Pitch Perfect: 5 Presentation Tips from the Apprentice


In our lighthearted series focusing on what communication lessons we can learn from the latest series of the BBC’s Apprentice programme we look at episode 2, Cactus Shampoo Advertising.


The bravado, the egos, the personality clashes – we had it all in spades in this episode. We also saw how challenging presenting can be; both teams had to present their cactus shampoo advertising campaigns to a panel of industry experts.


Lesson 1: Don’t underestimate your audience.

If you are pitching to a panel of high-flying ad execs you should plan, structure and develop a cogent argument with supporting evidence in a way that really sells your product.

In the Cactus Secret presentation from Natalie and the women’s team we heard: “The green bottle was chosen… because… the cactus was green”.  Stating the obvious isn’t going to cut it.


Lesson 2: Don’t insult your audience

Following closely on from lesson 1: “Sometimes 45 year olds can be reluctant to try new things”, said one of the 20-something women presenting to 46 year old millionaire and business guru Karren Brady.

Doh! Make sure you research who you’re presenting to, understand who they are and what their experience is, before you launch into to a miscalculated pitch.


Lesson 3: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

If you are chosen to present make sure you have rehearsed multiple times; sometimes the most confident person is the person who dries up under pressure.

Scott was over-confident from the start: “I’m going to smash it,” he told us.

He dried up. He froze. It was painful.

One of the best ways to get prepared for a presentation is to say the first few lines of your presentation out loud at least 2 or 3 times before you are on site.

Consider doing some positive visualisation – imagine yourself walking on stage and visualise yourself welcoming your audience and speaking the first few lines of the presentation.


Lesson 4: Take notes, even if you don’t use them

The brain can play many tricks on us – one of these is emptying completely of all vital information as soon as you’re in a ‘fight or flight’ situation, and standing in front of an alien audience is one of these types of situation. This is what happened to Scott.

“I like to be free with my presenting, I don’t need any of those cards or anything”, said Scott prophetically before he started. We knew it would end in tears.

Whether you need them or not, take notes with you. Make sure you have worked on what you’re going to say and have a clear idea of the content and the narrative of your presentation.

This can help stop you over-running or under-running, and will also ensure you have something to turn to if you dry up.


Lesson 5: Relax

Finally, if you’ve prepared properly, and you’ve rehearsed your presentation you’ll find it so much easier to relax into your presentation.

“We’re delighted to be here today” Natalie opened up with – but we  didn’t believe her. She looked awkward, her fists were clenched, and we could hear that her mouth was dry. We willed her on, as did her team-mates but she looked like a woman about to head for the scaffold.

Sir Alan hit the nail on the head: “You were boring” said Sir Alan.

If you’re relaxed and look like you’re enjoying it, then your audience will react better. You may even be able to add the odd joke or to…


The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global  membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80  countries. We deliver on the ​Global Standard ​in communication through educational  offerings, certification, awards programs and our annual ​World Conference.​ Follow  us on Twitter ​@iabcuk

Gay Flashman is a former journalist and experienced communications consultant.  Gay is CEO of ​Formative Content​, a UK-based agency providing high quality blog  content, live event coverage ​and social media content ​for clients around the world.

How can Volkswagen rebuild trust in its brand?

In any corporate crisis, honest and timely communication is key, as long as it is accompanied by meaningful and impactful actions.

By Gay Flashman

In the week in which Volkswagen announced that almost half a million of its cars in  the UK alone will need to be recalled for adjustments, we asked a senior panel of  communications experts for their thoughts on how VW could repair its reputation. 

What can VW do in the short and medium term to re-build trust in the brand across the world?  


The Volkswagen scandal has sullied the reputation of a great brand that was once synonymous with quality and trusted around the world. Senior executives in the UK organization have been contrite, with UK MD Paul Willis this week apologising “sincerely and unreservedly” for letting down customers.

“Volkswagen has significantly let down its customers and the wider public…,” he said. “We recognise we’ve fallen short of the standards expected and we will take all the necessary steps to regain trust.”


A question of values  

“To me, it all relates back to the core company values,” says Caroline Taylor-Martin, a senior communications consultant and IABC UK board member.

“It seems that VW has displayed a lack of integrity when their actions have veered away from their values in such a fundamental way. VW needs to acknowledge this, restate its values and address these issues internally through education and training. Externally, the company must accept responsibility and communicate the actions being taken to redress the balance clearly and concisely.”

Toomas Kull, IABC UK board member and reputation management consultant believes that: “In any corporate crisis, honest and timely communication is key, as long as it is accompanied by meaningful and impactful actions.

“Until VW has conducted a full recall, fixed the technical issue, and completed its internal investigation, the company’s reputation and license to operate will remain under threat. Even so, with so many other voices and experts keen to be heard, it is absolutely key that VW’s messages are not drowned out. Any new revelations, developments and updates should be publicly communicated by the company using its existing channels.”


