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It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

By Cornerstone,

Most of us will have attended a boring presentation, and if we are truly honest many of us will have also given a less than interesting presentation at some point in our careers!

Just because a subject matter isn’t the most exciting, it doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your audience interested.

But why do so many people give boring presentations?

  • A big factor is nerves. 74% of people have a fear of some kind of public speaking, so if giving a presentation fills you with dread then you aren’t alone.
  • If you are really passionate about your job then you aren’t likely to find it boring so may forget that your audience doesn’t naturally share your passion for the subject.
  • Not everyone is a natural public speaker. Some bosses may not realise that their staff need to be taught how to present.

So what can you do to make your subject more interesting for your audience?

Body language is just as important as the content of your slides.

  • Words only account for 7% of human communication.
  • Tone of voice accounts for 38% and body language accounts for 55%.
  • Positive body language is crucial in public speaking and presentations.

Making eye contact with the audience from the start and smiling directly at people as you look at them will give a good first and your audience will focus more on your message if they feel you are speaking directly to them.

Try to gesture with your arms and hands as you make your points. It goes without saying that crossing your arms will make you look guarded and putting your hands in your pockets makes you look bored – if you appear bored your audience are going to be as well!

Try and control your nerves. A few butterflies are ok but if you’re too nervous you won’t get your point across effectively and risk rushing through your slides. Take a few deep breaths before starting.

Project your voice. If you speak quietly not only might the people at the back of the room struggle to hear what you are saying, they might also think you aren’t enthusiastic about the message you’re selling.

Keep your slides to the minimum amount needed to get your message across. Research findings advise that we keep content on slides to a minimum – ideally one point per slide.

Don’t just read from the slides – your audience can do that for themselves. Clean, well designed slides with 1 message and visual per slide rather than just blocks of text mean that you can expand on your main points and have your audience focus on what you’re saying rather than reading the information for themselves.

Using eye catching visuals will give your audience something to look and will keep hold of their attention – just make sure the images are relevant to the message.

If you try to keep these tips in mind then you’ll be on your way to giving a more interesting presentation. For more advice on how to make your presentations more effective get in touch with us here.

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A picture is worth a thousand words

By Cornerstone,

In our last couple of blog posts we talked about using a story format to help your audience remember as much of your presentation as possible, but what other methods can you use?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and research certainly shows this to be true:

> Visual information is 3 times easier to remember than oral information and visual and oral information used together is 6 times easier to remember.

> Three days after hearing a piece of information we will only remember 10% of it. Add a picture and we can remember up to 65%.

> 90% of the information transmitted to your brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster by the brain than text.

With research like this in mind, using both imagery and text in your slides can help your viewers to retain more of the information that you are presenting to them.

If your presentation is full of slides packed with bullet points and blocks of text, your audience’s attention will quickly drift and you risk losing them for good.

As human beings the better we are able to visualise something the better we will be able to remember it in the future. Using visuals alongside the main points of your message with help the audience to visualise the information later on.

Of course, you need to keep any pictures relevant to the subject matter and not distract from the main message if you want your audience to follow and be able to recall the message as well as the visual! Adding visuals for the sake of it or just to make a slide look pretty will just confuse your audience and make them wonder why the visual has been used in the first place – ultimately distracting them from what you are trying to say.

But creating the right visuals and using your visuals in context can greatly impact the effectiveness of your presentation. So try deleting any surplus text in your next presentation, adding in some visuals, and let us know how you get on!

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Tell a story: we’re British, but emotions are OK (part 2)

By Cornerstone,

In our last blog we talked about using the familiar shape of a traditional story to give your presentation a clear, easy-to-follow structure.

Stories stimulate the emotions, and scientific research shows that memories connected to strong emotions remain vivid for longer; they can come to mind years after the event, while our memories of dry facts and figures quickly slip away.

I know, I know… a presentation about your company’s performance doesn’t provide too much scope for emotional stimulation… but even just raising the emotional bar a little will help keep things fresh in memory for longer.

If you start your presentation by talking about the main problem to be solved, especially a problem that affects the audience, you will grab their attention and engage their emotions immediately; and using anecdotes and stories will bring each point even more vividly to life.

Most presentations incorporate a number of problems, providing ample opportunity for you to build and release tension several times – okay, we’re not talking Hitchcock-type tension here, but as we said even just a little raising of the emotion will help (if you can also integrate jokes or surprises into the presentation, so much the better, but I appreciate this isn’t always possible!)

The end of your presentation should round everything off nicely, leaving the audience feeling satisfied and clear about what you want them to understand.

Tension, resolution and, where possible, the element of surprise can all enhance your presentation and ensure that your key messages stay in mind for longer.

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Tell a story: use a clear, familiar structure (part 1 of 2)

By Cornerstone,

In our last blog we promised we’d look at different ways of ensuring your audience remembers your message….

Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel are all childhood stories we love and remember well. We may not have heard these stories for years, yet we can still remember the general storyline and most dramatic events.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if our presentations were just as memorable? Well… the content of our presentations may not always be as thrilling, but we can certainly mimic the structure of fairy stories to make our presentations easier to grasp, follow and remember.

