Get Better at Virtual Speaking + Give Back

By now you’ve been on more than a few (dozen) Zoom conferences. Upgrade those on-camera speaking skills by taking our one-hour webinar + fundraiser for Miriam’s Kitchen on May 6, 2020 at 1 PM ET. Register here. Give what you can.

Why Miriam’s Kitchen?

They are working to end chronic and veteran’s homelessness in DC, and are on the front lines of helping those most in needs during this crisis.

The story of Portico in many ways starts with Miriam’s Kitchen. What started out as a volunteer role turned into my first coaching consult and I was hooked. Since then we’ve coached guests to share their stories and trained the team on storytelling, design and speaking.

Does it make sense to attempt training now?

A global recession is underway. Those who are fortunate enough to work from home are multi-tasking while taking extra precautions – mask, eyewear, gloves- each time they venture outside. Is now the time to run learning and development programs?

The simple answer is no.

It’s not a realistic to run training and development programming, at least not in the way we did before COVID-19. At Portico we’ve pushed dates back indefinitely on our Presentation Program with clients who booked earlier this year. I’m not sure when we’ll resume discussing it with new clients in a meaningful way.

What’s our thinking on why we’ve put our signature program on the back burner?

One of our messages to workshop and coaching clients is to meet the audience where they are today. We’re following our own advice when it comes to working with clients. Understanding the audience’s perspective, the larger forces that shape how they view issues is critical to starting a meaningful exchange about how to move forward. This makes it possible to plan the next step towards measurable and long-lasting improvement. In order for this kind of transformation to work with teams, everyone has to be invested in the need for change.

Today our clients are already dealing with a lot.

In our Presentation Program workshops and prep sessions we have some tough conversations with leaders and their teams about what success looks like – what should their presentations and meetings look, sound and feel like? Who is willing to work differently? Too many people are distracted or disproportionally affected by social distancing or overall stress to focus on a major shift of this kind.

That said, we still see a need for communication support. The transition to the world of Zoom has been bumpy, if not comical, for many. We’ve been pushing the most important content as short videos so that clients can watch and learn on their own time.

We’re bringing small groups together in live webinars as part of the Better Virtual Meeting programming to focus specifically how to collaborate, persuade and inform in remote settings. Helping teams adapt to virtual communication is an immediate pain point that we can help alleviate. It is scaled back to reflect our shortened attention spans.

Anything more than that seems false. Because if we’re being honest about our state of mind, most of us are simply trying to get through the day.

Individual or Group Training?

When 1:1 is a better option than group training and coaching

Trying to decide whether it is better to get help for the group or try it out on your own first?

Most presentation and meeting issues can be solved in a group setting. Group training and coaching provides a forum for teams to compare approaches and agree on what their presentations should look, sound and feel like. It gives them a chance to focus on meeting formats – from agendas to participations and interruptions, for example.

About 15% of our client portfolio is purely with individuals. Many – though not all – of our individual coaching clients are entrepreneurs, best-selling authors or people who otherwise work on their own. The other clients who work with us are part of very large organizations, associations and agencies.

Why go it alone?

Group training isn’t a good fit for leaders who might not feel comfortable talking about communication concerns among peers or direct reports. Or perhaps their challenges are personal – excessive anxiety over speaking publicly, a strong tendency to over-explain or a profound lack of confidence (imposter syndrome). 

In these situations, leaders are better suited to a series of individual coaching sessions and weekly check-ins. Their colleagues still benefit from the training on one important level. Leaders are modeling better communication habits and skills.

Learn more about what an individual training and coaching program involves.

Moving the meeting to virtual? Use this tool


Participants often struggle to follow the conversation in remote formats. When working with a law firm a few years ago we leaned that more than 90% of the associates never met their clients in-person. They were so worried about interrupting a senior partner or the client that they lost track of what they needed to share and needed to learn.

We created a worksheet to help organize thoughts beforehand and track the conversation during. Download the PDF and let us know how it works for you.

Last minute presentation? Do this.

If you’ve experienced presentation procrastination and have limited time to prepare

1. Do some quick research

What do you need to accomplish? If you have a clear goal, that will make it easier to focus on and develop your main idea. Anything that doesn’t directly support that goal can be saved for Q&A.

