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Archive for the ‘Presentation Skills’ Category

Should You Be
on That Panel?


I interviewed thousands of people during my 12-year career in television news. Because of that experience, I am often asked to moderate panel discussions. In fact, I am paid quite well to host these discussions. Additionally, my moderating and speaking engagements often lead to business opportunities for McGrath Comm.

Speaking as Marketing

Many people have figured out quite correctly that speaking at events is a good way to build up their list of contacts and develop business for their companies. Unfortunately, some people aren’t very good panelists and speakers. As a result, they wind up hurting themselves.


I recently moderated a discussion with two people who probably shouldn’t have been asked to be part of the panel. It was clear to me that their level of experience or expertise was not a good fit for the topics at hand.

One person was out of touch with the latest trends, so much so that a member of the audience used the word “irrelevant” in relation to that person.

The second panelist asked me (before the discussion) not to ask him a question about very basic strategy that any college student could have answered. I knew he was nervous, so I killed the question. But imagine my surprise when I saw him half-dozing through the first part of the panel discussion with his head in his hand. I actually had to tap him on the shoulder to wake him up before I asked him a question.

Another audience member commented on this person’s behavior and said, “Wow. He couldn’t stay awake, huh?”

People Notice

I am guessing that more than two people noticed that these panelists were lacking in expertise and professionalism. As such, I can’t imagine that anyone would ever hire them.

(To be fair, these panelists may have strengths in other areas that were not relevant to the panel discussion. And the person who was dozing may have taken medication that causes drowsiness. Whatever the case, it is clear that participating in this panel didn’t win either of them any business.)

My Advice

Play to your strengths. If you’re a good writer– promote your services on twitter. If you love taking pictures and/or shooting videos — promote your company on Facebook or YouTube.

Whatever you do– do not do engage in an activity or practice that highlights your weaknesses, at least not if you’re trying to encourage people to do business with you.


photo credit: yuichi.sakuraba via photopin cc

Body Language


I was walking my dog in the park when I noticed a group of 5-6 year-old girls playing softball. Bases were loaded. A tiny little girl stepped into the batter’s box. She dug her heels into the dirt and held her bat with just the right amount of tension. I knew from a ballfield away that the young girl was going to kill the first good pitch she got. Sure enough I was right. She hit a triple! Three runs scored.

How did I know? Her body language screamed: CONFIDENCE. She was confident in her abilities and clearly expected that she would do well. No surprise to her–or to me– that she did.


I can do the same thing with speakers or people being interviewed on television. Within seconds, I can predict if they’ll do well. It’s in the body language. It’s in the eyes. If you’re confident, it will show. People will be drawn to you. They’ll listen to what you have to say. Similarly, if you’re nervous or are feeling defensive, that will also show. As a result, people will tune you out or wonder if you’re telling the truth.

So before your next presentation or interview– do your research. Prepare what you’re going to say. Anticipate questions and your responses. That will help you feel more confident. Next– practice in front of others or in front of a mirror. Watch your body language. Don’t cross your arms. Lean towards your audience/ interviewer. Gesture. Smile. Make eye contact.

Make me believe that you’re confident. Through your body language, facial expressions and gestures– project the attitude of a winner. Make me think that you’re going to hit one out of the park– even if you’re only hoping to make it to first base.


photo credit: Snap Man via photopin cc

Elevator Pitches


I attend a lot of networking events. Most often they are luncheons where ten people are seated at a table. Each person is asked to succinctly deliver their elevator pitch. And no matter how many of these I go to or what level of experience people in attendance have– I am always stunned by the number of men and women who can’t deliver a cogent pitch about themselves and their businesses.

I think: You did know that you were coming here today–right? How is it that you can’t tell me what you do in a minute or two?

I realize that I spent 12 years in TV news where I was always under pressure to spit out the facts of a story in 90 seconds, but surely non-tv people know that they need to cut to the chase when pitching people at a networking event.

As I relayed my experience to a friend, she suggested that I write a blog post about what makes a good pitch. So here goes one of the most common sense blog posts I’ve ever written.

Elevator Pitch Content

1. Tell me who you are and what you do. Example: Hi, I’m Noeleen. I’m the President and Founder of McGrath Comm. We specialize in executive media training and executive presentation skills coaching. We work with everyone from CEOs to professional athletes to politicians to authors etc.

2. Tell me what sets you apart from your competition. Example for executive media training pitch: So why should you hire me? I’ve got 12 years of network and local news experience. Unlike most PR folks who attempt to do executive media training, I’ve lived it. I know what it’s like to sit under the hot lights. I know what reporters will do to try and bait you because I was one of them. I also happened to be one of the best. I was known for my hard-hitting interview style. I also received many awards for my live reporting, and I was honored to receive one of journalism’s most prestigious awards–a National Edward R. Murrow.

3. What are you looking for? Types of clients? A contact at a particular company? Who would be a good strategic partner? Or something else regarding business development? Example: I am investigating the best venues for seminars. If anyone has any suggestions or knows someone who might, please let me know. I’d love to pick his/her brain.

