Podium Coaching Blog

Invest in the soft tool that gets solid results

Posted on 30. Mar, 2014

by Halina St James

Why do we need presentation skills coaching? After all, we all know how to speak – even if the act of speaking in public makes us nervous.

One of the best reasons I can offer you for investing in presentation skills is because your speaking skills are your best marketing tool. The way you speak will help you sell your product or idea or personal skill-set… and that will help move you up the corporate ladder.

Your ability to speak is the soft tool that gets solid results. Your ability to speak effectively and powerfully in any situation will make the difference between achieving your goals or getting stuck in a rut.

Most people don’t speak effectively because they are using the wrong technique. They are confusing good writing skills with good speaking skills. It’s like trying to bake a chocolate cake using a lemon pie recipe. No matter how juicy your lemons, you will never make a chocolate cake. It’s the wrong recipe.

The right recipe is the TalkItOut Technique. It harnesses the power of your natural voice with your true nature from the moment you begin creating your presentation. The result? You’ll sound authentic. You’ll make sense. Your message will stick.

You can use TalkitOut in any speaking situation – a formal speech, a presentation, a slide show, voicemail, elevator pitch, introductions, wedding toast, eulogy.

You can get the book about the technique from our online store. The book is called TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers. The e-book costs just $10.

And a workbook is now available which allows you to work through your own specific speech or presentation and apply the TalkitOut technique every step of the way. The workbook costs $25 as a download.

Join bafflegab hunt and win a book

Posted on 18. Mar, 2014

In our presentation skills and media skills workshops we strive for clarity and simplicity of expression. We love it when we see organizations and governments promising plainer language in documents. But there’s such a long way to go…

Just the other day a senior British government minister was asked about pay and conditions in part of the Defence Department.

He replied:

“There will be an overall envelope of resources for operating costs that will  be subject to a downward  trajectory over time representing efficiency.”

In the next breath he rather proudly described the government department as a “bespoke central Government trading entity”. And to further convince us of its merits he promised it would be “commercial-facing”.

Milton Smith would have loved it. Milton Smith was the former US Chamber of Commerce lawyer who coined the word “bafflegab” in 1952.

He had a sharp eye for incomprehensible language, and a nice sense of humour. When he picked up an award for creating bafflegab, he was asked to define the word.

It was, he said: “Multiloquence characterized by consummate interfusion of circumlocution or periphrasis, inscrutability, and other familiar manifestations of abstruse expatiation commonly utilized for promulgations implementing Procrustean determinations by governmental bodies.”

Especially if those governmental bodies were commercial-facing despite their downward trajectory.

What piece of bafflegab has caught your eye or ear lately? We’ll send one of the Podium Coaching e-books to the person who submits the weirdest, wordiest, wackiness.

Send us your entry in the box below this post. Only condition – it has to be genuine. So don’t forget to tell us where you found it.

When you’re in a hole – stop digging

Posted on 06. Mar, 2014

by Neil Everton

It can be tough to admit that we’ve made a mistake. But the alternative is usually worse. Ask British former MP Louise Mensch.

She’s very active on Twitter. The other day she was trying to demonstrate to her followers how much she was in touch with British Muslims.

“When I think of British Muslims,” she tweeted, “I think of (athlete) Mo Farah, (government minister) Sayeeda Warsi, (writer and broadcaster) Raheem Kassam, (journalist and academic) Sunny Hundal, (politician) Yasmin Quereshi.”

It’s an impressive list of contemporary thinkers and leaders in the UK.

Trouble is, they’re not all Muslims.

Sunny Hundal was born in London to Sikh parents, of Indian origin. After reading her comments on Twitter, Hundal tweeted back: “Erm, I’m not Muslim Louise.”

Now you’d think that was a cue to acknowledge a mistake. Or at the very least end the conversation without making things worse.

But Mensch kept going, returning to Twitter to say: “I’ve thought he was Muslim for ages, based on his politics, tweets.”

