New year, new skills: public speaking

If you’ve ever wished for the verbal expertise of a TED-talker, you’ll likely benefit from joining Toastmasters, a global non-profit organisation that teaches oral communication skills and leadership. William Hagerup, a Toastmasters Club President, shares some tips on presentation skills.

8 mins read
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about 2 months ago

The thought of public speaking usually conjures up one of two things for professionals: terror or acceptance. It rarely seems to be something anyone looks forward to or enjoys unless you’re blessed with natural stage presence, witty repartee, and profound confidence.

If you’re looking for a new challenge, learning how to overcome your fears and/or make improvements to your overall presentation style could be one of the best things you do for yourself this year. Not only can it be a huge benefit in your career, but it can also help with life in general – enabling you to speak with confidence and eloquence in situations that may be challenging.

Soft skills such as public speaking are highly sought after – and are vital in leadership roles. With dedication and practice, it’s possible for anxious or shy people to finesse their presentation skills and learn how to deliver to any audience. 

William Hagerup, President of the 104 London Debaters, has been involved with Toastmasters for more than 10 years. He took up public speaking initially for his work which led to it becoming a hobby and passion. At the London club, he mentors people in the art of debate – an exciting challenge for those who have already mastered the art of public speaking.

Q: How transformative can public speaking skills be in the workplace?

A:In the workplace, the ability to speak confidently and present in a convincing way can be powerful.

Good communication skills can encourage people to get on board with your ideas, regardless of your role. For example, speaking well can make all the difference if you need to sell a product or your own skills in a job interview.

Q: Ahead of a presentation, aside from testing any equipment, what key things should the individual do to help their confidence?

A:It’s very important to understand what makes your presentation successful, to help you gain confidence.

"As part of your rehearsal, it’s worth recording your presentation. Watching yourself can be painful, but it’s a useful exercise to help you spot habits or ticks."

William Hagerup

Club President of Toastmasters' 104 London Debaters club

As part of your rehearsal, it’s worth recording your presentation. Watching yourself can be painful, but it’s a useful exercise to help you spot habits or ticks – I used to have a tendency to move my head too much. If you’re far away from the audience people may not notice these things, but if you’re projected on a big screen, or in an online meeting, the camera magnifies you which can be very distracting for the audience.

It’s also useful to get feedback from a trusted mentor, friend, or colleague who is more experienced, and who can give you some honest feedback.

Q: Introverts and extroverts – can they master public speaking in the same way?

A: It’s often easier for extroverts to stand up in front of people, but it’s okay to have different presentation styles if you don’t have that confidence. The important thing is to find your voice and a way that you can be yourself in front of people without being too nervous, finding peace in being just the way you are.

Extroverts, like me, have one disadvantage in that we can sometimes have an unsubstantiated self-confidence which can lead to a lack of focus, and perhaps not communicating in the best way.

The introvert tends to be much more careful with their preparation, making sure they have everything clear for the audience, with their PowerPoint and with what they say. I’ve often seen examples of this with the nervous, wobbly-voiced introvert outshining the confident extrovert whose presentation is rushed or disjointed.

Q: Handling nerves – what to do when your throat goes dry before you’ve said a word?

A: If your nerves are debilitating so that you just can’t deliver, you should practise well in advance.

I’ve found breathing slowly and deeply really helps just before you start, and then look away from the audience. Perhaps the introduction is being given before you speak and your heart is pounding – use the moment to look out of the window to distract yourself, just don’t look at the audience.

Once you take the podium and you're in the focus, look over their heads and scan back and forth, so you only pretend to look at them – fake it till you make it.

Gradually your confidence will build because you’ve realised the sky didn’t fall down and no one is throwing things at you. But still don't look at the audience because sometimes if you’re nervous and start looking at people’s faces for reassurance, it can put you off your stride, especially if they’re not very receptive. Only when your nerves are under control should you start to make eye contact, if you wish.

