You know…

Soooo….Hi guys, the market situation in the US, you know, regarding bond trading, you know, is not ideal, you know, but we managed to….you know….

The speech of this type I have recently heard from an American colleague at the conference I attended. Seriously, I am not exaggerating. I had the feeling he used the phrase “you know” at least twice in each sentence. I didn’t know this person, but I immediately gave him the nickname “you know guy”.

Best speaker, evaluator and table topic speaker of the night

But I started the story a little from the middle, let’s go step by step.

I work for a big European bank. I manage a project with more than 100 people involved and my teams are located in Prague, Paris and London. As such, I travel quite a lot and have experience with multi-national environment and different work styles.


This spring I was asked to prepare a speech about my project for the conference that took place at the beginning of June in London. There were supposed to be around 150 people – mostly senior managers from different parts of the world.

I am quite used to presenting my project, but this was a really big thing! I needed to attract everybody by the project and “to sell” it to other subsidiaries.

I was really excited and of course very motivated to make THE speech – the one that would stand out from the crowd, the one that everybody would remember. Being a member of Toast Masters I have, with no doubts, some skills, but this was Toast Masters in real life! I realized, work speech requires a little different approach.

Why? Mainly due to the following reasons:

  • You do not choose the topic yourself. Contrary, you present some work stuff, which is necessary somehow boring. And you ask yourself: How to present it in the attractive way?
  • Conferences usually last for at least one full day and participants `attention vary. You need to differentiate yourself from other speakers.

Thinking about these aspects, I prepared a few slides. I tried to concentrate on the specific pieces of information that people might want to hear and also that might be entertaining for them. No to bore them with only with numbers, charts etc.

I spent half of my weekend fine-tuning my speech, so that it had all important elements:

  • A funny and an unexpected start
  • a few jokes
  • a personal story from the project life
  • and a strong message at the end.

I was satisfied and started to look forward to the conference.

The day came. We all met in the lobby, started with some coffee, tea and informal chat. Then we were asked to move into the conference room. People were still rushing around, when the introduction speech of some Big Boss started. He started talking on his way to the stage, he didn’t have any attention, he didn’t introduce himself…people were confused…is this the start already or some kind of dress rehearsal?

Yes, it was the start and ….not the best (I thought to myself).

I didn’t know that time what was supposed to come. Another person followed- this one spoke instead of assigned 5 minutes 20 minutes in a monotonous voice and about nothing – very unprofessional. Uff.. And this was how it continued. One poor speaker after another. With a very few exceptions – to be fair.

After circa one hour I looked around; everybody was bored- people half slept, worked with their mobiles and waited desperately for the nearest break.

I decided to entertain myself differently – I took out a paper and started writing notes.

Then the idea to share them with you came to my mind.

IMAGINE: London…International conference of a big bank…Senior speakers…and what do they have in common?

  • Almost nobody said at the beginning of the speech his name and why he talks about his particular topic
  • The typical start was with the word “Sooo…”
  • Most of the speakers had hands in the pockets, or at least one of them
  • Many of them had slides full of text or charts – nobody really wanted to read it.
  • Presenters read (!) their slides; standing with their back or their side to the audience

They did not make any contact with the audience, no pauses, no questions, no work with their voice….just a vaaaague moooonotonouuuuus talking. No clear message, no clear idea.

My time came just after lunch. I started, continued and continued…It all went smoothly as planned; people were smiling, laughing from time to time about the jokes, nobody texted on the phone… I had tem. After I finished, I really had a good feeling, but I needed and waited for some feedback to confirm it. And it came very soon. People were coming to me, congratulating on the speech and especially thanking me for WAKING THEM UP. In the evening, during the barbeque everybody remembered me. I felt glorious!

And what I have learned…?

The level of presentation skills in corporate environment is unbelievably low. No matter where you are, no matter how senior people speak.

I don’t know why that is. Don’t people think it is important? Do they think it is too hard?

…yes – it is really hard and it takes time

…but yes – it is possible to make a business speech that won’t be unbelievably boring

…and yes – it is worth it and it is the way how to stand out of the crowd and have a better nick name than “You know guy”!!!

If a similar big event is ahead of you, don’t worry, prepare yourself and enjoy!

And don’t forget the golden rule of public speaking:

  1. Always start by telling people what you are going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you have told them

Good luck! :-)

Author: Alina Cugunova