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  • Writer's pictureStu Lloyd


In my 30 years of ‘selling’ ideas at the intersection of creativity and commerce, there have been many highlights.

Hundreds of pitches and presentations in adland (to secure hundreds of millions of dollars of business), successfully pitching half a dozen books to publishers (with sales hovering around the 100,000 copies mark), and some enjoyably memorable keynote presentation talks.

None so more than the time I addressed the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UN WTO) in China on tourism trends and innovations.

Around two hundred Oh So Important dignitaries, officials and key players – all in dark suits and ties – were snoring their way through presentation after presentation of data-rich, powerpoint-heavy, spreadsheet-intense offerings.

Given the formal nature of the event I could have followed suit, pardon the pun.

But Rule #1 of any storytelling presentation opportunity is

Be Yourself.

You’ve gotta be yourself – everyone else is taken!

(Having said that I’m sure most public speaking courses don’t take such a human-centric approach.)

When you are yourself, your integrity quotient soars, and with it your perceived authority. And engagement, because the audience senses no masks or filters which block them out.

So how was I being myself on that august occasion?

I dispensed with my tie, and undid my top button, for a start.

(On another occasion in South Korea, I nipped upstairs and changed my grey business shirt for an outstanding Indonesian batik, a gift from an Indonesian minister as thanks for a previous conference keynote speech and panel session I’d done.)

Anyone who knows me would recognize that my style is severely cramped by suits and ties, and it was an easy way to stand out in that dark forest of 50 Shades of Corporate.

So my name is called, I’m introduced, and I bound on stage.

Let’s get this party started!

Here’s how I treated the projected data: rather than drowning the already saturated audience in yet more numbers, in pre-prep I whittled the data sets down to the bare bones by asking myself the question:

What’s the ‘Holy Shit’ number here?

That is: which of all these numbers, is the jaw-dropping one, the one that’ll get people talking or reacting or tweeting at the tea break?

It turned out there were a few … the biggest one being the projection that by 2020 there would be 200,000,000 (yes that’s million) international outbound Chinese tourists.

There were 2 others I decided to highlight too.

The rest would be available in a printed hand-out for inspection and digestion later.

So what I did was this. Put each of these 3 Holy Shit numbers big and bold in the middle of their own slide. With a flashy starburst around each one.

I wanted the audience to know AND FEEL the impact of these numbers and insights.

And then as a unveiled each number, I got the audience to react with a heartfelt “WOW!”

The first time in English. Then in Mandarin. Even in Thai (the equivalent is “Oohoooo!”)

This created a series of interactive moments for the audience.

It wasn’t just me throwing impressive numbers out. It was them digesting them reacting to them, and enjoying them.

The room came alive with the energy and anticipation of each next moment. There were laughs and smiles and emotional connection.

All over a bunch of numbers.

I might humbly suggest that many in that room had never had so much fun at work before. Or since. And the media, including TV and Newspapers in the room, called me aside afterwards for some further elaborations.

And I in turn was humbled in receiving an actual letter – a nice and important touch – from Frederic Pierret, Executive Director, WTO, after the event:

“Wow! Fantastic! I especially appreciated your dynamic presentation which gives a clear vision of the future of tourism in the Asia Pacific region.”

My high-risk decision to go for it and Be Myself had clearly paid off. That he’d remembered and echoed my throughline catch-cry from my presentation spoke volumes for how it had resonated and stuck.

Which in turn led to my engagement by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy I mentioned earlier, because a high-ranking official was in the audience.

My personal approach on that occasion was also picked up by another speaker, Audrey Progastama Petriny, Group Head of Communications, at Air Asia:

“It was great to share a stage with you. You were really inspiring!
Learned some presentation techniques from you too.”

It’s always nice to have peer-to-peer feedback like that, because I didn’t set out to teach her anything.

Maybe I should send Air Asia an invoice? Or at least arrange for some in-house presentation skills training!

I’m happy to say my inbox is quite full of similar glowing testimonials from conference organizers. But I never for one moment get complacent about my speaking performance.

Because each time I’m on stage I get the opportunity to perfect my communication skills and work towards delivering the ultimate speech performance.

But regardless, my delivery always starts with the two-words of Rule #1 I always dispense as a pitch coach:

Be Yourself.

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