Q: Delivery – can you share any tips for keeping to a designated time slot?

A: Preparation again is the key. Run through it a few times and use a timer.

A good rule of thumb is to use about 100 words a minute, which is a fairly slow speaking pace but a good one to help the audience follow you. Also, it gives a bit of leeway so that if you do improvise and add things that come to mind as you’re speaking, you have enough space to do that.

"You should never read from your PowerPoint slides or from a script as it’s really boring. Only refer to them for key points, graphs or pictures that will help engage the audience."

William Hagerup

Club President of Toastmasters' 104 London Debaters club

You should never read from your PowerPoint slides or from a script as it’s really boring. Only refer to them for key points, graphs or pictures that will help engage the audience and jog your memory if you need it. If you run through that a few times with a timer, you can give a fluent presentation without speaking too fast.

If you do need notes to hand, print them large enough that you don’t have to peer at the paper as you’re speaking. You can just have them as a reminder. Index cards are a good idea because you can hold them without fumbling with a big piece of paper, which can act as a barrier between you and the audience. If you are inexperienced or very nervous, write down the main points.

Q: When the tech goes wrong – how should you regain composure when the PowerPoint fails?

A:It’s good to prepare a joke in advance. If you’re able to say something funny when something goes wrong, it takes the edge off the situation. Perhaps just have an ‘emergency’ question ready to put to the audience or ask if they have any questions.

If your presentation depends on you showing some graphs or papers, you might have some print-outs ready to share rather than waiting for something to be fixed, which may take a long time.

I think it’s generally better not to rely too much on just one technology. Always think of backups. 

Q: Presenting online – what common pitfalls are there to avoid?

A:The basics are having good light so your face is bright. The sound is very important and should be tested in advance, perhaps with a friend. It might be worth investing in a slightly better microphone which can make a big difference. And then I’d say the position of the camera is important. You don’t want it too far up so that people are looking down at you, and not too far down, because then it looks like you’re standing over them like a strict headmaster.

Speakers sometimes get concerned that they need to look at the various screens and look at people’s faces, but audience members often turn off their cameras. I just ignore that a little bit and write my keywords on a document placed on the screen underneath where my camera is, so I’m looking in the direction of the camera. It's not noticeable to the audience because my eyes are in that direction, so they think I'm looking at them. So that’s quite a nice way of doing it and once I finish, I can just take the notes away and more fully engage with people. 

I also often ask if it’s possible for everyone to turn on their cameras because it’s a bit disconcerting talking to a blank screen or staring at their avatars. And it’s easier for them to zone out and start doing other things and not really pay attention when their cameras are off.

Q: Q&A time – what if you don’t know the answer?

A:I’m quite strict on this so I would say you should’ve done your homework better. I don’t think one should show up for a presentation if you haven't researched your subject thoroughly. There’s no real excuse for lack of preparation – you’re either showing disrespect for your audience or complete ineptitude if you’re not ready to answer any relevant question.

Of course, if it’s not relevant, it’s perfectly fair to say, “I'm sorry, I don’t think that's relevant. It’s not something that is specifically to do with what I said, so I’m not going to be able to answer that one now, but we can talk about it perhaps afterwards or in a different setting”.

If something comes up unexpectedly that you ought to have researched, you’re going to have to be honest and say you haven’t explored that in-depth but will be happy to go back to them with an answer through the contact details of the meeting organiser.

Looking for a new challenge in 2024? Get in touch with one of our expert consultants today.

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Inspiring the next generation: the benefits of offering internships
4 mins read

Inspiring the next generation: the benefits of offering internships

The decision to hire interns is not merely a trend, but a strategic must. The opportunities associated with internships can be used to bridge the gap between academic learning and practical application, while also playing a pivotal role in shaping the careers of aspiring professionals.

Towards the end of 2023, Google searches for ‘internships’ increased by 22% to 6,000 searches per month, while the social media platform, TikTok, saw four million views for the hashtag #internships, as more and more students look for opportunities to increase their work experience.