Those three points take me about 45 seconds to deliver. When I have a little more time, I tell the story of how I transitioned out of TV news into corporate communications and why I founded my company over six years ago. It’s a good story. It’s memorable. And I deliver it well. As a result, people remember me and I receive referrals because not only did I not waste people’s time–  I left them wanting more.




Question: True or False–You’ve either got charisma or you don’t.

Answer: True. BUT there are some things you can do to up your charisma quotient.

Explanation: Some people can learn to be charismatic, but that’s a very small group. An equally small group: people who not only have charisma, but know how to turn it on and off. When those people enter a room, all eyes are on them. They are the flame; everyone else is a moth. Their charisma is obvious.

But not all is lost if you don’t possess that spotlight-grabbing type of charisma, particularly if you possess other talents. There’s something to be said for people who are quietly confident. They are usually very bright and well-spoken. They have good content and know how to deliver their messages. They understand the power of brevity and answer questions succinctly. In short, they’ve received executive presentation skills coaching or executive media training from someone like me, who taught them to make the most of what they’ve got.

You too can be successful if you assess your strengths and play to them. If you’re great at messaging, focus on that. You’re a good storyteller? Make that work for you. If you’re good at talking to people, have a conversation with them. (Don’t know your strengths? Consider getting some coaching.)

If you accentuate the positive, you can often eliminate the negative. Even without a show-stopping performance.

Voice Tips


James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman. What do they have in common besides being talented actors?

They both have amazing, distinctive voices. People stop and listen when they speak. As actors, they understand how important the voice is in demanding and commanding attention. And if you’re going to do a presentation or video, you need to understand how to “work” your voice too.

First– it needs to be strong. Notice that I said, strong, NOT loud. There’s a difference. (If you’re nervous, your voice will often sound weak and higher than it normally is.)

Second– you need to “hit” key words and important messages. In other words– your voice should hit highs and lows without sounding “sing-songy” or monotone.

Third– modulate your volume and tone depending on what you’re saying. For example, just as you’re about to deliver the ending to a story– lower your voice a little. Make the audience lean forward to hear you. You’ve got them right in the palm of your hand, now reel them in.

If you remember these three things, you’ll be on your way to better presentations and interviews. And while you may never sound like James Earl Jones– it may interest you to know that he had a terrible stutter when he was younger. He overcame it after many years of coaching and a career in acting.


photo credit: usembassylondon via photopin cc

Networking Wingman


“You always talk about being memorable. But how do I do that at a large networking event?” my client asked me.

We were working on his elevator speech during one of our presentation skills coaching sessions and he said that he found it hard to stand out in a room filled with people.

“There are lots of ways,” I said. “It all depends on your personality and your comfort level in approaching strangers. The key is to play to your strengths.”


I told my client about a networking event that my friend and I attended on Mardi Gras. My friend is very outgoing and convivial. There are no strangers in his life; only friends he hasn’t made yet. Not only does he know how to work a room, he is genuinely interested in everyone he meets. Beyond that, he knows how to make a lasting impression. Because it was Mardi Gras, he wore a couple of strands of beads. It was not only a great way for people to remember him, but it was a great conversation starter. He played to his strengths.

What if You’re Shy?

I am a very different type of networker. I am not nearly as outgoing as my friend. I will never get around to speaking to everyone in a room. Rather, I will focus on meeting a handful of people. I will likely have in-depth conversations with those people. As a result, I usually come away with very strong connections. My buzz comes from a handful of people who say, “Wow. I really liked her. Did you meet her? No? Oh, that’s a shame. She’s really great at what she does.” That’s how I play to my strengths.

Still Not Sure What to Do?

If the idea of going up to strangers is terrifying to you, try going to an event with someone you know. It’s especially helpful if your friend is really outgoing and memorable like mine. Think of him as your networking wingman. Watch what he does. Allow him to introduce you to people. Then as the event wears on, fly solo. Force yourself to go up to others. Like anything else, networking requires practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.


Every Preso Matters


I’ve always remembered a particular shampoo commercial from my childhood. It’s the one where the screen keeps filling up with more and more people’s faces. And the voiceover artist says, “And they’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on and so on.”

I remember this whenever I’m pitching companies. I think, “Even if I don’t get this contract, perhaps they’ll tell their colleagues about me. Or maybe they’ll keep me in mind the next time a project comes up.” Either way, I know that I’m not just pitching the people in that room. In a very real way, I’m pitching everyone they know.

A recent experience reminded me of this lesson. Two companies pitched their services to a board that I serve on. The first company’s presentation was scattered at best. The presenters were “creative” types, who do great work. But their laptop wasn’t compatible with the projector system and we waited 10-15  minutes for them to troubleshoot with one of our laptops. Not only did they not have a backup plan, but it soon became clear that they didn’t really have a game plan either. They were just “winging it.” And while they ad libbed well about their work and their creative process, they didn’t field questions very well.

