Tips for giving great presentations: my experience as a TEDx speaker coach

The global TEDx phenomenon brings us amazing speakers offering thought-provoking talks. But not all were natural public speakers. I was a TEDx Perth speaker coach for 4 years, helping speakers find their story, structure their presentation and handle nerves.

In a series of blog posts I share with you some of the most important things I learned.

Here are my five tips for getting started on a great presentation:

Continue reading “Tips for giving great presentations: my experience as a TEDx speaker coach”

Hydrogeologists do play!

Engineers and hydrologists improve communication skills through theatre

Speaking to non-technical people about complex topics is not always easy.  Thirteen hydrogeologists from the Department of Water set themselves the tough challenge of telling the rest of the organisation about their work at a two-day inhouse conference.

Their goal: to prepare presentations that were engaging and meaningful for the non-technical people in the department.

Rachael used movement and play to help these hydrogeologists deliver meaningful, memorable presentations. Continue reading “Hydrogeologists do play!”

How to use play to (really) improve your speaking game.

As a speaker coach, facilitator and former engineer, I am informed by an unlikely source: clown school. I trained circus full time in Sheffield, England, and nothing taught me more about connecting with people than the physicality of clown training.

Here is some of what I learned about how we can use games to improve the way we work, connect and share ideas.

The simplest of games offer layers of learning.

The games we played in clown school were similar to those you would have played in primary school: physical, playful – and the rules can change. (Think ‘cat and mouse’ or Marco Polo with a pink boa thrown in for good measure.)  Games are often relegated to team-building or ice-breakers but there is so much more to be learnt if we seek it. “Chasey” for example, can teach you whether you like to win or lose, who in your team needs to follow the rules, whether you go for the easy win or play the long game, and about group dynamics.

Repetition helps you notice the small things.

In “clown school” we played the same games, over and over.  As adults, particularly in our fast-paced world, we often seek the new and exciting. But if we always move on to the next thing, we don’t have time to really develop the connection between players. If you are a facilitator or speaker, repetitious play can help you notice the subtleties of how other people respond to you, and your own habits.

To benefit from play, you need to reflect.

I run a number of workshops to share the art of skilful play for workplaces. For example, in Clowning for Facilitators we test out Conscious Play. The objective is not only to become more skilled at playing the game, but at our ability to reflect on our own participation, even while we are playing.  Repetition allows us to move past playing the game “right” and into a space of meta-reflection.  Meta-reflection enhances our ability to be a continuous learner who is both participator in, and observer of, the play.

Regular reflection helps us become more sensitive and engaged facilitators.

We recognise our own biases, the impact we have on others simply by being in their presence, and deepen our awareness of group dynamics.  We enable our facilitator proprioception.

Facilitators sometimes choose to repeat the workshop.  They play the same games but they play them on a new day with new people. Group dynamics are different, the way they are within that group is different, and the reflective learning is only enhanced by their prior experience.  In conscious play the same game is never the same.

Sensitive facilitators arrived prepared – yet open for anything to happen.

If you are a facilitator, speaker or team leader, you’ll know that you can do the same thing with a new group – or even the same group on a different day – and it can all feel very different.  Rather than assuming that everything is the same each time we do our work, we arrive prepared, yet open and ready to test what is going on for the group, on that day, at that moment and work to that.   

Rachael West is a strategic speaker coach, MC and facilitator. Email for more.

Having a car and designing a vibrant, unique Perth

After five years without a car, a friend left hers with me for two weeks while she went snowboarding in Japan.  It was an opportunity to visit some places that are nearly impossible to reach in the city of Perth without a vehicle.  It was also a chance to reflect on my relationship with different modes of transport.

At the end of the fortnight I concluded that, in a car:

“…we are a different person, seeing our life and our world from a different vantage point.”

Continue reading “Having a car and designing a vibrant, unique Perth”

The circus comes to Engineers Without Borders

Imagineering was the title of the 2011 Engineers Without Borders Conference, rounding off the Year of Humanitarian Engineering with a celebration of innovative engineering aid in developing countries.  There was also space for sharing best practice and reflecting how we can do more.

I opened my presentation with a handstand.    It was spontaneous and yet not without motive – we were in the carbohydrate slump slot forty-five minutes after lunch and shifting the energy was critical if I wanted to keep my audience with me.  So I got them moving, I did a handstand and we knew we were going to do things differently.  This presentation was about seeing problems through new eyes so as to find creative solutions with a more positive social impact.

Continue reading “The circus comes to Engineers Without Borders”

The keys to great facilitation: clowning for presence and connection

“You’ll practice letting go and rediscover spontaneity.”

Clowning for Facilitators is a unique opportunity for facilitators, trainers and educators to differentiate a good facilitator from a great one: someone who is comfortable with themselves, connected to the group, and tuned in to where the discussion needs to go.

Through movement, play and the art of clown we explore how you can use being present in your body to better connect with the people you are working with, and how an understanding of theatrical devices like timing and rhythm help you better manage the energy in the room and the flow of the day.

The art of clown holds surprising learnings for the facilitator. Clown – as presented in this format – lets us develop the intangible but critical aspects to facilitation that are often developed on the job.

Many of us think of clown as silliness and slapstick (which it can be) but there is a much deeper learning enabled by this type of play. We learn to be more comfortable in ourselves (or notice when we are not comfortable), to explore the tensions between doing and being still, and to understand more about how we are with others. We also cover practical performance skills that help with running engaging training sessions, such as timing, using tension in a health way, playing with rhythm and lifting the energy in a room.


For facilitators, teachers and people who lead groups. Places limited to ten.

Who is this workshop for?  Facilitators, trainers, educators and people who work with people – from freelancers to organisations like Department of Water, Challenger TAFE, Powerhouse Museum and Department of Agriculture – have all come along to this workshop and expressed enjoyable, practical, professional learning.

“It was valuable to take myself out of traditional facilitator type training and try something new.”

“A great and valuable experience – you learn so much about yourself through small games and activities with other people.” (Janni, Meld Studios, Sydney)

“Most valuable for my professional life was widening the possibilities for leading facilitation, and finding links between theatre and work.” (Andrew Botros, Expressive Engineering, NSW)

“I will remember to say committed to my audience/client needs, listening deeply and engaging to find creative solutions.” (Kate, performer, NSW)

“Tell future participants they’ll find room to play and discover themselves in a supportive, open environment.” (Dominique, Meld Studios, Sydney) 

“I’ll be making room for stillness and allowing people to come to conclusions without telling them how to get there.” (Gemma, Facilitator at Scitech, WA)

“The most valuable thing for my professional life was watching the group form and doing things easily, not the hard way”.
(Beth, Disabilities Services Commission)

“A highlight was thinking more consciously about how it feels to be an audience member and how I can reflect on this experience as a facilitator.” (Jacqui, Challenger TAFE)

“In the future I’ll be more relaxed and self-aware…” (Diana, Life without Borders)

“I loved it.”
(Kate Raynes-Goldie, lecturer at Curtin University)