For businesses, investing in paid internships is a strategic move that goes beyond fulfilling corporate social responsibility. It's an investment in the future workforce, creating a talent pool that may later become full-time employees. According to the 2022 Student Recruitment Survey by the Institute of Student Employers, 82% of respondents reported that they recruit interns – showing that internships shouldn’t just be viewed as a gesture of goodwill, but play a pivotal role in recognizing talent, promoting diversity, and contributing to overall business success.

Managed well, an internship can be a viable recruitment option for an organization. But what are the main reasons why businesses should consider running an internship program?

Talent development

Businesses can use internship programs as a proactive approach to identifying and nurturing professionals for their talent pool. They can create direct connections with emerging talent, providing them with first-hand experience in their respective industries – from engineering and technology to sales and procurement.

With skills shortages affecting a large number of sectors, employers that provide a platform for eager individuals to gain paid experience, help ease the pressures many businesses – and professionals – are facing.

Innovation and fresh perspectives

Interns can inject new and exciting perspectives and ideas into the workplace, which can see campaigns thrive and strategies become more impactful. By recognizing that diversity fuels creativity, seeking interns who bring unique insights and approaches to problem-solving will help to enhance the overall creativity and adaptability of the organization.

Introducing different perspectives into your workplace provides a fresh take on the business as a whole. Even though interns won't be responsible for creating new policies or planning a strategy, their outside opinion may improve existing practices.

For example, as more workplaces undergo digital transformation the need for a workforce that is comfortable with various technologically advanced tools has never been more important. Asking for an intern’s feedback on your digital presence and consumer-facing collateral can pinpoint where potential improvements can be made and where new business or custom can be identified.

Social responsibility and diversity

Businesses are increasingly investing in corporate social responsibility and the benefits that come with having a diverse workforce.

Running an internship program allows companies to contribute to ongoing social initiatives by providing valuable opportunities to individuals who may face barriers to entry into the workforce. Employers who actively seek out interns from various demographics can demonstrate their commitment to fairness, equality, and social responsibility – heightening their appeal to professionals looking for 'good' companies to work for.

It’s important to maintain a community-focused approach, ensuring you ‘give back’ by offering young talent the opportunity to thrive and succeed in an internship – helping enhance their career prospects and your reputation at the same time.

Brand image enhancement

In a world where reputation means everything, any opportunity to be seen as an employer of choice can be vital to a successful talent acquisition strategy. Internship programs play a pivotal role in shaping the perception of a company among potential new employees, as well as customers and other stakeholders.

Businesses that actively engage in internships can showcase their commitment to investing in professional development, graduate opportunities, and career changes – creating a positive brand image. This in turn attracts people seeking meaningful opportunities for growth and career progression.

Helping the next generation

There’s a bigger picture to internship programs. Many individuals, especially recent graduates, may face challenges when embarking on a new career path. Those lucky enough to win internships will reap the benefits that come from the experience, not just in adding to their CV, but in self-confidence gained from developing knowledge of their chosen profession, all while making valuable contacts.

Internships ultimately improve future employability and give a head start to those keen to learn sought-after skills in their field, whether that’s invoice management and purchasing in accountancy, or content strategies and communication plans in marketing.

Having interns can potentially help to identify future leaders among your junior employees. When overseeing an intern’s day-to-day activities, some junior employees may demonstrate exceptional management and leadership traits. Once these skills have been identified, you may consider investing in these employees further and upskilling them for future leadership opportunities.

Businesses that offer internships are not just investing in short-term support but are strategically building a foundation for long-term success. An internship is still one of the best ways for professionals to gain that all-important work experience, highlighting the importance a robust internship program plays in growing and expanding the workforce.

Looking to hire experienced professionals to join your team? Contact one of our specialist consultants today.