Accept and apologise

“It may well be too early to start considering rebuilding trust at this stage,” concludes IABC UK board member and communications consultant, Daniel Schraibman. “VW needs to show what they are doing to put things right. In the short term that means getting external verification confirming the true emissions rates for all new VW cars and providing a recall/compensation for all VW owners affected.”

Communications advisor and IABC board member Marcie Shaoul adds:

“What they did by acknowledging the problem was positive, but they need to work with those who are affected and with regulatory bodies to come up with solutions. Collaborative working, and acknowledging that they may not always get it right, is essential for rebuilding trust.


Years of investigations 

“In the medium term,” adds Daniel Schraibman, “they need to have carried out their own investigation, co-operated fully with any external or criminal investigations and taken any disciplinary action against the people behind this.

“To give you an idea of timescale when something goes wrong like this, I was part of the team at Chevron that responded to the Buncefield oil depot explosion – the biggest explosion in peacetime Europe – in which we were a minority shareholder. The incident took place in December 2005, the independent investigation finished in December 2008 and it wasn’t until March 2009 that the courts decided who was responsible for the incident.

“In the longer-term, VW will need to show what it has done to change the culture of the organisation; retraining, better controls, strengthened whistleblower procedures and so on, to demonstrate that they have done all they can to prevent this from happening again. It’s only once VW get to this stage that they can start the process of rebuilding trust.”


Building Trust: a long-term endeavour 

“This may well be a provocative suggestion,” says communications expert and non-executive board member for IABC UK ​Stephen Welch, “but does VW have to worry about rebuilding trust? Have we as a society become so immune to corporate scandal that trust doesn’t really matter anymore? Tesco was recently caught selling underweight products, but we still shop there. We still buy fuel from BP.”

Stephen’s view is that the cost of trying to actively rebuild trust in VW may outweigh the benefits of doing so. “With the general negative sentiment towards diesel cards, especially in the US, and the increasing sophistication of electric cars, I wonder if VW can ever recover its lost reputation in this area?

“It might be better to let reputation grow back naturally by focusing on great products, clean technology, and alternative models, rather than trying to “force” improvements through communication.”

Toomas Kull says:

“Building trust is a long-term endeavour, which stems from stakeholders’ experience with, and perception of, the brand. Re-building trust has to start with direct and frank engagement with an organisation’s closest stakeholders, in this case VW’s customers, dealers, regulators and shareholders.

“There are still many unanswered questions, and time will tell whether emissions cheating devices were used by other car companies. If that turns out to be the case, there is a danger that VW might become the poster-child for an industry issue, unless it succeeds in shoring up support now.”


The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global  membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80  countries. We deliver on the ​Global Standard ​in communication through educational  offerings, certification, awards programs and our annual ​World Conference.​ Follow  us on Twitter ​@iabcuk

Gay Flashman is a former journalist and experienced communications consultant.  Gay is CEO of ​Formative Content​, a UK-based agency providing high quality blog  content, live event coverage ​and social media content ​for clients around the world.

Making Global Communications Work

Global Communication



With the internet and social media enabling the fast and efficient distribution of communications messages, it’s easy to overlook the complexity of cross-cultural communication. A message that works in one country can be misconstrued in another, whilst the accepted working practices of a CEO in one region can be markedly different to those in another.

What are the challenges for the modern day global communicator and how can these be overcome?

Communication is broader than language

One of the most important things to recognise, says Claudia D’Amato, a change communication manager at Anglo American, is that communication is broader than just differences in language.

“Communication is about culture and symbols,” says Claudia, “and a closeness to the culture of the people you want to communicate with is key.”

Tom Blackwell is an experienced communicator who is CEO of EM Communications based in Moscow. He believes it’s not enough to parachute specialists in to promote stories and campaigns on an ad hoc basis: “You must have teams that are living and breathing the issue; some communications just cannot be done remotely.”

As Michael Ambjorn points out, communications is no longer an English-centric or Euro-centric activity, there is always an international element to all messaging.

One of the best ways to grow your understanding of a culture, country or audience is simply by talking and listening to people, as well as being patient. “One of the things that I have learned over the years is that it’s important to assume good intent,” says Emma Thompson at the IABC’s session ‘The World Is Your Oyster: Making Global Communications Work’.

Be prepared and do your research

“Good intercultural skills certainly include patience, trust and a whole lot of listening,” says Emma, who has worked across the Middle East and Africa for more than ten years as a senior communicator.

Emma has clear guidance for those wishing to break into regions in which they have little experience or presence. “It’s worth considering a focus on specific markets or key potential growth areas so that you can do your research properly.”

Focused, rather than broad comms, often work best. “It’s also important to develop and maintain senior buy-in to the communications plan with continuing education,” says Emma. She also encourages communicators to research and understand the ‘rules of the game’ when it comes to social media in the country or region. Planning can also ensure your schedule does not clash with local holidays or religious events.

