How often should you breathe?

You go right ahead and breathe all you like. You don’t need anyone’s permission. But a singer turned public speaking coach says:

How often should you breathe? At the very least, at the end of every sentence! If you are prone to rushing through your speech or presentation, then practice breathing at every punctuation mark — it will force you to slow down.

As a former opera singer, I know how much breathing affects how a voice sounds. Singers must use deep breathing in order to project a strong voice across a crowded auditorium to reach every single person in the audience. I never thought that this skill would help me once I left the field of opera — until I had to give my first speech. Then, I realized how much my operatic training made me a powerful public speaker.

Now, having taught public speaking and presentation skills for over a decade, I can say with confidence that the ability to harness your breath is one of the most important and least taught areas within public speaking. It’s critical when you’re speaking up in a meeting and it’s crucial when you’re giving a speech or presentation. It’s one of the key elements of executive presence.

Breathing Is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking – Allison Shapira, Harvard Business Review (30 June 2015)

One of my problems is racing on to the next sentence and the next. It sometimes comes across as enthusiasm and that does get transmitted, but more often it’s just hard to hear what I said. Read the full piece.

Important presenting tip: don’t press buttons

If it’s a speech or a story, I like to memorise what I’m going to say so that I can look at the audience and perform rather than just read. Fine. But I do bring the speech and I bring it on my iPad where I will have been making changes along the way. Also fine.

Just be careful, okay?

I gave a performance last night reading from a script I had in Drafts 4 on my iPad. I’d changed the settings so that the text was extra large and that it was white text on a black background so that I didn’t have an unearthly glow about my chin.

All very, very fine.

But Drafts 4 is for writing and doing things with text, it isn’t for reading. And at one point, about a third of the way through, I smoothly scrolled down to the next paragraph – and my finger caught an on-screen button.

With two hundred people staring at me, this button highlighted half the script, ran a macro over it all, inserted URL links and pasted whatever in the hell I last had on the clipboard. I watched this thing doing rapid-fire editing changes in front of me and saw my script reduced to unreadable rubble.

I realise now that I could’ve picked up the iPad and shook it to undo but have you ever done that in front of a capacity crowd in a theatre? I’d look like I was twitching.

I’ve listened to the recording and I can tell you the moment it happened. But I did have the speech memorised enough that I could carry on. And it worked out. One woman from the audience told me afterwards that my speech had made her cry. I thanked her but I was actually thinking “yeah, me too”, though probably for different reasons.

Lesson: don’t press buttons. More practical lesson: lock your script early and save it as PDF rather than keeping it as editable text.

Metaphors are like, um, er

Metaphors can help by tapping what learning theorists call prior knowledge to make a connection between what people already understand through experience and what they have yet to discover. We do this naturally in conversation — for instance, “The news hit her like a freight train.” By comparing the situation to something people already know or can at least imagine, we convey its intensity and urgency. But when explaining our ideas in presentations, we’re sometimes reluctant to use verbal or visual metaphors to relate to audiences. I’ve heard people say that metaphors are “off topic,” or worse, “cheap.” Though using a cheesy one can elicit groans, more often than not, metaphors offer a shortcut to understanding.

Finding the Right Metaphor for Your Presentation

Read the full piece. Its specifically about searching for the right metaphor in a presentation but so long as you don’t lurch into cliché, it’s surely going to be valid until the cows come home.

Love at first iteration: gaming your way to a partner

I adore dating companies because they are so fascinating: if a dating business does its job well, it immediately loses two customers. I’m a nut for romances anyway so on the one hand you have the delicate tinderbox of when two people meet but then on the other you have a business that might have to fail in order to succeed. Or even survive.

Then with online dating there’s the fact that it was once something you wouldn’t admit to. (You’d go on ITV’s Blind Date and be matched up by Cilla Black, fine, but you wouldn’t admit to using online dating, nooo.)

Plus online dating seems a bit geeky, somehow. I know it isn’t and we all know how deeply personal and intimate technology can be – friendships are made and lost on Twitter – and as writers it can’t shock us that the typed word can have so much power. But the notion of ticking boxes and saying your ideal partner must have GSOH, it’s geekily clinical.

Amy Webb, who I just realise has quite an appropriate surname given how she’s written about using the web to find love, has, er, written about using the web to find love. But Brain Pickings describes her as “mathematically-driven” and Webb went full-on, geek-out analytical:

After a series of bad dates following a major heartbreak, [Webb] decided to take a quantitative approach to the playing field and started systematically recording various data points about her dates, revealing some important correlations. After one particularly bad date, she decided to formalize the exercise and wrote down everything that was important to her in a mate — from intellectual overlap to acceptable amount of body hair — eventually coming up with 72 attributes that she was going to demand in any future date. She then broke down these attributes into two tiers and developed a scoring system, assigning specific points to each. For 700 out of a maximum possible 1800, she’d agree to have an email exchange; for 900, she’d go on a date; for 1,500, she’d consider a long-term relationship.

