Ian Whitworth suggests you steal some presentation methods from radio presenters.


An enduring mystery to me is why old people love talkback radio.
They’ve worked hard all their lives, raised families, been blessed with grandchildren. Surely now is the time to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Sunshine, birds singing, supermarkets stocking a wider selection of teas than ever before.
So why do hundreds of thousands of old people make a deliberate choice guaranteed to make them scared and cranky? By listening all day to radio that leaves them alarmed at the state of the government, who are communists, and in mortal fear that their actual home will be overrun by swarthy illegal immigrants who will turn it into a heathen temple, funded by your taxpayer dollars.
Seriously, old people, why wouldn’t you just put on some Andre Reiu and chill?
But there’s nothing you or I can do about that. What we can do is examine the techniques talk radio announcers use to exert this mysterious power. Then steal those ideas to make our presentations better.
Because not all talk radio is ranting nutbags. Good radio hosts seem to be talking just to you, in your home or car. They create a sense of intimacy, despite the fact that you’re sharing them with a hundred thousand others. It creates that most elusive thing: trust.

talk in the singular

Part of the skill is using singular language: ‘you’, rather than ‘everyone here.’ It makes people feel more special, and that you really understand them. Imagine you’re explaining a new code of conduct to a gathering of financial planners.
Wrong: What do these new rules mean for the financial planning industry?
Right: What do these new rules mean for you?
It also helps to write your speech in a conversational tone. The best bit of advice I ever got was “write like you’re talking to a friend, in a bar.” Great advice, not least because it makes spending lots of time talking in bars a legitimate, deductible* professional development activity.
It keeps things simple and lets the real you shine through.

use concrete language

Great radio presenters create vivid pictures with their words. Radio people call it ‘the theatre of the mind’. Of course, if your presentation has a big enough budget to be supported by actual theatre, then lucky you. Most of us have to do it old school, low budget. The most powerful tool to do that is concrete language: words that describe objects and situations so precisely that the listener can picture them clearly. It’s the opposite of abstract language, the main reason why business presentations suck so much.
Abstract Language: “Typical undesirable workplace behaviours”
Concrete Language: “Leering, groping, lying and stationery theft”

your audience is not a thing

Stop thinking of your audience as a thing – a mass of teeming life that forms a single organism, like the Great Barrier Reef.
You can tell speakers who think that way. Some have the thousand-yard stare that suggests a previous career as a special forces sniper. Others scan the audience from side to side like a sideshow laughing clown, eyes never resting on any one person. So they never actually make meaningful contact with the audience. Never forget that every audience is made up of individuals that you’re trying to persuade.

eye contact, one by one

Radio announcers can’t do this, but the principle is the same. The most important way to create the magic audience link is eye contact.
Communicate with the whole audience by talking to one person at a time. Find a friendly face to start on, and talk to them like they’re the only person in the room. Don’t break eye contact. React to their facial expressions. If they smile, you smile. If they nod, you nod.
Give them a sentence or two. When you start a new point, move on to another person on the other side of the room. And so on throughout the presentation. Talking directly to people engages all the normal facial expressions you make when you’re talking passionately one to one, so even the people you don’t look at can sense you’re engaged.

Try it. It works. Got an experience you’d like to share?
Call now on 0411 733 477, our lines are open.

*Personal circumstances may vary, and if you’re taking tax advice from me you have serious problems.

Ian Whitworth leads a double life as a co-owner of audio-visual group Scene Change, and principal of creative marketing consultancy, A Lizard Drinking. He can be contacted on email – ian@scenechange.com.au