South West Training Blog

Articles, tips, guides and blogs around business skills, training, professional courses and development in addition to South West relevant news.

Are your Presentations Presentable?

Are your Presentations Presentable?

Did you know surveys have shown that people fear delivering a presentation more than dying or divorce?  The good news for those of you who are not seasoned presenters however is that good preparation and confidence in your materials can go a long way to reducing potential presentation anxiety.

Follow these simple tips and ensure that not only are your presentations of value to your audience but that you also enjoy delivering them:

•    When preparing your presentation try to use a variety of different media; come equipped for example with a tangible product if possible to pass around, maybe incorporate a short media clip, or use a prop to demonstrate a point. Variety helps to retain participant interest.
•    Ensure that your presentation is short and snappy.  Each page should be to the point and not text heavy. The purpose of a presentation is for you as the presenter to deliver the content, not your slides. The slides are there merely to add emphasis and clarification to what you are saying. They are not there as a crib sheet and you should avoid reading from any length off them.
•    Use slide animation tools to enable each segment of information to appear separately upon individual clicks.  This will help you structure your presentation more effectively whilst also avoiding participants reading ahead and losing sight of what you are saying.
•    Use graphics to break up the text and to lighten if the mood if the topic is very dry.
•    Use a distinct font and not one that is artistic and hence possibly distracting. You should aim for your headers to be size 20-26 and for your main text to be 16-18.
•    Use the ‘bold’ font rather than underlining or capitals as the latter can be distracting.
•    Proof read your presentation thoroughly before delivery and ask a colleague to do a double check as there’s nothing worse than being mid presentation and finding errors.
•    When introducing yourself, keep calm and don’t rush.  If you gain participant confidence within the first 30 seconds of your speech and manage to keep good control, then you should find that the rest comes naturally as your audience will give off visible signs that they are confident in you.  Rehearse your introduction repeatedly to ensure that you have it under your belt.  Inject a little humour if you feel it’s appropriate but avoid telling jokes. Incorporate for example a humorous quote which is relevant to your topic.
•    If you feel nervous at first, then do not relay this to your audience by apologising as they will start observing you for nerves and feel on edge themselves.  Take a deep breath, smile and carry on.  
•    You may want to incorporate an activity at the very beginning and get people on their feet doing something; using for example, a two minute icebreaker relevant to your theme.  This takes the attention off you for a short while and puts it back on the participants – a great tactic if you are feeling a little anxious at the very start.
•    Be aware of the speed at which you are speaking.  It’s not uncommon for people to unwittingly leave their audience behind as they race through their presentation.  Be aware therefore of how long you want to spend on each slide and ensure that you give each slide its fair due.  

If you come to your presentation equipped with a well-structured presentation, remember to smile and make good eye contract then you should find the rest comes naturally. Reinforce business skills such as delivering presentations with plenty of practice, as we all know, practice makes perfect!

Training South West delivers business training courses to companies across the South West.

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Lidl: Good Prices and Great Training!

Lidl: Good Prices and Great Training!

Lidl is planning to add an additional store to its current South West portfolio by creating a second store in Yeovil. Its portfolio has grown rapidly in this part of the world with stores across Somerset in key locations such as Bristol, Bath and Dorchester, Dorset.

This latest expansion has been met positively by the local community who can not only expect the prospect of additional jobs working for a market leading company, but also a full ‘living wage’ – putting Lidl’s shop floor workers at a distinct wage advantage when compared to other local supermarket competitors.  Good pay and additional employment opportunities are not the only reason for the local community to be happy.  Lidl also operate fantastic in house training schemes, which when delivered well, provides employees with the skills to do well in future roles regardless of whether or not they remain with Lidl.  

Adopting a ‘layered’ training approach, which encompasses the whole business entity, Lidl centralises training planning into a single dedicated in-house department.  Staff within this department are responsible for identifying training needs and developing training events, materials and systems in response.

Direction and tools flow from this department into the stores and supporting areas. Within the stores, Lidl operates a ‘Buddy’ system which ensures that new recruits are given on hand support within their immediate working vicinity making individuals who have the skills to mentor and support accessible. This approach is key to all businesses who wish to integrate their staff effectively into the business. It enables them to gain key skills on the job and avoids undue classroom attendance.

From the ‘Buddy’ system, Lidl then have formal ‘Training Mentors’ who are responsible for supporting store managers in the roll out of staff training initiatives, all of which then feeds into the Regional Training Managers who are responsible for overseeing training on a regional level and promoting a healthy learning and development culture across the business.

