On Wednesday night, I was fortunate enough to be asked to judge a public speaking competition for the Belfast branch of Soroptimist International. Wow.  Talk about inspirational.  Each talk was convincing, well-researched, and impactfully delivered.

Powerful Imagery

Kristen opened the talks with a powerful speech that was rich in imagery, thought-provoking, and delivered with ease.  It caught me off guard, I couldn’t believe the level that was set.  Talk after talk and the standard of these 16 and 17 year old girls was phenomenal.  I would have been proud to have been in any one of their shoes.  It got me thinking that my business could have a very short shelf-life!  I’ve got to admit, that would make me very happy, even if it’s a little scary!


I’ve had 2 thoughts going on in my head since, so I plan to follow up this blog with another.  My first thought is what so many of us can learn from these girls about how to put together a powerful talk.  I will share some highlights and tips below.  The second thought is what happens to our confidence, why don’t we retain it?  I will post a second blog on this soon!

Standing Out

Presenting is a crucial part of career visibility.  People generally hate presenting.  It regularly makes it into the top 5 fears of British people, with women being twice as likely as men to have an issue with it.  This is great news, it means you can get noticed pretty easily.  Why go to all of the effort?

  • Increase your career visibility

  • It will demonstrate what you’re capable of

  • Help put out there what you’re doing and the results you’re getting

  • It will build your confidence

  • Did I mention it WILL make you more VISIBLE

I mention visibility twice because this is the main way women hold themselves back in the workplace.  We tend to be so busy getting the job done and taking what we do for granted, that we forget to tell anyone about it.  I met a guy who works for Microsoft who had this realisation quite quickly in his career.  He was a terrible presenter to start with, nervous, fluffed his lines, struggled to get his point across.  Working hard at it, he got training, and was promoted to director level in record time.  He attributes all of his success to presenting.  It was a game-changer for me too, and for many of my clients.

Top 7 Tips

What makes a great talk?  These girls gave a masterclass, and there are so many tips I could share.  Here’s my top 7:


Your content must convince your audience and hold their attention. It’s imperative that you; do your research, include statistics that resonate, and make a cohesive argument.  People will not remember more than 3-5 pieces of information, so what are your big points?

Intro and ending

You’ve got to grab ‘em, draw the audience into your world so they want to listen. You obviously need to keep them throughout the talk, and absolutely finish on a high.  What memorable thought will you leave them with?  Several of the girls used a clever device of referencing a story or fact from the beginning of their talk to close the loop.

Story and metaphor

Stories are the gold of good talks. I don’t care what your content is, they will lift you to another level.  People learn and engage through story, it’s the oldest teaching tool known to man.  If people remember nothing else, this will be it.  Make it meaningful and relevant, and it’s the little details that will make it work.

Paint a picture with your language

Can you imagine an ‘island of plastic’, ‘nemo choking on plastic’, or the ‘tip of the trashberg’. These are some of the memorable examples from the competition.  When you provoke the creation of pictures in people’s minds, you bring them on your journey.  You have your audience where you want them to be.


Workplace presentations can be tedious at best. One reason is all the thought goes into the content, and none into the delivery.  Rehearsal gives you confidence.  It makes you impactful.  And it gives you the opportunity to build in variety in your voice (pace, pitch, volume), it helps you identify places to make pauses, it’s how you turn it from a flat delivery into a memorable performance.

Forget the visual aids

Be honest, is your starting place for a presentation to crack open Powerpoint and start creating slides? Big mistake!  The presentation is you and what you have to say, remember that.  Start with your structure and content.  Only use visuals to add to your presentation, not to be it!  If you need slides, keep them simple and visual, to emphasise your point.

The top 3 girls did all this and more.  There was Rebecca Cullen, who memorised her speech and used humour and characterisation to significant effect.  Then, Rebecca Anjorin, who used unique examples that were enlightening and delivered with passion and authenticity.  The winner Ellie Bowes’ speech was a thing of beauty.  Poetic, original, and something I will remember for a long time.  Ultimately that’s what you’re looking for, what will the audience remember?  If it’s forgettable, then what’s the point?  Think about what you want the audience to think, feel, or say and work back from there.