Love in the Age of Data: How One Woman Hacked her Way to Happily Ever After – Maria Popoca, Brain Pickings (31 January 2013)

The full piece on Brain Pickings includes a page from Webb’s handwritten notes (which curiously includes a bit saying “year: 2050” and also “have to get military experience” which all feels like a different story altogether). And it recounts how Webb could’ve stopped there but instead took the next logical approach and analysed herself.

She also analysed the statistics of women on online dating and, actually, some of that is really depressing. I’m a man and statistically I am supposed to prefer blondes, I’m supposed to be turned off by powerful women. I don’t like this bit. But I really like how Webb ripped all this online dating apart to get the guy of her dreams – and, spoiler, she did it – and in doing so really revealed a lot about us.

Online dating firms claim to have these great personality-matching algorithms but Webb shows how they can of course only go by what we tell them. And, worse, what the other person tells them.

She found ways to get around that artifice, perhaps by creating artifice of your own but still. She broke down online dating into what works – and as you read what she concludes, you’re going to be thinking about yourself. Specifically, about yourself on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and all the rest. Never mind dating, what she’s found is alternately useful and eye-opening about the image we unconsciously present of ourselves.

Do read the full Brain Pickings piece for, as ever, Popova has written a really good article about all this. But then go read Webb’s book: Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match.

Apple’s other product: the presentation itself

Apple does this stuff well. I’ve stolen from their playbook: I make the simplest, shortest, briefest slides I can.

Others have gone a lot further. Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi’s CEO dresses like Steve Jobs, presents products that look remarkably like Apple’s, and recently did Jobs’s famous “One more thing” in a presentation.

I would hope he got laughed at. I would hope that I get away with my short slides. But we both have reason to steal from Apple: they do this stuff so well.

Quartz ( looked at the last many years of Apple event presentations and analysed them rather a lot. So much so that it’s a bit of a shame they didn’t wait until after yesterday’s which would’ve seriously affected the findings.


One of Apple’s most successful products—which rarely gets recognized as such—is made not of aluminum and glass, but of words and pictures. The Apple keynote is the tool the company uses a few times a year to unveil its other products to millions of people. To understand their hidden structure, Quartz reviewed more than a dozen Apple keynotes, logging and analyzing key elements. Here’s what we found.

The Apple Keynotes podcast on the iTunes Store lists 27 events since Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone on Jan. 9, 2007. (A few are missing.)
They are an average 88 minutes long, with a similar look and feel—a minimalist slide presentation with live demos from Apple executives and industry leaders, punctuated by videos explaining Apple’s design and manufacturing processes. These videos—a genre in themselves—have been frequently parodied.

The Hidden Structure of the Apple Keynote – Dan Frommer, Quartz (8 September 2014)

Read the full piece for more minute by minute details, including who is the funniest Apple presenter ever. It isn’t Steve Jobs.

The worthy but dull way to present…

That’s a harsh headline since I’m really just setting you up for its sequel, The Worthy and Best Way to Present which follows in a thrice. But I was reading this form the Harvard Business Review:

Addressing the individuals concerns of stakeholders in the room will go a long way toward winning you allies. “If the finance person frets about keeping expenses under control, discuss expense numbers,” says [Raymond] Sheen [author of the HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case]. “If you have someone who is interested in growth in Asia, show how your project helps the company grow in the region.” Research past presentations and the outcomes to make sure you have your bases covered. If there are “issues that other projects have had, you should have an answer for those,” says Sheen. You might also consider giving decision makers a preview of your presentation ahead of time, and asking for their input. You can then salt their recommendations into your presentation, which will increase their investment in your success. “When you let people feel like they co-created your content, then they’ll not only support you but then they’ll feel empowered as ambassadors,” says Duarte. “They’ll feel like they’re representing their own idea.”

The Right Way to Present Your Business Case – Carolyn O’Hara, Harvard Business Review (21 July 2014)

And, sorry, O’Hara, but my mind wandered very quickly there.

The whole piece is a bit dry but its advice is solid, if ironic: reach out to people more, communicate more and avoid being a bit dry.

The wild and strange world of using Mac Keynote on a PC

20140721-221214-79934747.jpgI knew you could do this or I wouldn’t have even tried, but this afternoon I wrote and presented a talk using my favourite presentation software, Keynote, and I did it on a PC. Keynote is on Macs and iOS only, but if you go to on any computer, you can use it as if it ran on your machine.

Same with Pages the word processor and Numbers, the spreadsheet. They’re all on, along with Apple Mail, Calendar, Contacts.

But it’s one thing knowing this, it’s another doing it. And this ability is just crazy good. If it weren’t that the keyboard was clunky plastic, I could’ve been on a Mac. Now, I’m a Mac user so naturally I prefer this to PCs but it was the flawless ability to do what I would’ve expected to do, what I am used to doing, that made this wild.

Keynote is just a very good presentation application, pretty much infinitely better than PowerPoint. I had the choice of using PowerPoint locally, as in actually on that PC’s hard drive yet I chose to run Keynote over iCloud. This was in all ways stupid: what if the internet connection had failed?