Lidl may be a cut price store, but a training approach such as the one outlined above at its core, certainly puts Lidl on a par with the non-cut price stores. Training flows from all levels of the business and is a key aspect of company culture and delivery.

Walker Information (an Intelligence Consultancy firm) identified training programmes as a key retention tool.  Staff who feel that they are being valued through training and development are more likely to stay within their roles.  With ‘happiness’ being an emotional contaigent, store workers are consequently more likely to impact positively on their customers; leading to greater customer satisfaction.

From a training professional perspective, we therefore welcome the news of an impending second store in Yeovil as every business counts when promoting a culture of learning and skill development within the South West.  

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Youth Theatre - Helping Kids to Perform Better

Youth Theatre - Helping Kids to Perform Better

The Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, Somerset will soon be entertaining families from across the South West with their festive production of Sleeping Beauty. I can't wait!! I love the pantomime and take the children every year without fail.  The cast are always fantastic and the kids always leave having had a great time.

I love the theatre.  Not only does it bond and entertain the local community but it also contributes to the economy and provides local dancing / acting schools with opportunities to include talented youngsters in productions. No doubt local children will be included in the Octagon Theatre production of Sleeping Beauty.  

Youth Dramatics groups are fantastic for young people.  I participated in such groups for years as a child and developed skills that would otherwise not have been developed until joining the world of work. If you have a child bounding with energy who needs an outlet, then consider getting them involved in a local group and I’m sure they’ll experience the same benefits that I did as a child. Yeovil is host to some great performing arts group and so too is Bristol which is home to the Bristol Youth Theatre Studio and the Bristol Old Vic Young Company amongst others.  Without doubt additional groups will be thriving across the rest of the South West.

The following areas outline just some of the key benefits for a child:

Rehearsing and performing in front of others teaches a child confidence.  This is a fundamental skill which most adults only develop as part of formal training when they enter the work place - typically in the form of 'Presentation Skills' training.

Every member of a theatre group, regardless of the size of the role, is a vital member of the team. This validation contributes greatly to a child's self-esteem, particularly when being applauded at the end of a production.

As with Presentation Skills training above, Time Management and Prioritisation are also courses that an adult will typically engage in when they enter the work place. Participating in youth theatre groups helps a child to develop these skills at an early age as they must learn to manage their time to allow for attendance at rehearsals and productions.  Ensuring that their personal time is well scheduled, ensures that they can give their maximum to their theatre group.

Team Work is another essential part of youth theatre. Not only must children work effectively with both peers and adults but they must also operate cross functionally; interacting with those who manage the stage set, lighting, artwork, costumes etc.  The beauty of team work in this capacity is that it is non-competitive.  It gives children a chance to engage with others on a basis that requires everyone to come together as equals without competing with each other.  This is often a welcome change for children who are otherwise immersed in competitive activities.  School itself tests children from an early age; ranking them in order of performance.  During tests, collaboration is forbidden and children must perform on their own merits.  During real life however, the world doesn't work like this. To exceed in the work place, collaboration and teamwork are essential to success. Being part of a theatre group enables children to acknowledge this and develop their skills through the fundamental role played by the team in delivering a fantastic production. They are certainly not penalised for drawing on the skills and expertise of their team mates as they would be in a school test setting.

Self-discipline is another skill developed by children who are part of theatre groups.  They may, for example, have to sacrifice hanging out with friends or going out for pizza for the sake of their theatre group. This is a hugely valuable personal asset.

This list is not exhaustive (I have failed to mention the opportunity to develop skills such as problem solving skills, creative thinking and abstract thinking amongst others) but at the very least it gives a good insight into the value that membership to a theatre group presents to a child.  

Without a doubt, theatre groups help your child acquire skills at an early age which put them at an advantage when it comes to harnessing opportunities in their adult lives. So, if your child is bounding with energy and needs a channel to direct this energy then consider getting them involved.


Maybe next year they'll be part of the cast of children supporting the Octagon Theatre Christmas pantomime!

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Are Written Skills really so Important?

Are Written Skills really so Important?

Growing up as a child in the 70’s, grammar and punctuation were instilled in lessons and, along with my classmates, errors were not acceptable and we would be penalised for making them. We were repeatedly told that our written work represented us as individuals and that it should be as well presented as our physical selves.

