley, admitted to having practiced their speech. Practicing your content out loud is critical to memorising not just what you say, but how you say it. There’s a lot going on in the brain when you are presenting and practicing out loud gets it into a safer part of the brain (the cerebellum) and away from the vulnerable pre-frontal cortex, where it’s susceptible to the primeval fight and flight mechanism, which will cause you to blank.
In the busy, busy ad world rehearsal time is, these days, almost non-existent, but what I know from years of observation is that it takes 4-5 rehearsals before people really know their content, so this is what we did. Each presented to the other and gave feedback on voice and body language. As the rehearsals progressed we gave them more feedback on their content, building in story techniques, sharpening their hooks and making sure they finished on a high. Finally I took them though a 7 step process for building self-confidence, a mix of sports psychology, controlling the inner critic and bigging yourself up! Then there was a final filmed rehearsal, a chance for them to look at themselves on a screen (very painful) and then they were as ready as they were ever going to be. They drew cards to decide the order and then they were off.
What always delights and surprises me is how, when the chips are down, people really raise their game, and this is exactly what they did. The presentations were of a really high standard and we slowly realised we were in for a thrilling final. The judges picked the same four finalists. After a short debate we decided that we would have two third places for Luke (JWT) and his ‘No man is an island’ speech about how we as an industry can change things, and Sangita (Generation Media) talking about work life balance. It was hard to select a winner as we had two really good speeches from Liz (The&Partnership) on gender equality and a super confident delivery from Hemal (Geometry) on digital detox. In the end Liz edged ahead and won the day with her relaxed, conversational but very persuasive delivery and her great use of story techniques and metaphors.
What did they get out of it? For most it was learning to slow down, power up their voice and to pause more, getting rid of repetitive fillers (the ums and ers) and building that elusive quality of gravitas. For others it was their vocal pitch and story, learning to really engage the emotions of the audience to get their points over. But the thing that landed home really strongly was the need to build rehearsal time in to any important presentation that they make. It was probably no coincidence that the winner was the one person who had practiced out loud before coming to the day.
Graham Singleton is managing director of Make Yourself, who specialise in teaching presentation, storytelling and public speaking skills.