Transformative talent: how career changers can enrich organisations at any age
3 mins read

Transformative talent: how career changers can enrich organisations at any age

Career changes can help reignite passion for work and are a courageous step at any stage of life. Whatever rung of the corporate ladder an individual has reached, daring to push beyond their comfort zone into a new industry or type of role should be viewed positively by employers. Many workers are looking to fulfil ambitions their original career path couldn’t offer, and after years of experience in a particular sector may be ready to sidestep into something new.

One of the key advantages career changers bring to the table is a wealth of experience gained from diverse industries. Unlike individuals who have followed a linear career trajectory, those who transition between professions bring a multifaceted perspective that can prove invaluable in problem solving, decision-making, and innovation. Their skills and knowledge, acquired over time, can help shape how a team works and even contribute to organisational culture. For example, ex-forces personnel can strengthen communication, discipline, teamwork and leadership in business. 

Here are some other common attributes of those who change their career: 

Resilience

Career changers inherently possess the often-overlooked skills of resilience and adaptability. Navigating the complexities of change, be it industry shifts, new technologies, or different organisational cultures, is second nature to those who have successfully made a career transition.  

This adaptability enhances personal growth and helps employers who rely on teams rolling with operational changes. Resilience under pressure can ultimately save an organisation – whether through an understanding of the nuances of crisis communications or in making board-level decisions.  

Diversity of thought

Career changers, with their varied backgrounds and experiences, inject fresh ideas and approaches to the workplace. This diversity of thought can widen the outlook of a team, influencing new business partnerships, ways of working, as well as cultivating innovation.  

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to business practice, but many leaders in today’s tech-oriented workplaces are relying on the generation most immersed in digital tools and practices to run the show, discounting those with other capabilities and aptitudes.  

Soft skills

Transferable skills learned across different sectors/industries can be highly beneficial in business, but soft skills are invaluable. Our recent research highlights a new focus among employers to prioritise soft skills over experience in the wake of candidate shortages– good news for career changers who have had years to hone expertise in negotiation, influencing and problem solving. 

Organisations should take steps to challenge age-related stereotypes and welcome those seeking new career journeys. Aside from strength of character, their experience may cover everything from public speaking, networking, customer service to management skills.  

How to attract career changers to your organisation

While the benefits of career changers are evident, it is essential to address the prevalent issue of age bias in the hiring process. The majority of career changers will be people with many years of experience behind them – making their perceived ‘fit’ into a team of younger people a potential issue for millennial leaders/hiring managers. 

A more relaxed approach to role requirements in job adverts can capture the interest of a wider range of people – after all, technical skills can be quickly learned but emotional intelligence, the confidence to experiment, and strategic thinking are harder assets to find.  

Promote stories of career changers who’ve made a difference to your organisation – add case studies and videos to your careers site of employees who found their way into their dream role from other industries. Invite them to become employee ambassadors, attending industry and careers events to help with recruitment. 

Most professionals looking for a different challenge are set on doing meaningful work, rather than trying to climb the corporate ladder or embellish their CVs. Someone who shows genuine passion for an industry or role, regardless of experience, could be your best hire this year. 

Looking to hire experienced professionals for your team? Our experts recruit across 20 sectors and are ready to help you find your next perfect hire. Contact one of our specialist consultants today.  

Five ways your business can reduce presenteeism in the workplace
5 mins read

Five ways your business can reduce presenteeism in the workplace

There is no doubt that absenteeism – regular, unplanned staff absences – is bad for business. But what most employers don’t often realize is that the opposite, referred to as presenteeism, can be just as harmful to your workplace.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is often cited as one of the biggest threats to workplace productivity. It is the phenomenon of employees turning up to work when they are not fully fit, either physically or mentally, and thus performing below their optimal level. These individuals are trying to fulfill their jobs, but due to health problems or other circumstances, can’t work at full capacity.

It can have negative consequences for both the individual and the organization, such as reduced productivity, lower quality of work, increased stress, and higher health risks.

