Pros learn to speak, impress

This year’s annual Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals conference – called ‘Grow’ – focused on personal and professional development. Keynote speaker Robert Vallee, who has developed a programme called ‘Speak & Impress!’ showed attendees how they could improve their presentation, speech and communications skills. 


Presentation, speech and communications coach Robert Vallee isn’t a big fan of PowerPoint, at least the way it is often used by many business professionals. 

Noting that the prefix of the word presentation is ‘pre-’, the Toronto-based Vallee told attendees of the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals conference that presenters should speak before they show. 

“PowerPoint doesn’t lead,” he said, noting that the origin of reading from a slide comes from the Middle Ages with clerics reading scripture to churchgoers who followed along. 

“You want to prepare the listener for what they are about to hear.” 

Presenters who show a PowerPoint slide to someone and then simply read the slide are not only insulting the intelligence of their audience, but risking their boredom, Vallee said. 

“You’re dancing with a partner, not dancing by yourself,” he said of a presentation.  

When presenting a visual, it’s important to introduce it before showing it. 

The worst words you can use are ‘As you can see…’, he said. 

The Toronto-based Vallee suggests presenters become like tour guides, leading their audience through every step of communication and using directional language to prepare them. He said tour guides on buses will say things like “coming up on the left you will see…” and that is the kind of thing, metaphorically speaking, good presenters use. 


Connecting with listeners 

Being a tour guide is one of four platforms of success for speaking and impressing, Vallee said. Other platforms include connecting, being a matchmaker and engaging listeners. 

The first task of a presenter is connecting with the listeners. 

“You want to speak to their values, priorities, concerns and aspirations,” he said. 

Being a matchmaker – matching information that is highly relevant to the listener – is key. 

“People ask me ‘what’s the No. 1 rule of being a great communicator?’ It’s who’s my audience and what is it they want to know?’” 

Vallee suggests presenters address the following five questions that would come from an audience’s standpoint: 

How does this affect me? 

What do you want from me? 

Why is this important to me in my work responsibilities? 

How will you get me the desired outcome? 

What will you put before me in support of the desired outcome? 

Vallee said speakers are actors to some extent. 

“You’re playing a certain part in a communications circumstance,” he said, adding that speakers want to keep the audience captivated. 

“The best complement to a presenter is having someone say afterwards ‘That was very interesting’.” 

Vallee has trademarked a system called YIPI, which is designed to help speakers connect with listeners. YIPI stands for you, I, present, impact. 

“It’s my way of connecting with people quickly,” he said. 

The first step is telling the listener why they should listen with words that tell them ‘You need or want or seek or require or fear or aspire or dream…’. The speaker then continues with ‘I state, claim, submit, offer, conclude, report, propose or recommend…’ followed by something that addresses what the listener wants, seeks, requires etc. 

Speakers then present, showing specifics, proof, quantification, illustrations or demonstrations to back-up their statements, claims, conclusions, etc. 

Finally, the speakers lets the listener know what impact the communication will have 
on them. 

“You want to close the loop,” he said. “It always comes back to ‘you’.” 

Another key aspect of connecting with listeners is verbal transparency of intentions, Vallee said, adding that the speaker wants to convey honesty so that the listener knows where the communication is going.  

A phrase like ‘I’m telling you this because…’ is an example of verbal transparency. 

“Open up the kimono and tell them what’s in your heart,” he said. 


Improving delivery 

Although the message of a communication trumps delivery in importance, good delivery is still critical, Vallee said. 

One key to more effective speaking is using short sentences of 10 words or fewer 

“Short sentences are easier on your listener. Short sentences are easier on you. You cannot get a memory blank in short sentences,” he said. 

One way to reduce the size of sentences is to eliminate linking words like ‘and’, ‘which’, ‘that’, ‘so’ and ‘because’, Vallee said. 

“They cut short the time you have to think and the time you have to breathe,” he said, adding that people should do the same thing in e-mails and voice messages. 

Vallee also suggested people use a technique he called the “religious springboard’, where they use the last word of the previous short sentence as the first word of the next sentence. He said Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech was a good example of the technique because when he delivered it he said, ‘I have a dream. A dream that…’ 

Variations of the religious springboard technique have the speaker using any word in the previous short sentence as the first work in the next sentence or using a different word form of a word used in the previous sentence. For instance, the word ‘dream’ could be changed to ‘dreamt’ in the following sentence. 

Using words that start with the power letters b, p, k, g, d, q or t is a way to improve verbal emphasis, Vallee said, noting that in the Star Trek television franchise, the key character names – James T. Kirk, Spock, Jean Luc Picard – all had power letters in them.  

“Incorporating words with these letters into your vocabulary can drive more emphasis into your speaking style,” he said. “They convey more conviction.” 

Words with imagery also improve speaking style, Vallee said, using the example of Winston Churchill, who once said, “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” 

Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals President Samantha Nehra presented Vallee with a gift of thanks for presenting at the conference. 

“I’ve learned a lot from Robert,” she said. “It’s easy to understand and easy to apply his theories.”