The second company was more organized, but they delivered a “canned” presentation. It was clearly their “fill in the blank” presentation with a couple of minor tweaks. Three out of the four people presenting were reading off of the slides. Two of them never made eye contact with anyone in the room. One person– a founder of the company– was “phoning” it in. He looked like he’d much rather be somewhere else. To add insult to injury– he got the name of the organization wrong, even though it was written on the slide he was reading. (No, he didn’t correct himself.)

When the presentations were over, I thought, “Even if you didn’t really want this group’s business, wouldn’t you have put forth more effort?” Every person on that board knows people. They will all tell people about those companies and their lack of preparation and effort. Similarly, a good presentation would have earned each company a ton of goodwill and possible referrals.

Instead they both did a lackluster job. And I can assure you that I’ve already told two friends, who will tell two friends… and so on and so on..

Facilitate or Dominate?


“Will he never shut up!” I shouted at the screen. The host of the interview show was talking more than his guest; he told story after story. Truly, the host should know better. His job is to facilitate conversations, NOT dominate them.

Fifteen minutes in—I simply couldn’t take anymore. I turned him off.

And it’s a shame because the executive he was interviewing seemed really interesting. Too bad he could barely get a word in edgewise.

That said, the guest missed an opportunity. Had he received executive media training, he could have taken control of the interview. Just as any good interviewer has to cut off guests when they’re rambling—sometimes guests need to interrupt their interviewer.

What Would I Have Done?

1. Delivered in a nice way—think: butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth: “Excuse me, Jim but I thought this show was about interviewing me and hearing my stories.” Follow that up with a sweet smile.

2. Another option: Again—super sweet and calm delivery—“Jim, do you even need me here? I think you can fill this time by yourself.”

3. “May I interrupt you? Forgive me. But you’ve been going on for so long. Perhaps your viewers would like to hear what I have to say on the subject?”

Remember—you should never be afraid to take control of the situation. And with more and more online shows cropping up with hosts, who have no experience in television or interviewing people, it’s more important than ever that you do.

Business Meeting Communication


The meeting was scheduled to last two hours.

A dozen very busy professionals were in attendance.

There was lot of ground to cover and many of us had to leave as soon as we adjourned to catch flights.


The project lead started by telling everyone that we needed to keep things moving. She deftly steered the discussion from one topic to the next. The participants asked questions as needed. All communication was succinct and on-point UNTIL one man asked if he could introduce some new business.

The lead asked him if it would take five minutes or twenty minutes. If he could do it in five, then he could proceed. If not, they should discuss it offline because many of us had to leave soon.

He assured her that his new business would only take five minutes, so she gave him the floor. Unfortunately, it actually took him closer to twenty minutes.


As the man rambled on, I looked around the room. Everyone had lost patience with him. Most people were shaking their heads or rolling their eyes. Even though he was very talented at what he did, he was unable to express his thoughts quickly or convincingly. As a result, almost every person in that room thought less of him.


Maybe not. But it reminded me that presentation skills coaching isn’t just for people who give speeches. It’s also for people who have difficulty expressing themselves in the most basic of business settings.

Take Your Time

Ìèêðîôîí â êîíôåðåíö-çàëå. Microphone at conference.

Do you remember when you were learning to drive and your instructor showed you a video comparing the drive time of two different cars?

One driver was doing the speed limit and the other was speeding and occasionally weaving in and out of traffic.

It turns out that the driver, who was speeding, arrived at the final destination only about five minutes before the safe driver.

It was a lesson in patience and taking the time to do things right.

It was a lesson that I later realized had applications that extended far beyond drive times.

Big Presentation

It was my first large international project. As part of my duties, I was asked to present to a ballroom filled with 300 people. My boss had carefully crafted the presentation. My job was to deliver the very specific messages and answer any questions that people had.

Right before I was supposed to present, my time was cut in half. Instead of 30 minutes, I now had 15 minutes to get through my material. Normally I would have made a quick call to my boss to see what she wanted me to cut, but I couldn’t because it was the middle of the night in the United States.

What Did I Do?

I made the decision to leave all of the slides in the presentation. (There were political reasons for many of them, and I didn’t have the authority to make cuts.) Additionally, I couldn’t change the hard copies of the presentation that everyone had in their hands. I figured that it was best to leave the slides as is. I would just skim over some and get through the rest as quickly as I could.


Had I just executed my plan, I would have been fine. But I didn’t. I talked a mile a minute–rushing through my slides because I was hell-bent on finishing on time.

I still did a good job. (Many people complimented me on my presentation.) But I knew the truth: my charisma and ability to ad lib carried me through. I rushed it. Stupid!

BUT it was a great lesson to learn. You always need to prepare for worst-case scenarios. With presentations—significant cuts to your time always present the greatest challenge. Ideally, I would have just cut some slides, but that wasn’t an option.

Instead, I was reminded of another valuable lesson. Rushing doesn’t save you that much time.

Proving My Point

I decided to reenact my presentation in my hotel room later that evening. This time– I didn’t rush it. You know how much longer it took me—making the same cuts and skimming over the same slides? Three minutes. That’s it. Three minutes was the difference between an OK presentation and a great one.

What I saved in time– I lost in credibility. And while it’s true you should always try to finish on time–there are instances when going a few minutes over is worth it.