Reach for the heart, not the head

The panel at this IABC event in London agreed on the importance of local language and versioning for communications. Claudia D’Amato of Anglo American reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s famous quotation, that if you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head whilst If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.

Other tips for improved communications at the IABC UK’s session – hosted by VMA Group – include:

  • Identify local champions for your comms strategy
  • Consider arranging regular ‘virtual brown bag’ lunches or Skype chats to build understanding and bridges
  • Use resources such as the World Economic Forum’s blog and website to build knowledge
  • Utilise the IABC’s Global Standard for insight and guidance

Global Comms Infographic


The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80 countries. We deliver on the Global Standard in communication through educational offerings, certification, awards programs and annual World ConferenceFollow us on Twitter @iabcuk


The Power of Global Communication


The Power of Global Communication plenary at #EuroComm Conference, explored the need for greater awareness of cultural difference in international business.

The panel was chaired by Anisha Jhina, Director of Internal Communications at Mars Global Petcare and a self-confessed ‘transculturalist’. Having lived in three continents from a young age, Ms Jhina launched proceedings by speaking of her awareness of a Western-centric mindset in European and North American business environments that can thwart or limit successful intercultural relationships.

Dr Barbara Gibson has undertaken qualitative research with CEOs from 12 different firms that suggested that nearly all business cultures – not just Western ones – suffer to some extent from what she called an “ethnocentric arrogance”. Such imbalances frequently lead intercultural business relationships to fail or work at sub-optimal efficiency.

By identifying trends in her research, Dr Gibson outlined five “intercultural competencies” that successful intercultural communicators possessed:

  1. Adaptability: The ability to change one’s behaviour, communication style or business strategy as needed to fit the circumstances.
  2. Cultural self-awareness: An awareness of one’s own cultural influences, tendencies and biases, and awareness of how one’s own culture may be perceived by members of a different culture.
  3. Cultural sensory perception: The ability to recognize when cultural differences are in play, utilizing a range of senses to spot verbal and non-verbal cues which may differ greatly from those of one’s own culture.
  4. Open-mindedness: The ability to suspend judgement based on one’s own cultural biases and accept that other ways of thinking and behaving may be just as valid.
  5. Global perspective: Viewing the business from a transnational perspective, rather than as “domestic first, rest-of-world second.”

In addition to these competencies, Dr Gibson believes it is the communicators and CEOs with the greatest capacity to reflect and improve upon their intercultural competencies who perform best over time.

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Leadership communications at EuroComm


It is often said that you cannot lead if you cannot communicate. But, as Björn Edlund points out, it is also true that you cannot communicate with impact unless you can lead. He asks:

  • What is communications leadership?
  • What are the traits of a successful communications leader?
  • Is the function different to how its leaders need to behave in order to galvanize their teams, as well as their C suite colleagues?

Here’s his opening keynote at EuroComm 2015, the conference for members in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa of IABC, the International Association  of Business Communicators.

Björn Edlund shares experiences from nearly 20 years as Chief Communications Officer in three multinational corporations, working for 11 CEOs through external and self-created crises and deep corporate transformations.

At the heart of much of the discussion at day 1 of the IABC’s EuroComm Conference in London was the changing nature of the environment in which communicators are working.

Not only is technology changing, and the expectations of executive teams, but the nature of communicators’ expectations of their senior managers is also developing.


Are communicators natural players in the C suite?

Björn Edlund, formerly of Royal Dutch Shell and now a communications consultant and owner of Edlund Consulting, believes that communicators must be respected as a valid member of the C Suite in organisations.

“We must be, in order to be effective. And we ought to be, because at its most ambitious, public relations is truly and completely about how to lead. It starts by helping our C Suite colleagues find the words and imagery – the narrative – that best express their strategic intent.”

Mr Edlund referenced one of the key themes that cropped up several times during the Eurocomm conference – the matter of trust, and its importance for communicators:

“A facilitator leads through competence and inclusion, often the best way for a functional expert to wield power. Trust will enable you to nudge the rest of the C Suite team along in a shared direction.”

How do we help leaders lead?

It’s simple enough to outline how we need to act within organisations – support leaders in their messaging, engagement and communications – but how does one move tactical work to a strategic level?

The starting point is to see the value of your involvement. As Björn Edlund puts it:

“It is the No. 1 job of PR to help business leaders recognize and meet a deep-seated human need, of both individuals and groups, to be included, inspired, engaged and rallied towards a common goal. It is our job to lead C suite discussions away from the false certainty and comfort of Excel spread sheets, customer analyses and market projections to thorny explorations of distrust, dissent, conflict and controversy – of why people and communities may be closing not only their doors, but also their hearts and minds – and their wallets – to us, and how to engage them constructively – ideally on their terms.”

CEO as storyteller

Björn Edlund referenced a seminal time in his working career, at ABB in a time of great crisis, when he was reporting to CEO Jürgen Dormann in 2002.

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