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I went to an absolutely brilliant talk last night arranged by the CIPR’s Greater London Sector Group (GLG). Nick Fitzherbert provides tips for presentation skills that are based on principals he acquired during his years as a member of the Magic Circle (if you really are too young or were deprived the joys of Paul Daniels in the 1980’s/90’s then see here for more).

Everything he said reinforced previous presentation training sessions I’ve attended over the years, but he did it in such a sparky way (throwing in magic tricks along the way) that he had the whole room engaged and excited in a way you wouldn’t have expected.

All attendees came away with a book of 44 essential tips, summarised into four top sections: engagement, attention, impact and conviction. The really nice example he gave was of live performers and how they prepare. He talked about QUEEN’s preparation for Live Aid: they were booked for a 20min set, which they planned out (it’s short), thinking about their audience (what do they know already – best hits) and constructing it accordingly (short attention span, so it’s got to be a medley), practising it over and over, getting it down to a perfect 18mins, and then planning a BIG FINISH (sing along to We are the Champions). Result? They were claimed to be the best act of the day by some of the biggest names there.

Other really interesting highlights were thinking about expectations and perceptions: it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about in my preparations. But it makes complete sense: the whole ‘picture’ has to be based on an understanding of what the audience already knows, what they’re distracted by both in the room you’re in right now, but those other external distractions too (what’s for tea, when’s my train…).

I also really liked the advice on setting up: attention drives from left to right: so you should stand to the left of your projector screen so that attention comes back to you. You also shouldn’t look at that screen unless you want your audience to look at it too!

Nick runs two-day training courses on presentations. He also runs coaching and creative thinking courses. I’d definitely look him up if you are looking to fill any training requirements in those areas.

CIPR are running a series of ‘Meet the Editor’ sessions over 2008. This one took place on May 19.

Carol Lewis gave a brief yet informative talk on her role as Editor of Career, The Times and Times Online. These sessions have been designed as an opportunity to brief PRs on how to work better with the press, and it was certainly very well attended and I hope these sessions extend beyond the CIPR’s anniversary celebrations.

Carol’s overview was straightforward and to the point: know who/what you’re pitching to. Read it, know what they will be interested in. Don’t send them something they won’t want, or something they’ve just written about already.

Nothing new there of course, but there were some interesting insights. One thing for example is that the Times and Times Online are now fully integrated. This is the second time I’ve heard of the broadsheets doing this in recent months (the first time being with the Telegraph). Interesting, since it suggests that there’s more than one opportunity to get a story heard, and suggests that a story may get a better chance to be expanded as an online story as well as getting into print. The Careers section is not the only example of a paper that also has some content exclusively online, which again widens opportunities when pitching.

Another interesting point: while the print paper has a majority UK-focus, stories with a wider EU/international appeal do have a better chance of getting used online, where the audience is more like 1/3 UK, 1/3 EU and 1/3 ROW.

Third very useful point. It’s not something as a single-handed PR office I get much of an opportunity to do anyway, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind: ringing to meet over coffee? good. Meeting for lunch? bad. No time, not interested. I’d be interested in knowing whether this stands true for the smaller B2B and niche media as well as the mainstream. I’m guessing yes: particularly as multitasking print and online and the 24hr news and blogging cycle are now the norm.

Overall it was a useful session, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the next one.