But it was also in all ways sensible. I was twice moved to different lecture rooms and because I was doing this on, I just logged back on to there in each room and carried on exactly where I was.

And though the college I was at had PowerPoint, the first time I ran it, it came up with lots of messages that – read at great speed and in a rush to click my way through – gave me the impression that this was a trial version of PowerPoint. Not the full one. So it would have all the features but it would gripe at you a lot.

I’ve seen Microsoft Griping. I saw a fella us a PC that give a presentation so gorgeous that I was willing change my mind about Macs vs PCs – until he turned to face the audience. The instant his back was to the screen, there was a Windows Genuine Advantage error message. Basically, the internet connection had gone down and even though he wasn’t using the internet, Windows chose that moment to check something online and because it failed, said so in big letters.

Very amusingly, the connection must’ve come back because just as he turned around to change the slide, the error vanished.

I don’t care whether you like or dislike Apple, you know they wouldn’t interrupt your presentation with a system error.

So my choice was between a trial version of PowerPoint that would gripe and anyway was PowerPoint, or Keynote which was online at and so at risk of losing the internet connection.

I chose Keynote.

And I tell you, I always will. Right now I tend to produce my presentations on Keynote for Mac or iOS and at the very end convert them to PowerPoint. I then arrive wherever I’m going with a USB thumb drive containing one Keynote version and two PowerPoints (the old and the new formats). I also have the same files on Dropbox. And I often bring my MacBook with all versions on too.

I think I still will. But I’ll also make sure I’ve got a copy on

Keynote is a pleasure to use on Macs and iOS, I had thought it was a cleverness that you could run it on PCs via but it’s more than that. It’s a pleasure to use it even there. And to be able to present directly from it, that’s huge to me.

Try Keynote on yourself. If you have an iPad or an iPhone – it’s not wonderful on an iPhone but it works – then get the iOS app here. And if you’re on a Mac, it’s waiting for you at the end of this link.

How to start a speech, any speech

Well, maybe not a eulogy. But otherwise, if you’re standing up there giving a presentation, – “news and ideas for communicators” – has advice for you. Here’s their example and if the rest of the article gets a bit happy-clappy, the example sings:

I occasionally speak to a group of part-time volunteers who are working to reduce the number of injuries suffered in house fires. I used this opening for one of my talks:

“I’m only going to speak to you for one hour this morning. During our hour together, someone, somewhere in America, is going to be badly injured in a house fire. By the time you begin lunch this afternoon, someone, somewhere in America, will die in a house fire. By dinner, another person will die. By the time you go to sleep, another person will die. As you sleep tonight, two more people will die.

I’m here today because I want to prevent that from happening. And I’m going to need your help.”

Five great ways to open a speech – Brad Phillips, (14 July 2014)

Good, eh? Read the full piece for more.

The 29 reasons you’re reading this article

Medium writer Gilad Lotan argues that as addicted as we are to lists in articles, we are particularly prone to odd numbers. Especially 29.

And I thought the reason we saw so many of these articles was just that they are easy for the writers. Write a list, forget bothering to have a structure or any reason for the reader to read on through the whole piece. I have obviously never done this ever, ever.

But if I were to do it, I would use lists. Let me give you 29 reasons why:

You make a Listicle. How long should it be? 5 items feels a bit short. 30 Feels a tad long, and way too even. But 29 seems like a good, shareable length. What if I tell you that using data we’ve found statistically significant difference between performance of odd vs. even numbers? Sounds odd? Read on.

Lists have been around for a long time. From the Bible to the Billboard charts, packaging items in lists is an effective way to gain heightened attention from a broader audience. The format makes content more easily consumable, promising an effortless way to get through a finite amount of information. Choosing the right length involves a dash of voodoo magic and a lot of speculation.

The 29 reasons you’re reading this article – Gilad Lotan, Medium (1 July 2014)

For once, the speculation seems sound and backed up by experimental data. Do have a read of the full piece.

Present imperfect

I do a lot of presenting now so I’m thinking about it all constantly and yesterday’s Google presentation isn’t helping. But it is fascinating. Cult of Android ran this story, We Watched Google’s 3-Hour Keynote So You Wouldn’t Have To which tells you the Android community’s take but cult of Mac, on the other hand, went for this:

As the event dragged on, the tone on Twitter went from restrained interest about Google’s somewhat underwhelming announcements to reports of sleeping reporters and jabs at the ponderous presentation’s length. “Apple just launched a keynote shortener,” tweeted Dave Pell

That’s from a piece called Copy this please: 9 things Apple can teach Google about Keynotes. It continues:

Find your Steve Jobs: Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, so Apple looked inside and found a suitable replacement to become the face of the company. Apple exec Craig Federighi emerged as the company’s new “Superman” presenter at this year’s WWDC. Google’s Sundar Pichai might be “the most powerful man in mobile,” but he’s no Federighi.

Cult of Mac writer Lewis Wallace is right that Craig Federighi is quite the star presenter now. But he wasn’t before. It takes time and standing up in front of millions of people online before you get that good. So hopefully Google will take a telling from how poorly this year’s event went and is going to come back strong.