Which, of course, quickly spawned the hashtag #tweetlikeamuslim.

Sunny Hundal had the last word. He promised to tweet like a Sikh from now on.

This may seem blindingly obvious – but apparently it’s not: when you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging.

Oscar night lessons for all speakers

Posted on 03. Mar, 2014

by Halina St James

What did you think of the Oscar ceremony? For me, it was one of the best in years. I’m not talking as a movie fan when I say that. I’m talking as a speaker and presentation skills coach, who can’t watch the ceremony without evaluating the presentations and the acceptance speeches.

The acceptance speeches ranged from good to great. The best of them drew on simple techniques that any of us should be incorporating into our presentations and speeches. More on that in a moment.

But some of the presentations – the moments when celebrities read out the nominations and announced the winners – were truly dreadful. Talented actors stared at the camera like deer caught in headlights and stumbled through the teleprompter introductions in a monotone.

It wasn’t their fault, entirely. Even the most talented actor in the world can do little with a badly written script. And the problem with the Oscars is that 99% of what the presenters had to read onstage was badly written.

By badly written, I mean written for the eye, not the ear: long, convoluted sentences usually starting with adverbial or preposition phrases. This type of writing may look great on paper – but it sounds wooden when spoken out loud. It reminds me of a comment Harrison Ford made to producer George Lucas during the making of Star Wars IV; A New Hope. Ford was struggling to deliver some lines in a script Lucas had written. The star looked at the director and said: “You can type this s**t, George, but you sure can’t say it.”

At Podium, our TalkItOut technique ensures that you speak before you write. So the writing works for the ears – not the eyes. You will never sound as if you’re reading. Even if you are an Oscar winner, a written-for-the-eye speech will make you sound bad in everyone’s ears.

Say the words out loud before you commit them to the page. Keep the sentences short. Turn commas into periods. Eliminate subordinate clauses. And use simple words you’d use in conversation with people you care about.

The Oscar winners’ speeches worked for the ear because they were from the heart, spoken with passion, and not read from a teleprompter or script. The winners used accessible language – simple words, simple sentences – even if they carried notes for support.

And I thought the best acceptance speeches contained two other qualities: humility and universality.

The bar was set high by the first winner – Jared Leto, winning Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club. He quickly told a story about a single mom and her struggles to raise a family. That was, of course, his mother – who was in the audience. The point of the story was the inspirational lesson he’d learned from his mom’s struggles. At Podium, we teach our clients the power of storytelling to engage and hold an audience.

Mr. Leto mentioned the struggle in Ukraine and Venezuela and then, acknowledging the 36 million people who lost the battle with Aids,  added: “To those of you who ever felt injustice for who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.”

When Cate Blanchett accepted her Oscar for Best Actress in Blue Jasmine, she thanked each of the women who had been nominated in her category. But it wasn’t just a blanket thank you. She took time to say few words about each woman and how much she admired them.

That enabled Ms. Blanchett to seamlessly segue into the point she wanted to make – the role of women in films today. She said that, contrary to popular opinion, people do want to see women-centred films, and those film do make money.

Oscar night has a reputation for gushing, teary, empty performances. It was a delight to hear so many winners use simple techniques to deliver acceptances speeches that gave us an insight into who they are and what they care about – besides being Hollywood’s finest.

Olympic hockey wins hold lessons for speakers

Posted on 23. Feb, 2014

by Halina St James

What can sophisticated public speakers learn from the rough and tumble of international hockey? At least three clear lessons came to my mind as I revelled in the hockey finals at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

From the nail-biting women’s final between Canada and the US the lesson was obvious: never give up. Canada were trailing until 55 seconds before the end of regulation time. But they never panicked. They trusted themselves and their game plan – and it paid off with that late equalizer and a win in overtime.

