ARTS AND FEATURES — 04 December 2013

By David Hennessy

Recognisable from her time presenting television programmes for RTE, MTV and BBC, Emma Ledden has taken some of the skills that make her so good in front of the camera into the business world with a new book that can help anyone who has to make a presentation. In The Presentation Book, Emma explains it is important to prepare and rehearse, know your audience, make your message relevant to them, talk in a language your audience can understand and not to overload the information in a confusing way. In all walks of life, people have to present but are unsure how to do it. With her new book, CEO of Presenting to Sell Emma gives the benefit of her experience of working with professionals and helping them to deliver effective presentations.

Emma started presenting RTE’s The Den before getting the chance to present on MTV and then working on BBC Saturday morning children’s programme Live & Kicking: “I just took a bit of a step back from being in front of the camera and wanted  to maybe build something behind the camera. I worked in radio for a couple of years and while I was doing that, I was exploring other areas of communication.

In this climate people are up skilling and changing careers which makes their ability and stand up and make presentations important whether it be for the job interview in front of a panel or to pitch for business.

“It is amazing, you meet someone and they’re lacking confidence and they have to present,” Emma begins. “They don’t have the skills, they don’t have the knowledge, they’re very insecure, they’re very uncomfortable and then you realise that actually the reason that it’s not working is that they don’t have a proper structure or they haven’t thought about their audience or they haven’t practiced out loud: Really, really fixable things. That’s what I love about what I’m able to do for people, I’ve seen people go from ‘I hate this, I could never do this’ to ‘I can do this’. The only reason I can genuinely have confidence in this book is that it works because I see it work every single day.

“There really is this urban myth that you can just stand up and it will all flow. That’s how you want it to look when you’ve finished all the preparation, like it’s just off the cuff and really natural but it takes work to get there. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t do that work and can stand up and be great. Maybe they exist but I have never met them in the 18 years I’ve been doing this.”

The arenas people Emma has worked with come from are incredibly varied: “If you sent me a list of every industry, I would say I have trained somebody in every one and I really don’t it in any boastful way. I’ve worked with hairdressers because they do hair shows, I’ve worked with graduates who are trying to get a job, I’ve worked with sales, marketing, media, advertising, people that have client feedback, engineers, lawyers, accountants, doctors. No matter what you do for a living, you have to do a presentation.

Emma in her Spin radio days with fellow presenter Johnny Moy

“I believe presenting is becoming as important a skill as reading and writing. I think it’s such a vital, vital skill. And nobody teaches it. That’s the other amazing thing I found. These people I’m meeting are very educated but despite all the education, this skill of oral communication is not being taught, as far as I can see, in college so they’re coming to businesses not equipped to do this and that leaves them very nervous.”

But the book and Emma will tell you it is okay to be nervous. Even after ten years on television and six years in the business world, Emma still gets nervous herself: “I think it’s important that people understand they’re going to be nervous but it’s okay to be nervous. When people work with me, I record them on camera and I play them back to themselves and what’s amazing is, and this is the response from every person I work with, they say: ‘Oh my god, I don’t look as nervous as I feel’. So your nerves are not as visible as they feel. I have never seen a presentation fail because of nerves. I have seen a presentation fail because of nerves and a lack of preparation. If you’re not prepared, your nerves will get very overwhelming. I would say it took me ten years to feel and when I say comfortable, I would still be nervous but I got to a point where I said: ‘Okay, I feel competent. Not amazing, not brilliant, not fantastic but competent. That took a long time.”

Emma laughs at the mention of old sayings such as “picture everyone in their underwear” that have allegedly helped people get through intimidating situations: “I meet people who come to me and say ‘I was told to hold a pen’ or ‘I was told to look at people’s foreheads’. I say: ‘Who told you that? And please tell me why you think that will work’. And it’s a random lecturer in college or they thought they read it somewhere or someone’s dad told them, no offence to dads anywhere.

“Because it’s quite exposing, you go into self survival mode of ‘I just want to get through it’ so those tips were designed to help people survive but I don’t think they’re helpful, I don’t think they  build confidence. They do it because they don’t know what else to do.

“What I was taught was communication is about knowing the audience, packaging a message, being prepared and owning what you’re saying.”

Emma would like to her book become the go to reference book for people not just in the UK and Ireland but across the world: “I would hope the book would be a reference and a resource for people throughout their career and a must have book in your collection of personal development books.”

It’s something people always ask her so we decided to ask Emma: Do you miss working in television? “Obviously TV is amazing and in no way have I walked away from it forever, that’s not really how I ever thought about it. It was so much fun and I worked on MTV, that was a dream job for me: I got to interview some amazing people and talk about music all day every day and there was great perks, going to gigs and things.

“Life is a bit more quiet now. Business is very different to media, media is a fun industry, but I do love what I’m doing now too. I don’t think I would go back full time. I would love to do something on TV in relation to what I’m doing now.

“TV has changed a lot even since I was on TV. It’s very expert led with cooking shows and gardening shows and super nanny shows, so there is that element, if you have something to bring back to TV, you can build a show around it. That’s certainly something I would like to explore. Let’s see. They might not have me back!”

The Presentation Book is out now on Pearson Books.

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