Who will be in the room? From friend to ambivalent to foe, how would you describe the audience? How likely are they to do what you’re asking? If they don’t care – why should they, and if they’re highly skeptical of your issue or perspective, what is their main concern? This line of questioning can help you center your thoughts and understand your audience’s state of mind.

If you’re giving a briefing, draft a headline for each update and ask the audience where they would like more detail.


Did someone say slides? With limited time, prioritize what you’re going to say over working on visuals.

Start with one of our STORYBOARDs. They provide structure to organize messages and your ask, along with prompts to address all of the questions your audience is mulling – is the speaker credible? what do they really know about me? why does this issue matter?

Script your closing. How do you want to end your talk? Write down some ideas, then try them out by saying them aloud to find the best one.

Script your opening. Tell them who you are and what they’ll get from your time together. If you’re standing in for someone, let them know who the person is and how you know each other/work together.

Script your ask. What do you want to them to do with the information you’re providing? Be clear.

3. Start talking

Beyond researching the audience and having a goal, the best use of your time is practice saying your presentation.

Rehearse aloud. Use simple, conversational English. This makes it easier to remember what to say and for your audience to understand. Rehearse your opening, closing, the ask. . . practice saying aloud “I know there are concerns about. . .” “If you remember one thing from today. . .” “If we meet this goal, this is what it means for. . .”

Experiment to find out what feels most natural. Pause before and after, and choreograph with hand movement.

If you’re standing in for a colleague who had to cancel

Find out the reason for the presentation. Is it part of marketing campaign, business development effort or is there another driver? Having this answer can help you place the presentation in its proper context, which in most cases alleviates pressure.

If you’re given someone else’s presentation deck to use, make sure it meets your needs. Move any heavy text to the notes section and use headers as guide posts for you and the audience.

Avoid the apologies. They know you’re not the designated speaker. If you have to get back to them on an answer, you will. But avoid the temptation of setting low expectations by minimizing what you bring to the presentation.

Have fun.

Cringing as colleagues speak? How you can help

“He’s bright. He’s a hard worker, but when he shows up in meetings he struggles to make a coherent point. This makes promotion difficult.”


This is a familiar concern from corporate leaders.  We design programs to help an individual or team make measurable improvements. The speaker is happy, clients are happy, senior management is happy. . . .But sometimes you might have to delay because of scheduling or budget constraints. If that’s the case, don’t wait for our work to encourage your teams to present better.

Here are three approaches to help your colleagues, as well as the pros/cons of each:


Yes, it starts with you. As the leader, demonstrate the behaviors and skills you’d like your colleagues to emulate. Open with a compelling question or observation, start and end meetings on time, put devices away and listen to colleagues. Or maybe you want to wean your team off of text heavy slides and building decks so they can design engaging presentations. Replace or minimize the number of slides you use in your next delivery.

Advantages: You can build this into your regularly scheduled meetings, promoting best practices as part of your team culture.

Limitations: Some skills are not as easy to emulate, and some speakers might not know how far off their own presenting style is from that of their leader.


Give them a map. Create a one-pager to define your expectations. This might be a list of questions you want them to answer, a review process or three of your most important rules. For presentation design, provide templates with resources on images, icons, fonts, colors, pre-populated commonly used slides.

Advantages: Simple documentation makes it easier for colleagues to follow your lead and onboard new employees. Templates with a library of images and icons, for example, are the most effective way to extend your branding.

Limitations: Requires discipline to decide what’s most important. You’ll need a PPT enthusiast to take the lead on creating templates and go through the sometimes difficult task of finding consensus on core style issues (capitalization, left justify or center, bullets or sub-bullets).


Have the awkward moment. Schedule a 1:1 to provide candid feedback on strengths and areas of development. Underscore why effective public speaking and presentation skills are central to their career advancement.

Advantages: Specific, direct feedback gives you an opportunity to discuss examples and you’re more likely to see immediate results.

Limitations: This is a more time-intensive approach. You both need time on the calendar, and the speaker needs a certain level of self-awareness or desire to improve to benefit from the exchange.

If you’d like to preview what our training involves, ask about our Pop Up Presentation Workshop. We give senior leaders a 90-minute session so that you can decide if it’s the right program for your team.