Use that calm-in-adversity approach when you are speaking. No matter what happens in the room, no matter what little mistakes you may make, never give up on yourself. If you’ve followed the TalkitOut advice for building a presentation, if you’ve clearly defined your message, don’t start second-guessing your game plan. You may stumble over a sentence. A slide may pop up out of sequence. It feels like a disaster at the time. Just take a breath, re-focus, and go for gold.

Give it all you’ve got right to the every end. Audiences will remember the way you begin and the way you end. Stay strong and stay passionate until you’ve achieved your purpose.

Talking of passion, remember that’s the secret sauce that can make the difference between silver and gold. That was the second lesson for me.

In the men’s competition the Canadians jumped on to the ice at every line change as if their lives depended on it. They wanted to play. Martin St Louis and PK Subban didn’t get as much ice time as they would have liked. (St Louis only got to Sochi because of injury to a teammate). But they accepted their roles with grace. They channeled their passion for the game – and for Team Canada – into supporting their colleagues in practice and off the ice.

As a speaker, never be afraid to show your passion for your topic. Your enthusiasm will help you really connect with your audience.

The third lesson is about being focussed. At one point in the gold medal game against Sweden, a Canadian player was trapped on the boards by two big Swedes. The Canadian had the puck between his skates. One Swede was trying to get the puck out with his stick while the other Swede was busy pummelling the Canadian’s body. The Canadian stayed calm. He knew exactly what he had to do, even when it was hurting.

When you speak, you need that kind of laser focus. Don’t focus on nerves. Don’t focus on anything except the moment. Your only job is to deliver the best performance you possibly can.

With passion, focus and determination to never give up, you’ve a good chance of being golden.

Learn TalkitOut from new workbook

Posted on 21. Feb, 2014


Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 5.16.53 PM

by Halina St James

So excited to report that our favourite designer has just delivered the final version of my new TalkitOut Workbook.

This new Ebook takes a complete TalkitOut presentation skills course and condenses it into an easy-to-follow self-help guide to better speeches and presentations.

The Workbook joins the TalkitOut paperback and ebook, and our media skills books, in the Podium online store.

Special thanks to John van der Woude of Kelowna, BC, for his talent and his patience. John has been an amazing help in designing and laying out the covers and content of all our books and workbooks.


Property giant suffers for communication failure

Posted on 18. Feb, 2014

by Neil Everton

A lot of people have a bad taste in the mouth about the way a property giant is treating two popular eateries at a Nova Scotia shopping mall.

The way the property company has responded to public and media inquiries is a classic example of how to fail Communications 101.

Here’s the background. Crombie REIT, part of the Sobey family empire, is redeveloping the Scotia Square mall in downtown Halifax. The redevelopment is in the hands of Halifax Developments – another part of the Crombie/Sobey empire.

Crombie have told Ray Khattar, owner of the popular Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine, that he has to be out of the mall by the end of March. Ray’s food is so good he won the prize for Best Falafal in Halifax 13 years in a row. He’s been in the mall 31 years. And he’s never missed a monthly rent payment. Five months ago Crombie told him his rent would have to double. Ray’s reaction: ‘Let’s talk’. He heard nothing more until the eviction notice.

Another small eatery with a loyal clientele, Taste of India, has also been ordered out.

People who regularly use the mall’s food court suspect the small operators are being pushed out to make way for the big food chains and franchises who won’t blink at higher rents. But diners are fighting back. In two weeks Nancy Hayden collected more than 5200 signatures on a petition.

So let’s look at the communications failures:

  1. Crombie didn’t have a plan for telling a tenant of 31 years’ standing why he was being evicted. Ray Khattar says when he asked a company representative why he had to leave all he got was a shrug of the shoulders.
  2. Crombie’s (non) response to the media allowed an information vacuum which was quickly filled by Crombie critics:

In our media skills sessions we tell people the way you communicate bad news reflects your core values as an individual and an organization.

Through the petition and in on-line forums people are telling Crombie just what they think of their values. But that’s what you get when your communication strategy is not to communicate.


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What did you learn from the kids today?