When I became responsible for recruiting teams however, it quickly became apparent that these standards no longer hold the same weight that they did when I was a child.  Following my recruitment of my first few employees, one of whom was degree qualified, it became immediately obvious that they lacked writing skills.  They were bright people who had performed fantastically during the interview phase and had some great attributes but their written work was not of the standard that would allow us to send it to clients without first checking and amending it. A training course in writing effective business communications became an absolute must for the individuals in question.  

Our realisation that written skills were an issue within our target recruit market made it necessary for us to implement a testing system to assess written English standards. The test did not discriminate, but merely enabled us to establish the type of support and checking systems that might be required should an offer of employment be made. The fact we had to do this was a shock.  We regularly employed individuals from overseas and their standards of written English and knowledge of grammar and punctuation far exceeded that of the young English recruits coming through the door.

The possibility that our educational systems are not properly preparing our children became evident during a parent – teacher meeting whereby I raised concerns that my older child seemed to have very few frameworks when writing.  He rarely applied capital letters, sentences could amble on for half a page and commas would be thrown in haphazardly with an almost artistic intention. Not only did his teacher seem surprised when I asked how we might further support him at home to ensure he acquired his written skills but she then proceeded to tell me that if we thought these skills were important that she’d focus more time on him.  Had I been discussing my 6 year old child, then this conversation might have been appropriate as content is of the essence and formal written skills come later – but I wasn’t.  My child is a year off entering senior school.

I don’t believe that the relaxed attitude of this particular teacher is typical of all teachers but it gave me the momentum to discuss it further with other educational professionals.  One individual that I spoke to said that she didn’t put too much emphasis on written skills as this puts children with challenges such as dyslexia at a disadvantage. This shocked me.  Was the individual expectation of this particular teacher that our written English standards should be obliterated to accommodate children who have a natural reason for struggling with them?  I feel absolutely not.

There are many amazing British entrepreneurs and academics with dyslexia but their condition has not stopped them doing incredibly well.  I’m confident, for example, that Richard Branson would not send out a communication littered with errors but would instead delegate someone within his team to make the necessary checks and amendments.  A previous employee within one of my teams had advanced dyslexia.  As a specialist in her field, she would write fantastically informed pieces which would then be proof checked before they were dispatched.  A simple task which involves team work.  She would equally guide and educate others in respect to her own unique skills.

With these examples in mind, I maintain my view that written skills are essential. Poorly written content does not sell a company and people are less inclined to read material that falls over at the most basic levels of grammar and punctuation.  Emails littered with errors do not inspire confidence in the recipient and could potentially affect customer retention.  Why should an individual trust the quality of the product or service if the communications are error strewn?

As both a trainer and an employer, I firmly believe it is essential that companies support individuals who need to further develop their needs in this area. Formal written skills training will go a long way and enables an individual to focus on skill development away from the office.  However, internal arrangements can also be made whereby someone with the appropriate skill set is made responsible for mentoring the individual on an ongoing basis and checking their written work before it goes out. At Training South West key material never goes into the public domain unless it’s been checked – regardless of the writing skills of the author. My written skills are acceptable but I still rely on my team members and colleagues to double or triple check my work. 

Failing to support staff members in this respect and overlooking poor written skills means that their chances of gaining traction, successfully delivering the objectives of their written work and positively protecting the reputation of their company are diminished.  Everybody deserves good written skills.  Ensure  you honour this with your staff and you’ll increase their confidence and productivity no end.

Training South West deliver training courses across Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Exeter and Bristol.  Contact us to discuss your needs.

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Calling on South West Businesses to Accommodate Remote Working during the Winter Months

Calling on South West Businesses to Accommodate Remote Working during the Winter Months

I am fortunate enough to be abroad and working at the moment and I am not looking forward to coming back to Dorset, which my family have written to say is already becoming rather cold.

I wrote an article recently on behalf of Training South West which urges businesses in the region to allow more people to avoid the nightmare of commuting during winter months and accommodate remote working arrangements.  

For some people it's essential that they attend the work place but for many others it's not critical to their role at all.  They can probably get a far better job done at home.

Urge your business to look at possible remote working options for you and your colleagues - the benefits to both you as an employee and the environment are even more pronounced for the employer.  They will have a happier workforce, reduce costs, enhance employee retention and increase the geographical scope of the talent pool that they have to chose from.

It's a win win all round!

Training South West provides business training courses to South West companies

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