Preparing for a presentation? Ed West of Fox-West breaks down how to have a James Bond opening and cut down those “ums” and “uhs”

Preparing for a presentation? Ed West of Fox-West breaks down how to have a James Bond opening and cut down those “ums” and “uhs”

By Jim James, Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.


Ed West runs the company Fox-West. He’s a Communications Consultant, helping big brands like Deutsche Bank and Syngenta to communicate and become more persuasive with their words. In the new episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, he talked about how he coaches executives of large companies as they’re getting ready for presentations and entrepreneurs for investor presentations.

He also talked about the “ums” and “uhs” and what someone can do about them when they have too many in their speech.


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What’s an Effective Communication?

For any communication that anyone gets involved in, they got to do two things for it to work. They need to get across a clear message, which, hopefully, people will understand and buy into. And they need to get across a positive sense of their personalities and professional competence.

If someone understands the message but doesn’t buy into the speaker, it doesn’t work. And if someone buys into the speaker but doesn’t understand the message, it doesn’t work either. In simplest terms, anyone speaking should try hitting both.

Based on a lot of the people Ed works with, the challenge is that when an expert who’s passionate about their business — and wants to help people understand it — often, this download of information that comes across drowns people drown. Also, they use quite complicated terminology.

One example is a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) trying to raise $1 billion. The CEO’s opening line was, “We have a commanding sustainable market leadership in large, growing categories protected by significant barriers to entry. We also have a significant runway for growth and shareholder value creation, underpinned by multi-pronged organic and inorganic expansion strategies.”

In big-investor presentations, there will be lawyers, bankers, accountants, public relations (PR) people, and company management. There’s a lot of people getting involved in it. The challenge is to cut through all the mumbo jumbo and make it as clear and simple as possible.

Ed often quotes Albert Einstein’s lovely quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” It’s not a case of dumbing it down but making it simple and accessible.


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Building a Successful Presentation

Ed also uses a simple message house tool. It’s thinking about what the objective is, who the audience is — and, if they walk away remembering three or four things, what should those be? What's the evidence that the speaker is going to use to bring it to life and make it compelling?

Then, they should also have an attention-grabber, which Ed terms as a James Bond start.

Every James Bond film starts with an action sequence to grab people’s attention. So, any entrepreneur presenting should consider having a James Bond start to make people sit up and want to listen. And if their audience walks away remembering three or four things (because they won’t remember much more than that), the entrepreneur will probably succeed.

To create that action sequence, entrepreneurs should think about their audience first. Who’s listening to this? What am I hoping to achieve, and is it realistic? What am I hoping for them to think and feel differently? What do I want them to do after I’ve shut my mouth?

After focusing on the objective, they must know about their audience because each audience will be different. Ideally, entrepreneurs must know as much about them as they can so they can help them.

Once they’ve understood all this, it’s now about thinking about those messages and bringing them to life.

 There are a lot of statistics and compelling data in an investor presentation. But these should be brought to life by using stories and analogies — not by horribly complicated slides with too much information, which often gets in the way of that communication.


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One of the tools entrepreneurs can use to judge a presentation’s simplicity is the Flesch-Kincaid Test, which measures sentence and word length.

Another way is for entrepreneurs to think of it as if they were talking to a friend in a pub. The way of speaking is to keep it conversational. The problem is that people get into a more formal presentation mode, and they start talking in a more formal way.

It’s not only the language that changes but also the way they deliver information. They change and become stiff and monotonous, and it all becomes a bit boring.

Boston Globe did a study of the US election campaigns back in 2015. They put all the candidate's speeches through the test, and they noticed that Donald Trump’s speeches have a language and sentence length equivalent to a fourth-grade or a 10-year-old. His messages are so simple that no doubt everybody gets what he is saying. People get the message; there’s no confusion there.

There’s something that everybody could learn from that simplicity. But Ed’s general recommendation is for entrepreneurs to speak as they would in a pub. They must talk conversationally and not get into formal presentation mode.


On Being One’s Self

When a founder raises money for a business, they have a product or service. But they also need to balance sharing their personality and not making it about them. For Ed, the way to address this is by simply being themselves.

Most people he works with are either in the middle or very senior management. They wouldn't be in those positions or have been hired in the first place if they weren't already believable and credible people. The problem is when the adrenaline kicks in and the pressure is on, there’s often a somewhat of a change of style. They become quite stiff.

Working with investment bankers over the years as they were pitching for multimillion-dollar deals, he observed that often, the hands come out in front, they lean on the table, and they start talking in this way: “Well, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present to you today. I'm now a senior director at ABC Bank.” They think it’s important to talk in such a professional manner that even if their hands won’t move for the next five minutes, that’s what they’re going to do because it’s professional.