Presenting While Female: Proven Tips for Women and Men to Make the Most of Meetings + Give A Killer Presentation

Do the same rules apply to women and men for giving presentations and public speaking? Yes, and no. Here’s what the research tells us, and more importantly, what you can do about it.

Speakers find greater success when they have a compelling story, clear call to action and empathy for their audience. But delivering that presentation can be a dramatically different experience for women and men.

Before you write this off to a perceived lack of confidence or blame vocal pitch or intonation, it’s worth examining how our own actions reinforce behaviors that minimize women’s voices.

Women are interrupted more often. Interruptions are nearly impossible to avoid. Humans are wired to formulate a response before the other person has stopped speaking, making interruptions somewhat inevitable. But women are more likely to be interrupted by men than any other combination (women talking to women or men talking to men). A 2014 study by Adrienne Hancock and Benjamin Rubin from George Washington University found that male participants interrupted a woman 2.1 times during a 3-minute conversation. Men interrupted other men 1.8 times. Women were also more likely to interrupt other women than men.

What you can do:

Observe how frequently interruptions occur, and by whom. If the problem seems pervasive, ask your team to practice a version of reflective listening. Anyone interrupting repeats or paraphrases what the speaker was saying and then explain the connection to the new thought. This prompts teams to be more aware of when and who they’re interrupting. This won’t work for every meeting because it slows the pace, though it is a good exercise to default to when excessive interruptions re-emerge.

Ladies, if you’re being interrupted, you have a few options:

  1. Let the serial interrupter know what’s happening. Often they’re not even aware of it.
  2. Try working in directional phrases and strategic pauses to make your ideas resonate, “If we take one thing from this meeting, its. . .” “What surprised us most from the research was . . .”
  3. In the moment — and this is a more assertive tactic — make eye contact with someone other than the person who is speaking over you and continue to talk. Men are less likely to yield the floor when interrupted.

Women don’t speak as much as men. Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen found that “men tend to talk far more than women in formal business-focused contexts, like meetings”. Prattle found that on earnings calls, men speak 92% of the time.

Women aren’t talking because of a lack of confidence. Kristen Kling, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, analyzed more than 200 studies on confidence and gender and dispels this conventional wisdom. Kling and her colleagues found that the “only noticeable differences occurred during adolescence; starting at age 23 differences became negligible.” In fact, our experience coaching speakers reveals an even divide among women and men experiencing imposter syndrome.

What you can do. Give women the floor. Design your agenda to give your team members specific roles and speaking opportunities. Hold brown bags to encourage women and men to present to colleagues. Bonus points for providing feedback on their performance to promote continual improvement.

(See also “interruptions” above.)

Women spend more time on presentation slides. No one wants to stand in front of a slide with a typo or incorrect data. But when we ask clients how they prepare for presentations through hundreds of survey responses and in workshops and coaching sessions, women are more likely to spend most of their time editing slides than on any other step (researching the audience, brainstorming messages or rehearsing aloud, for example). It’s true that many speakers use presentation slides to organize their thoughts.

But ladies, we need to do more than prepare slides. The part that men spend more time on than women is rehearsing with others. They rehearse in informal settings — running ideas by colleagues over lunch and coffee, or even hallway conversations. In the process they are laying the groundwork for their ideas, generating support, and getting a preview of how colleagues might react or push back on messages.

For your next big presentation, if you find yourself locked away in your office working on slides, try this instead: step away from the desk and start talking and testing. The best way to get better at speaking is to. . .speak.

Along the way you just might get some practice managing interrupters and gaining more comfort speaking aloud in a bigger group. How much smarter would that make us all?

By Meghan Dotter, founder and CEO

You, in the audience . . .

You, in the audience. . .

Most presentations and meetings could be better.

To solve this problem, we focus on the speaker; how can they better serve the needs of the audience? But audiences have a responsibility too. Are you:

Distracted? It is unnerving to try and connect to colleagues when they’re not even pretending to pay attention. Decide whether you really need to be there. If you do, then show up on time and turn off your electronic devices. Be present.

Typing away? If you want to take notes, how critical is the laptop? If someone is assigned the role of “capture” to take notes, so be it. But if everyone is furiously “taking notes” by typing, we’re replicating a college lecture format. The audience passively receives information. You’re missing out. Without following cues of body language and eye contact, it’s difficult to know when to jump in and exchange ideas. . .which is kind of the point of having more than one person in an organization.

