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Melanie Novis presents her view on embracing evolving language that does not have to include a liking for "like." Read her cogent letter to the editor in response to John McWhorter's article, posted and available on The New York Times site:

To the Editor:

While language is fluid and evolving and reflects the times we live in, a cornerstone of effective oral communication is the ability to convey a message that is clearly understood. In the words of Christabel Burniston, the great British pioneer in oral communication, “It is not what is said that is important; it is what has been received.” Frequent utterances of “like,” “you know” and “whatever” interrupt the delivery of the speaker’s message and make the job of listening a challenge.

Yes, we do need to adapt to newly coined words and embrace modern language, but we don’t need to like “like.” John McWhorter writes that Americans “may not speak with the butter-toned exchanges of the characters on ‘Downton Abbey,’ but in substance our speech is in many ways more civilized.”


Toronto, April 7, 2014

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Melanie Novis was interviewed by CBC and asked for her comments on the speaking style of Prince William. She found the King-to-be's speeches clear and effective because each speech addressed a specific audience and was targeted to the local area.

Read the whole article on CBC

The Changing Face of Presentation in the 21st Century – Speaking Virtually

by Melanie Novis

The world of presentations is changing. It was once the exclusive domain of a "live" audience. Now the challenge includes speaking to a "virtual" one, and with Internet users surpassing the two billion mark, this challenge is here to stay.

Like live audiences, when you present virtually, you will need to connect with your viewers. Unlike live audiences, however, you will not receive visual clues from them nor will you be able to gauge the mood of the room. Most of your viewers will not be giving you their full attention, and likely three out of five will be multi-tasking.

So how do you prepare for the virtual platform? What skills are required for this new form of messaging? Here are some guidelines to help you present online effectively:

  1. Analyze the needs of your audience. Then craft a piece that will incorporate your purpose and key messages as well as resonate with the values of your defined audience.

  2. Once you have completed a draft, speak it out loud and check to hear whether it sounds like spoken language, as opposed to written language. Remember, always write for the ear.

  3. To maintain engagement, use stories, testimonials, quotations, vivid descriptions, statistics and rhetorical questions in your presentation. Be sure to summarize periodically to re-engage the listener who might have become distracted. Include, if possible, visual aids such as slides, a demonstration of your new product, or the name and logo of your corporation. Remember to make sure that the font and font size are legible.

  4. Imagine that you are speaking to one person and adopt a conversational tone.

  5. Be energetic and use vocal variety in your presentation. Vary your pace, volume and pitch. Stress important words, and pause for emphasis or dramatic effect. Remember, if your voice drones on, you can easily divert your listener to Twitter, Youtube, another podcast, or a pressing assignment.

  6. Pay attention to every visual aspect of your presentation. According to one survey, the visual component accounts for 55% of the success of the presentation. Consider the following:

The setup.
Have a backdrop free of clutter. If you are speaking from a podium, ensure that the height is correct for you. If you are sitting in a chair, make sure that it is stationary and doesn't swivel. Allow the technical person to position your microphone correctly.

Dress appropriately.
Dress to reflect your message. A banker would wear a business suit or a tailored dress; a sports personality would wear more casual attire. A coloured shirt works well on camera, but patterns such as checks, dots and florals do not. Limit your jewellery (which can distract) unless, of course, you are selling it.

If you tend to perspire, wear an undershirt.

Consider using the services of a professional make-up artist (bear in mind news anchors wear foundation for the camera).

Just before the presentation.
Check yourself in the mirror just before presenting. Be sure your tie is straight, collars are down, there's no lint or fluff on your clothes, etc. Smile and check your teeth too.

During the presentation.
Remember to maintain good, upright posture. (Pretend you are wearing an invisible crown and lift your sternum.) Use your smile to appear welcoming.

Keep gestures smaller and more understated than the ones you would use on stage. Vary your gestures, but don't make gestures that move in the direction of the camera.

Make eye contact and let your eyes talk, but don't blink frequently or you will appear nervous.

After the presentation.
Be 100% certain that the presentation or interview is over and that the sound is turned off in case you accidentally say something you might regret.

Here's one final tip: always be authentic.

Our guide to speeches, articles and tips that will enlighten or inspire you.

Steve Jobs:
How to live before you die

Barry Schwartz:
On our loss of wisdom

William Ury:
The walk from "no" to "yes"

Amy Cuddy:
Your body language shapes who you are

Jeff Bezos:
What matters more than your talents

Nelson Mandela:
Inaugural Speech

Barak Obama:
The speech that made Obama president

Jon Favreau:
What I learned from Barak Obama

George W Bush:
Speech Mistakes

Buy the book Canadian Public Speaking
"Canadian Public Speaking is a well-researched and informative work, giving concrete examples of how to develop, not just public speaking, but communication skills."
Tish Nicoll, Speaking English, The Journal of the English Speaking Board International

Q: I'm the president of a large financial institution who needs to present at conferences and speak to the media. Do you offer private coaching?
A: Yes. This is one of our specialties. In CSC's one-on-one, confidential coaching program, we can help you to prepare presentations and hone your communication skills so that your messages are clear, concise and on target.