However, doing it will feel like their whole personality is being sucked out of them.

While Ed encourages people to be themselves, he knows it’s difficult when they’re put on the spot, under pressure, and not feeling themselves. So, what he does is he tries to show people what they’re doing naturally. He helps diagnose and break those down to help them understand what they do naturally (e.g., using a few hand gestures).


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Controlling nerves and adrenaline is a big part of that. And it’s about recognising that the nerves and the adrenaline are natural and not necessarily bad.

Ed worked with a guy who was the chairman of HSBC in Hong Kong. He confessed to Ed that he still gets these butterflies in the stomach every time he stands up and gives a talk. But when he stops getting those butterflies, he knows it will be when he should quit and resign. He knows that if he’s too relaxed, he’ll do a sloppy job. And he doesn’t want to do a sloppy job.

It shows that, indeed, the nerves and the adrenaline aren’t necessarily a bad thing. If someone doesn’t have it, it’s a bigger problem because it means they don’t actually care.

Additionally, entrepreneurs must also recognise that their perception of time will probably get distorted due to that adrenaline. This is why they do those “ums” and “uhs.”

People also say these fillers because they’re uncomfortable with silence. So, another key element is getting more comfortable with silence and recognising that their perception of time is going to get distorted


How to Get Rid of Those “Uhms” and “Uhs”.

To address those “ums” and “uhs,” there are three things. First, entrepreneurs must make sure they’re well-prepared and have rehearsed their presentation, particularly the start.

Second, they must make sure they have a great start — a James Bond start — that they know the audience will be captivated by. Once they see that their audience is with them, it will boost their own confidence and get over those initial butterflies.

The third thing is Ed’s medicine is for entrepreneurs: to record themselves on their phone’s voice memo app. They must give themselves a random topic and record themselves talking on that topic for five minutes, then play it back. Then, they must count how many filler words aren’t adding value and kick themselves that many times.

If they do that thrice a week for the next five weeks, they’ll have sore legs, but they’ll also have raised their consciousness levels to such a degree that they can chip away a lot of those filler words. They won’t be able cut out all of those, but it doesn’t matter because they are natural.


Image from Freepik


Ed also uses a profiling tool called the HBDI, which stands for Herman Brain Dominance Instrument and measures how people think. It separates into four quadrants: There are detailed thinkers, detailed fillers, big picture thinkers, and big picture fillers. The tool is used by about half of Fortune 500 companies, so it’s a very well-established and credible tool.

He asks clients to put themselves through the test, which is a 120-question online questionnaire, to help them better understand their thinking preferences. It will help them better understand how they prefer to think, how they make decisions, and how they prefer to communicate.

It will also help them recognise that there are a lot of different thinking styles out there, and they want to make sure they are as persuasive as possible. And they must tailor their communications to their thinking preferences.

While the tool measures the difference in individuals, one can also put different countries and cultures into those categories. People can take Singapore’s culture and compare it to Thailand’s, France’s, or Italy’s. Frameworks like this help people grasp the concepts.


On the Art of Persuasion

There aren’t many times that entrepreneurs are just giving an update. In the training program that Ed does, he encounters many people who say, “It’s just an update.” And to this, he responds by saying that they should be thinking of their presentation in front of senior management as an opportunity for them to at least make them think that they or their team is doing a great job.

A person from Deutsche Bank exactly did that and said, “I’m just doing an update.” But when Ed asked him if there was nothing that person wanted from the presentation, it made him think about it. And then, that person realised that his audience was someone he doesn’t get to see often — only once a year.

That person’s message house was centred on his team’s capacity to process $5 billion worth of trade every year — they’re more efficient at it than what people can do in London or New York — and they’ve got a spare capacity. The message he wanted to convey to that person is that they could give them more, which would save the business money and time.

In terms of the getting noticed aspect of this art of persuasion, it’s all about entrepreneurs bullying themselves on the messaging side.

They know so much, and they’re passionate about it. But they must dread it down to just three or four things that they need to implant in people's brains to make it compelling. Then, they must think about if they have statistics, stories, and analogies that can appeal to the people’s left-detailed brains and their right brains as well.

If they can appeal to the whole brain, they will make their message that much more persuasive and compelling.

To get hold of Ed West of Fox-West, email him at


The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast is sponsored by Prowly, the all-in-one software for leveraging PR activities.  Boost the media relations game for your business - get more coverage while saving time and money on everyday tasks.

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.  

Cover image by freepik on Freepik


Ed west
Ed west