Posted on 08. Feb, 2014

by Halina St James

Here’s a question for anyone over 50. How do you get along with the kids? Specifically, how do you co-exist and co-operate in the workplace with smart, younger colleagues.

Recently at a Global Speakers’ Summit in Vancouver, I attended a workshop called ‘Co-creating With Gen X & Gen Y.’

Generation X, sometimes called the sandwich generation, are those people born between the early 60s and the early 80s – immediately after the post-World War 2 baby boom. Generation Y – the Millennials – were born between the early 80s and the  early 2000s.

Here’s what I learned if you want to work with or do business effectively with these two generations:

  • Gen X and Y have been raised on the power of story through TV and movies. They have an innate desire to be connected with a bigger story professionally and personally.
  • They consider themselves bilingual. They speak English and Technology. So if you want to reach them, you have to be prepared to speak both languages well.
  • They don’t want to be talked at. They want to be engaged.
  • If they speak, keynotes are out. Many prefer to speak for 15 minutes and then engage the audience in a conversation.
  • They are into images, video, apps and chats.
  • They’re comfortable using social media to build and maintain relationships. They see nothing weird in communicating in 140 characters or less.
  • Gen X and Y know they have everything at their fingertips. But they’re smart enough to also know that boomers or older generations have context and experience.

Three generations with different approaches to communications and relationships. But with something to teach each other, regardless of age.

Three steps to creating successful online courses

Posted on 21. Jan, 2014
Presentation skills coach Halina St James with online learning expert Adam Witty

Halina with online learning expert Adam Witty

by Halina St James

The big buzz at  the Global Speakers’ Summit in Vancouver was online learning. Speakers were encouraged to turn their content into courses on line.

One of the Summit’s platinum sponsors, Adam Witty, from Advantage Media Group gave a practical workshop on online learning, describing online learning as the new frontier.

Here are Adam’s 3 steps for sustainable online learning:

  1. Curriculum. Before you design courses, have a vision of what success would look like. Define your clients/customers. What are their needs? What do you want your online courses to accomplish for them? Define the one big take away from your curriculum.
  2. Courses. Design or develop your content into courses based on the data above. Make sure you know your competition. Have visuals/videos in your courses. Make sure each course is no longer 6 to 10 minutes. Decide on packaging and price. Do you want to sell each course individually or as a curriculum.
  3. Classroom. After you’ve defined your curriculum and designed your course, you need to define your classroom or, as Adam put it, your Learning Management System. How do you evaluate what people have learned? What kind of assessment tool should you use? Do you want testing and certification with the course? Can you develop an online community with your courses? Will people be able to purchase more e-products through your courses? And will your courses be mobile-ready? Many people already use their phone to learn.

Thinking through these 3 areas will get you well on your way to incorporating successful online learning in your business. If this seems overwhelming, you can always ask for help from Advantage.

Be grateful when a potential client says ‘No’

Posted on 17. Jan, 2014
Presentation skills coach Halina St James with sales coach Martin Limbeck at Vancouver Global Speakers' Summit

Halina with Martin Limbeck

by Halina St James

If you want to learn how to be successful in sales, you can find a lot of tips in a workshop with Martin Limbeck.

Martin advertises himself as a blend of German discipline and America entrepreneurial spirit. (He was born in Germany and discovered his early sales skills in New Jersey).

Here are a few of the tips he shared when he delivered a keynote at the Global Speakers’ Summit in Vancouver:

  • Believing is seeing, not vice-versa. Martin says you must believe in yourself, position yourself correctly in your market and live your brand. Everything you believe should be seen as supporting your brand. (He promotes himself as ‘the Porsche of sales’).
  • Master your sales pitch. It’s the key to your success.
  • Understand that NO stands for Next Opportunity.
  • Learn how to handle objections.
  • Engage in social media.
  • Stand by your fee. If a client objects, say ‘my clients spoil me’.
  • Don’t send Christmas cards. Send gifts. Don’t say ‘thank you for your business’. Say ‘thank you for your trust’.