Giving them feedback? We’re not worried about immediately after (although it is nice to get a “good job”  acknowledgement, if earned). Follow-up a few days later – if it can wait – to let them know what resonated, or what was confusing. The speaker will have had time to recover and will be in a better place to have a more thoughtful discussion about their performance.

The universe will pay it forward when it’s your turn.


Portico’s 300 Words of Presentation Wisdom

What can we apply from baseball for better public speaking?

When warmer weather coincides with baseball’s Opening Day, we can take comfort that sometimes Washington DC gets it right.

What is it about baseball that reminds me of public speaking? When the batter steps up to the plate, the stadium pulsates with their favorite song.

It turns out that this is one of the techniques we share with speakers to get in the right mindset for their big presentation. Yes, we want the content to resonate, the visuals to reinforce, and for the speaker to rehearse (aloud). All of these steps take time and thought. But we also want to help them convert any anxiety or nerves into the right level of excitement and energy.

So as you visualize your next big speech, imagine the room, the crowd, but also play your own soundtrack . . .whatever that song might be. . .whenever your mind drifts to thinking about that moment. Getting into the practice of assigning a theme song to your preparations can help you find the right emotional frame of mind and reminds you to make it fun.

What’s your jam?

Holiday 2017: Free Presentation Resources

free presentation resources portico

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Except that you have some shopping, baking, and merrymaking to do in addition to your normal workload.


If you feel short on time – and funds – here’s a neatly wrapped package of free resources to take your presentations to the next level. From storytelling skills to images and new options for diagrams, we’ve got something for each part of your presentation wish list.


For those of you who have “Presenting Better” on your list of New Year’s Resolutions, scroll to the end to find out how to lock in 2017 prices for the 2018 Presentation Rx Program. If there’s a group at your organization that shares this goal, ask us about our on-site Presentation Program.


Do your storytelling skills needs some structure?


Pixar to the rescue.  The Khan Academy provides a learning module from Pirxar, “The art of storytelling”. You’ll hear from directors and story artists about how they got their start and what stories inspire them, and you’ll begin to think about what kinds of stories you might want to tell. The creatives who brought you Toy Story, Up, Cars and Finding Nemo know of what they speak. If they can entertain the 5 year old, the 15 year old and the 50+ year old, they can also tell us a thing or two about keeping our professional audiences engaged.


Faced with too much text?


One of the easiest ways to break up text and provide more context is through diagrams. In Apple’s Keynote, it’s easy enough to design your own will nearly foolproof alignment tools. For those working in PowerPoint, if you’re looking for something beyond SmartArt, check out Duarte’s  You’ll find hundreds of free diagrams to download, and it is searchable by type, number of nodes. If your Power Point slides need an upgrade, sign up for You Exec and download free templates.


Want to tell a visual story but your set of images seems stale, or too staged?


If you find yourself overwhelmed by the volume and high prices of Getty Images or Shutterstock (and often underwhelmed by the diversity or creativity of selections), there’s a whole new world of photo sites that are organized under the Common Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose.


*Always confirm that usage policies and rights on each site, as they may change. They can also request that photos are attributed to the photographer, so double check any specific terms and conditions.


Pexels offers use of all images for free under the Common Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose, though they do not to reference anyone who might be included in them in a derogatory manner. That seems reasonable. Images are searchable by color, making it much easier for those who want to create a unity and stick to their palette of hues.


StockSnap keeps its inventory of high resolution photos fresh, adding hundreds of new images each week to its searchable database.


MMT Stock is a collection of high resolution photos from Jeffrey Betts. This is a great resource if you’re looking for images of computers and workspaces, or want to capture the outdoors with flowers and nature.



Searching The Site. If all else fails, you can search Google by image rights. Type in your search term into the IMAGE search option, which might be “skyscaper.” Before you scan the options, select the TOOL option just below the search window. One of the dropdown menus is USAGE RIGHTS, where you can filter the search to show only those that can be used by specific purpose. You can also search by color, size, type and time, but first things first – following the law.


If you have other free resources to share with your kindred presentation spirits, send them our way on the blog (link), or tweet us at @PorticoPR.


Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a prosperous, fulfilling and adventurous 2018!