Can A Billionaire Give You Presentation Advice?

Sir Richard Branson at the eTalk Festival Party, during the Toronto International Film Festival by Richard Burdett
Where do you get your presentation advice? Even intelligent and highly accomplished individuals like Sir Richard Branson can benefit from an honest evaluation and coaching.

Speech coach and author Gary Genard is a great blogger. In a recent post, Gary discusses Sir Richard Branson’s advice on public speaking. Branson, the entrepreneur, adventurer, humanitarian, and founder of the Virgin Group, explained his approach to presentations in an article called, “My Top Tips for Public Speaking,” on the Virgin website.

Branson declared, “90 percent of the time, it is better to ad-lib rather than read from contrived speech notes. Even if you forget certain points you wanted to make, the people who are listening always desperately want to hear your passion, not just your theory.”

Gary counters, “…passion matters. But not at the expense of well-planned and formulated remarks. Actually, this sentiment is a weakness sometimes found among super-successful people. Whether it stems from anxiety … or arrogance, experts can reason that because they know so much, they can talk at length without notes or preparation. But a speech is a strategic activity, and each must be designed with a specific audience in mind. So you shouldn’t “ad-lib” without notes, any more than you should memorize a piece or read word-by-word from a manuscript.

I certainly take issue with Branson’s approach. This are my comments to Gary:

Richard Branson spoke for one of my clients and I had the opportunity to hear him speak.

My client paid $175,000, which went to one of Sir Richard Branson’s foundation. Branson flew into Vegas right before the event and did not stay overnight. He went right back to the airport to fly to South Africa.

The video introduction was amazing. Branson had recently experienced a skiing accident, so he came on stage on crutches. The approach was Q & A with the CEO. Good approach.

Without a doubt, however, he was the worst speaker I have ever heard. He won the prize for the most non-words per minute in my 40 years of studying speakers and giving executive advice on how to improve speaking.

No stories! The only moment slightly reminiscent of a story was when an audience member asked a good question: ‘What is the toughest decision you had to make?’ Branson replied, ‘Selling the Rolling Stones contract because we needed the money.’

Gary, this technique isn’t on Branson’s list, but it should be: Be open to evaluation and coaching from somebody who does not work for you.

Thank you Gary, for sharing your insight as a fellow speech coach! Thank you also to Sir Richard Branson, for reminding us that when it comes to presentations, preparation, rehearsal, and honest evaluation are the only way to ensure success. Learn more about author and speech coach, Gary Genard.

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