An Interview With…Presentation Genius

Catch up on our recent newsletter interview with Presentation Genius Simon Raybould. Many of us have to give presentations in our roles and for the majority it can be a daunting time. I caught up with Simon to get his thoughts. 


Simon Raybould doing what he does best.

 Simon, public speaking is one of the biggest phobias in the world. Why do you think that is?

In many cases it’s the fear of standing out – of being separate from ‘the herd’.  Being the same as everyone else is safe but being the odd one out might not be. It’s instinctive. Imagine this situation – you walk into a new village with no taps and there are two wells.  Everyone drinks out of one of them and no one has tried the other. Which well do you think it’s safest to drink from?

There are lots of other issues too, of course, such as not being prepared and so on, but I think this fear of making yourself vulnerable by being different lies at the heart of things.

When I help people with communication skills, I often find the biggest problems are people rushing through their materials, mumbling and just reading out exactly what they have written down. Do you find the same issues?

Absolutely!  A lot of it stems from the fact that people go into presentations with exactly the wrong mindset – they go in (as I’ve explained above) regarding them a something to be survived. Inevitably that means they do things the safe way, no matter how useless that safe way may be for the audience.   Reading things from a prepared script is both useless but safe at the same time.

I mentioned people speaking too quickly before. Do you have one top tip you can give to help people speak at the correct pace?

Breathe. There’s no one magic bullet for speaking too quickly but if there was one, this would be it. To be fair, I think we can safely say that breathing is more-or-less always a better alternative than not doing it but what I mean specifically is that we should learn to breathe with our diaphragms… the way we did when we were children.

Of course, the problem isn’t really that we speak to quickly. The real problem is that people can’t understand us easily because we speak too quickly. If they can understand us, it matters less that we’re galloping along at 200 words per minute, so my other top tip (yes, I know, this is two top tips when you asked for one!) is to make sure your diction is absolutely crystal clear. There are lots of warm ups and exercises you can do to help.

Ask yourself this question – you’d not rush out to play a competitive game of squash without warming your legs up first right?  So why would you rush out to do something even more challenging – speak to people – without warming up your speaking-muscles?!

 Are you finding that more people are having to do presentations in their jobs now than in the past? What types of people are coming to you for help?

Lots more people are having to make presentations. Unfortunately (from my point of view as a presentations trainer) there’s a rather low general standard, so people seem to think it’s okay to be as bad as everyone else. To be honest, all you’ve got to do to stand out is be halfway decent! 😉

The people who are coming to me more and more are those people who recognise that it’s not enough to be good at the technical parts of your job alone – it never was!  You’ve also got to be able to explain what you do. Typical clients for me are people who’ve realised this for themselves. Often they’ve just got promoted or they’ve just changed job or they’re finding out the hard way that they’ll be better at their job if they can make presentations about that job.

I am really enjoying using Google Slides to create presentations at the minute. Do you have a favourite tool?

Keynote, of course… I’m a Mac boy!   All the main software packages can do everything all the others can do (yes, even Prezi!). The difference lies more in the interface and how quickly it can allow you to do things.

That means it’s not about the software, it’s how you use it… or if you use it.

Following on from that, is there an over reliance on putting everything on slides – to quote the famous saying ‘Death by Powerpoint? Do you encourage people to use methods other than slides when presenting?

I’m what I call ‘slide agnostic’. If what you’re making a presentation about is best explained using slides, then use slides. If it’s best explained using dancing elephants then use dancing elephants. If it’s best explained using mime, then… well in that case you’re screwed, but I’m sure you get the idea.

This idea that there’s a right way to do it that works all the time is just, frankly, nonsense and a lot of people who pretend they prefer not to use slides seem to me to be doing it just because they’re too lazy to design them and are fooling themselves so they don’t have to admit it! 😉

If someone has a presentation coming up, and they are feeling really nervous what one thing would you suggest they do first to help them overcome their nerves?

Firstly, celebrate. It shows you care. If you’re not nervous there are only two possible explanations. Either you’re unbelievably arrogant, or you don’t care. In both situations you shouldn’t be presenting. Nerves are good!

As to how to deal with them? Ah, now that’s the six million dollar question!  I can teach people two dozen different ways to help them with their nerves but which one worlds best for them depends on them.  Giving you a simple answer is a hostage to fortune!  Sorry!

But just because it’s not sensible, doesn’t mean I won’t have a go!  😉

It’s back to breathing with your diaphragm. There are dozens and dozens of other tools, but if I had to put my hand on my heart and pick the one that works for more people than any of the others, it’s that one.

Finally, do you have any other tips you would like to share?

Where do I start?! Asking an expert in presentations that question is a bit like asking a doctor to pick one tip to live longer…

Okay, despite that… here we go… but people won’t like it.


Don’t just practice, rehearse. Don’t just go through your presentation (out loud, please, not in your head!). Do that once to find the bits that are trickier and then take those bits apart, sort them out, and put them back together again. Then repeat.

Anyone who thinks they can ‘wing it’ is fooling themselves. Some people are better at that than other, just like some people are better at fooling themselves than others, but I’ve honestly never met any presenter (and I’ve worked with the best in the country!) whose presentation isn’t better if it’s rehearsed.

Thank you Simon.

Simon is currently launching his online course ‘Presentation Genius’. If you would like to find out more, you can sign up here to be kept up to date with the launch and get some launch-date discounts.


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