Because we grew up reading stories the classic structure of beginning, middle and end is embedded in our mental DNA. At the beginning the scene is set, and you meet the main characters. In the middle the action happens: problems arise, drama ensues and solutions are found. At the end there is a summing up and sense of resolution.

Structure your presentation like a story and your audience is far more likely to follow, understand and remember your message – and they’re more likely to enjoy it too!

So begin by setting up all the key story elements, including the main characters, the issue(s) and desired outcome. Don’t forget to make it very clear why the story is relevant to your audience (the beginning), raise and resolve all the issues one at a time (the middle), and resolve everything to summarise and wrap up concisely and clearly (the end). This will serve to reinforce your key points and also bring a sense of clarity and completeness to the overall story.

Use this familiar story structure and you will be helping your audience to follow and remember your presentation, so give is try! Part 2 of “Tell a story” to follow soon…

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How much do people remember from a presentation?

By Cornerstone,

Not much I’m afraid… most of what you present will go in one ear and out the other!

There have been various studies conducted on this, and the most generous results we’ve seen are as follows:
> Immediately after the presentation, the audience remembered 50% of what was said
> By the next day, the audience remembered 25%
> A week later, the audience remembered just 10%

These stats are from a 10-minute presentation; it goes without saying that people would remember even less from a longer presentation. Other studies show that people only remember 3% from presentations! Well, I’m not sure how accurate these stats are… it’s difficult to put a figure to something like this. But what is true is that people remember very little from most presentations; and to make matters worse, everyone remembers something different.

People spend hours, days, and sometimes even weeks preparing their presentations; especially when they have an important one coming up. They work hard on making sure that every single detail of every single point they want to make is on their slides. And then all that hard work goes to waste!

But, why do audiences’ remember so little? Basically, it’s because of the way our brains work; our brains function in a certain way and we can’t change that. But what we can change is the way we present our information so that it fits in with our brains’ processing capabilities.

In the next few blog posts we’ll explore how we can do this…

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    Number of Slides. Does it really matter?

    By Cornerstone,

    Over the years many PowerPoint myths have developed. One of them is about the number of slides we “should” use, with many people so concerned about keeping their slides to a minimum that they cram all their content into as few slides as possible. But no! That’s the last thing you should do!

    That’s simply a theory that’s been churned out by well-meaning people over and over again, until it’s somehow become “PowerPoint law”. But there’s no basis for this, and in fact, many scientific studies show quite the opposite. Research findings advise that we keep content on slides to a minimum – ideally one point per slide. This may mean that your 10 slides quickly becomes 30 or more, which may get some of you in a bit of a tizz… “…but my audience won’t want to see 30 slides!!!”

    Don’t worry about it, from an engagement point of view your audience would rather see 30 light slides that you move on from quickly (keeping things more interesting for them), than 10 slides that are so chock full of data that they won’t know where to look and get overcome by a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach every time another similar slide appears.

    More importantly, from a science point of view, spreading your message over more slides is proven to be a more effective way of presenting to an audience.

    Keep an eye out for more blog posts with advice on presenting better… subscribe to our mailing list here.

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    Can flexible working increase productivity?

    By Cornerstone,

    The Telegraph recently ran an article about more British workers being given the right to request flexible working hours – read article here.

    Hallelujah we say to that!

    Why? Because the current office environment – typically getting to the office at 9am, staying til 5.30pm, working in an open-plan office, and spending most of the day sitting still – is about the least productive environment we could possibly create. That’s according to scientific research…

    If you’ve not heard of him, check out Dr John Medina. He’s a molecular biologist who’s written the excellent Brain Rules – a book that explains, in a fun and easy to read way, how the brain sciences influence the way we work. A “brain rule” is what scientists know for sure about how our brains work – so it’s well worth taking note of. You can see a summary on the Brain Rules website here

    One thing Dr Medina explains is that everyone’s brains are wired differently – no two brains are wired the same, not even identical twins. And that means everyone works differently too, with each of us functioning better at different times of the day. To put very simply, a “morning” person will be more productive in the morning, and a “night” person more productive at night (and probably pretty groggy and unproductive at certain times of the day) – and that’s all there is to it, our brains are wired in that way and we can’t fight against it!

    With that in mind, what if everyone could set their own hours of work? Granted most businesses can’t offer complete flexibility due to certain commitments; but imagine how far even a little flexibility could go. If people could choose to work at the times their brains are more alert and active, their productivity would no doubt increase. This can only be good for business!

    At Cornerstone Presentations, we try to offer as much flexibility as we can to staff. Working remotely helps us do this; some of our staff work better at home, some in libraries etc – who are we to argue? So long as we’re getting the best out of our staff they could work in a pig sty for all we care (so long as they didn’t come to visit us that same day!)

    There are a whole load of other reasons why the current typical office environment is bad for business, and that’s something we may touch on in another post…

    But for now, we say hear hear to flexible hours and making Britain more productive!

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    Don’t be lazy with your visuals: get creative and get them right!

