My Interview with Roger Courville

I’m delighted to feature Roger Courville on the blog. Roger has been called “the Michael Jordan of online presentations and virtual classes”. He is an award winning blogger at The Virtual Presenter, an internationally sought-after speaker and teacher on web seminars to deliver business results.

Roger Courville

Some of the topics I discuss with Roger during the interview include:

  • Developing confidence as a beginner speaker
  • Preparing for a speech from scratch
  • Keeping the audience engaged
  • Using slides when presenting

A lot of people are terrified of public speaking. What advice would you give to people to help them to overcome their fear of public speaking?

There are a couple of basic tactics you can use, like getting a good nights sleep, being hydrated and rested, and then getting lots and lots of rehearsal time.

As somebody once said, you should rehearse until you don’t sound rehearsed!

Another technique is to marry the presentation to your area of expertise. This means choosing a topic that you’re very comfortable with to talk about. By being comfortable about the topic you will be more confident when it comes to getting up and speaking.

Roger Courville

Learn more about the fear of public speaking here.

How much time do you usually devote to preparing for a speech and what element of the speech do you tend to focus on first?

More than one person has said you should spend an hour on preparation time for every minute of speaking time. That is one of the things to distinguish professionals from non-professionals. It is easy to underestimate how much time is takes to put something together with excellence. Personally if I know I have a presentation coming up I start a file on my computer immediately and then I start capturing stuff in that file as it pops into my head in the weeks beforehand.

I always start with a theme or thesis. I know what the outcome of the presentation is supposed to be and I style my presentation from the content out. So my process starts with that thesis which then becomes an outline for the presentation. I then move to thinking about the visual aspect i.e. the visual aids, and finally I plan what the interaction/engagement with the audience is going to be.

Roger Courville

As a highly interactive presenter I very much play off the audience. For example, I make use of a technique that is used by comedians quite a lot called the callback. Callbacks increase relevance and help to tie things together. But the only way something like this can happen is in the moment. That doesn’t mean it’s all ad-hock. The speech content is still on a very specific path. I’ve laid out the stepping-stones during the preparation.

What techniques do you use to keep an audience engaged?

I tend to break engagement down into three buckets: sensory, social and cognitive.

Sensory is something that triggers one of our senses. If you are walking down the street and see a flashing light in a shop window you’ll be drawn to look. That’s an example of a sensory trigger. It got you to look! There are all kinds of sensory triggers that we can apply in a presentation. Every time we advance a slide there’s a sensory trigger.

Social is something we all do when we interact. That interaction could be audience to presenter or it could be audience to audience. For example if we ask the audience to “Turn to your neighbour and tell them a story” we are engaging socially.

Cognitive are the triggers that happen around thinking. You could give the audience a command or imperative, for example: do this or look here e.g. “What do you see here in the corner of the room?” One of the best examples of cognitive engagement is seen in Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk. Watch the video and notice how many times Robinson asks the audience “Am I right?” He’ll say something and then ask “Am I right?” Each time he says it our brain has to respond.

Find out more about connecting with an audience here.

Are visual aids beneficial in a presentation? Do you ever go down the route of speaking without slides?

I almost always use slides. We know from science that vision is the most poignant of our five senses. So for that reason I think it’s a mistake not to use visual aids.

There are times when a picture or illustration can communicate far more effectively than words. Conversely there are times when words can communicate more effectively than a visual. I don’t agree with the old adage of public speaking that the person is the presentation and the slides are just there for support. For me they work together.

If you think of a television documentary there are times when no narration is required because the visual is carrying the message. There are times when there’s no need for a visual because the narration is carrying the message. When they are designed purposely together, they work to create something that is better than the individual parts.

When designing your slides, what do you focus on?

It is a complete missed opportunity to not be very strategic about how you use visuals, whether that’s in PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or if you just hold up red flags!

I use a combination of illustrations and words on my slides. Despite what some people might say, words are not evil. In fact we know from other learning contexts that words are essential. We also know that you can format them in a visual way. You can format them in a way that attracts attention. That’s what I tend to do.

For more check out the 2 part series on visual aids here.

What are some of the key learnings form the presentations you’ve made? How have you used what you’ve learned to improve for the next time?

If there’s one thing that springs to mind, and this would be true for keynoters or trainers or whatever style of speaking you do, it would be to repeat, repeat, repeat yourself. Unless you can create an environment with perfect attention, which of course doesn’t exist, the likelihood of someone remembering something increases when you repeat yourself. So repeat the key idea.

Secondly it’s been shown that people learn best when they are participating as opposed to being passive. Instead of telling the audience the answer I’ve learned to give them the problem and allow them to derive the answer themselves. This can be a very powerful technique and is something I now try to do in all of my presentations.

Do you have any final words of advice for Communicate You readers who are looking to develop in the area of public speaking?

Just do it! Both in terms of your skills and in terms of your business or career there is no substitute for repetition and practice. Your ability is going to dramatically improve by just getting out there and talking to anybody about anything. There is nothing that improves a speaker like speaking. Best of luck!

Catch-up with some of the other posts in the ‘Expert Interviews’ series here.