There are various factors that cause presenteeism, such as excessive workload, job insecurity, lack of sick leave, or a culture that rewards long hours and discourages taking breaks. Without a clear separation between work and home – further exacerbated by the introduction of hybrid working – professionals may find it difficult to disconnect and set clear boundaries.

This lack of separation can lead to longer working hours, increased workloads, and, most importantly, difficulty in taking breaks or even time off.

How to tackle presenteeism in your workforce

So, how do you spot the signs of presenteeism, and how do you broach the subject tactfully among your workforce? Here are five ways to banish presenteeism for good:

Recognize the symptoms

Employees with health problems, especially those related to mental health, often feel an inability to disclose their feelings to their manager. At the same time, those in managerial positions are rarely trained to effectively support employees who are struggling.

It’s essential that managers are educated to some degree to be able to notice when employees are showing signs of stress or mental health problems. Not only that, managers need to feel confident and equipped to have open and supportive conversations with employees about their health and overall satisfaction levels while at work.

With almost three in five employees saying they would take less time off work if their employer enhanced the health and wellbeing services available to them, this evidence supports the value of reviewing existing policies and practices. Work-life balance, menopause support, and an ‘open-door’ policy all help build a culture that prioritizes people.

Evaluate your well-being policy

Professionals will often still come to work if they are experiencing long wait times for a doctor’s appointment or if they are unable to get an appointment outside of working hours. This not only impacts the recovery time but can also lead to a build-up of stress while waiting to be seen or awaiting the results of a diagnosis. Ill health, such as colds and coughs, can also be quickly spread around the workplace.

A strategic well-being policy that offers appropriate support can help reduce the impact of presenteeism. Programs that promote good mental, physical, financial, and social health can help prevent illnesses and reduce the impact of long-term conditions. Whether it's discounts to be used on fitness equipment, access to yoga classes, or mental well-being initiatives, a clear plan to help employees can lead to a happier and healthier workforce.

Lead by example

If managers go to work when they are ill, their teams are likely to feel they have to do the same. Leaders need to set a good example and stay at home when they are unwell – especially given flexible working policies are now fully implemented.

Presenteeism often occurs when employees feel they can’t afford to take time off due to heavy workloads, upcoming deadlines or not wanting to burden their colleagues with their absence. It’s important that managers know how much work employees have on, so they are able to help manage it.

Holding frequent one-to-ones or team meetings can help highlight if employees are in need of any support – be it with their work or well-being. This should help reduce any work-related stress and promote healthy working practices to those making a return to work after a prolonged absence.

Clear communication of company culture

Clarify with your workforce about where the company stands on employees coming into work ill, also ensuring a sickness reporting procedure is outlined.

Clearly define and communicate your policies, such as sick pay and time off allowances, and allow employees to ask any questions they may have. It’s also important to communicate the impact that unwell employees coming into work can have on fellow employees, customers, and the wider business.

When you’re clear on where the company stands when it comes to illness and working patterns, employees will feel comfortable staying home and recovering when they’re ill – rather than fearing any potential consequences of doing so.

Empower and trust your employees

It’s the people working in organizations that make the difference. They have the ability to grow business, increase engagement, and enhance reputations. By creating positive and supportive work environments, where employees feel they can take time off when needed, presenteeism can be reduced.

By empowering employees in the workplace, leaders can directly enhance their psychological safety – the belief that they can speak up, take risks, and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences. Employees who feel psychologically safe are more likely to seek help, share ideas, and collaborate with others, which can improve their health and performance.

If presenteeism isn’t already on your radar, it should be. Making appropriate changes to absence policies and aspects of workplace culture will help ensure your workforce is healthier and more motivated. For businesses, an investment in people through good quality employee benefits could be just what workers need to eradicate presenteeism.

If you are searching for a talented professional to join your team, or looking to embark on a new career opportunity, get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.