    By Cornerstone,

    “Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognises before it can speak.

     John Berger, “Ways of Seeing” (1972).  


    Visuals are powerful and can stimulate feelings, memories and past learning.  By “visuals” I mean any images you can use in a presentation, such as photos, icons, graphs or illustrations.  These highly valuable communication tools can be very effective…but only if they fit with the core message!

    In my last blog post I talked about the importance of engaging the visual channel.  Here I’d like focus on the importance of using visuals which actively support your message.  It’s not enough to use striking images: they have to communicate the right message to your audience.

    If you use an irrelevant or inappropriate visual, this will only distract and confuse  – doing more harm than good.  Rather than adding depth and clarity, the wrong visual could send your audience wandering off on a completely unrelated trains of thought.  A great example of this is shown below.


    This slide is about young offenders and how their relationship with a probation officer can be a “vehicle for change”.  You don’t need to be a communications expert to know that the image of a yellow “vehicle” doesn’t do anything to clarify or reinforce the actual message though.

    In feedback, audience members noted that this visual was confusing and “off message”.  One woman even admitted that the visual of the sports car led her to think about Formula 1 car racing and an ex-boyfriend who was an F1 enthusiast…not exactly what the presenter had in mind.

    The game “Pictionary” is all about creating this link between a concept and a visual image.  You won’t win at Pictionary unless your visuals speak your message clearly: a beautifully drawn picture which no-one understands isn’t going to score you any points!  To win at Pictionary, you have to think creatively and draw something which your team mates will immediately understand, and which leads them to say the exact word or expression you have in your mind.

    The type of creative thinking that Pictionary requires is exactly what you need in order to design visually powerful presentations.  So get out the egg-timer and pencils if necessary, and leave the sleek but meaningless visuals behind.

    Always ask yourself “will this visual help my audience to understand?”  Unless the answer is a resounding “Yes!” you need to find an alternative.  Don’t be lazy with your visuals: get creative and get them right!

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    What you see is what you get…

    By Cornerstone,

    Touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell: the five senses through which we receive information about our world, and useful tools for anyone wanting to communicate a clear, powerful message.  I’ll admit that integrating touch, taste or smell into a standard Presentation could be a challenge, but there’s no excuse for not making the most of both hearing and sight.  Most presentations offer very little, if any, visual stimulation though.

    Yes, most presentations provide slides for the audience to look at, while listening to the spoken words of the presenter.  But in most cases the listening channel gets overloaded while the visual channel is under-used.  Because too many presentations comprise slides full of words.

    As an audience member, when reading a presentation slide we speak the words in our heads, effectively talking to ourselves using our inner voice.  Our visual channel is barely engaged at all.  Worst still, most people read much faster than they speak, so our inner voice and the external voice of the presenter will be out of sync…resulting in a confusing mishmash of sound.

    If a presentation addresses the visual channel properly however, the audience has a much better experience as well as understanding and remembering better.  Scientific research has shown that when both the visual and listening channels are properly engaged, retention of information improves 6 fold, when compared to information delivered without any visuals at all.  So…how do we achieve this?

    Engaging both visual and listening channels massively increases understanding and long term recall

    Switch your blocks of text for clear, relevant images.  Your audience can then look at the slide presentation and listen to the presenter without feeling overloaded.  The visual should clarify your words, increasing understanding and boosting the chances of long term recall.

    So this doesn’t work…

    Annoying blocks of text

    But this does…

    Visuals that work

    The visual doesn’t need to be a work of art, but it does need to support your verbal message clearly and directly.  A confusing or irrelevant image will distract or mislead your audience, so take some time to think of what will best illuminate your words.  A picture really can speak a thousand words…so let’s get visual and work with our audiences.

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    Your presentation is not a hand-out!

    By Cornerstone,

    Presentations are great, and hand-outs are great, so you could be forgiven for thinking that putting the two things together would be super great. Unfortunately though, a presentation which comprises your diligently compiled notes is one of the dullest things on earth.

    A presentation is a chance for you to engage with your audience, but for this to happen you need to speak to and connect with them. Your presentation is just there to provide guidance and clarification. It’s not a substitute for you, your words and your interaction with those listening.

    The best way for your presentation to support your spoken words, is through one short message per slide and a relevant, supporting visual. Your narrative can then bring the presentation to life using the terminology and examples which your audience relate to.

    So something like this works…

    While this doesn’t!

    Your reams of wonderful notes need not be lost, but can be hidden on the notes page (in PowerPoint) for you to glance at while speaking.

    These notes can also be shared with the audience in the form of a hand-out at the end. Do you remember receiving party-bags as a kid? Well, you can provide the equivalent to your audience in the form of clear, structured notes for them to take away with them…but only once you’ve finished!

    Let your audience know that the notes will be coming and they’ll be less tempted to scribble their own notes while you speak. Less scribbing = better concentration.

    So don’t take a shortcut and force your presentation to double as hand-out notes: present your presentation and then hand out your notes. The extra effort will be well worth in terms of audience attention and understanding.

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