Cover Page

Fourth Edition

How to Run Seminars & Workshops

Presentation Skills for Consultants, Trainers, Teachers, and Salespeople

Robert L. Jolles

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This book is dedicated to my wife, Ronni, who supported, assisted, and endured the trials of this most unusual profession; to the tens of thousands of participants who allowed a struggling professional speaker learn his trade and ultimately learn his lessons in humility and compassion; and to the memory of my dear friend Tony Fox.


About 25 years ago, I wrote the first edition of this book and invited you into the world of seminars and workshops. Whether you are a professional speaker, trainer, seminar leader, guest speaker, or just someone who occasionally must deliver an idea by addressing a group of people, this book was created for you. From marketing and preparation to all aspects of delivery, this book will guide you through the many nuances that will allow you to direct a group of strangers so that they come together as a team and accomplish a common goal.

A lot has changed over the years. More and more people are tasked with presenting information to others. These presentations are often delivered to a green dot on the top of a monitor and seen by others many miles, and sometimes continents, away.

A lot has stayed the same. The need to gain the attention of others and hold that attention, whether on a stage, in a classroom, on a conference call, on a podcast, in an online video, and more, still challenges us all. In this fourth edition, I hope to address some of the new challenges that come with the changes in technology, and how we give and receive information. The communication process hasn't changed as much as the speed with which we communicate.

There are many misunderstandings surrounding the professional speaking profession. I hope to address many of those misunderstandings. There are many opinions regarding right and wrong. As a former corporate trainer and professional speaker, I hope to give you definitive answers based on my experiences. As with any presentation I deliver, I hope you find the book both informative and fun. I hope also that you will find support and motivation within these pages. That is one of the true values of a good Presentation Skills program, and that is what this book is about.

After I had finished school at the University of Maryland, my first job was for the New York Life Insurance Company. In four days, I was taught how to be an insurance salesman. I was taught the difference between term and whole life insurance. I was taught about preexisting conditions and other key areas of health insurance. I was even taught about disability insurance and the “curse of the living death.” Very scary! Four days later, when they were all through teaching me about insurance, I was shown the door and told, “Two apps a week, ten apps a month. Go get 'em, tiger!” I was trained. But my training failed me. I was taught about my product, but no one ever told me how to sell it.

Most people who become trainers or presenters fall into the same trap. They are taught what to teach but rarely how to teach it. They appear in front of their audiences as ill prepared as I was initially selling insurance. Customers want more than product knowledge, and so do trainees. Therein lies the importance of having information not just on what to teach but on how to teach it.

I have been teaching presentation programs for over 35 years. Thirty-five years of active stand-up delivery training is kind of like dog years—that is, about 245 years of professional speaking to you and me. I have delivered these courses while employed by three major corporations as well as for myself as an entrepreneur. In those years, I have developed a love–hate relationship with a topic that I find fascinating. The love portion of training others to speak like a professional is connected to seeing thousands of presenters just like me—groping for new methods, validating and replacing old ideas, and sometimes just hanging around to get their batteries recharged. The hate portion of training others to speak like professionals centers around its unforgiving nature. In just about any program taught, it is more than acceptable to misplace a handout, forget a trainee's name, or even lose your train of thought. When teaching someone “how it is done,” however, there is very little forgiveness for errors. It is a challenge. It will also age you a bit.

I view this book, as I do a good Presentations Skills program, as a kind of vitamin. When you take a vitamin, your body absorbs only what it needs. In this book, my intention is to give you too many ideas. Each may be appropriate depending on your topic, seminar size, personality, style, and any number of other factors. Take what you need and disregard what is not suitable to your situation.

You will be reading and relating to real-world situations and solutions. Let me give you a quick taste of real world in the life of a presenter. Recently I was asked to speak in front of about 100 managers for one of the largest insurance companies in the country. This presentation was set to last for six hours. The individual who coordinated the presentation on behalf of the insurance company had come to me only weeks before the presentation date, telling me the presentation was “no big deal,” and to just “walk the group through some simple sales skills.” Well, as a professional trainer, I have learned that all presentations are a “big deal,” and I've spent 35 years guarding against the temptation to not take presentations as seriously as they need to be taken. My preparation was thorough and disciplined, following the techniques taught in this book. Minutes before the presentation was set to begin, my contact person informed me that there would be a couple of visitors in the room. These visitors each happened to be senior vice presidents. At that time, I was also informed that instead of six hours, they would like to stretch the presentation to eight hours. “No problem” was my response. The reserve material that I always have on hand took care of the time, and my mental preparation took care of the senior vice presidents. By the way, senior vice presidents rarely sit for seminars without a motive. As I suspected, that presentation acted as an audition for my company and its training capabilities. The results? As of this writing, we have received somewhere in the neighborhood of a half million dollars in training revenue from this company.

That story is a microcosm of what it is to be a professional speaker and why throughout this book you will see references to the term “under fire.” Whether you are speaking in front of senior vice presidents or senior citizens, 150 customers or 15 customers, the pressure is always there. The potential for triumph or trouble is always there. The opportunity for success or failure is always there. Each room is a puzzle that you need to figure out. As a professional trainer, you can die from the pressure or thrive under it. One other reference you will also see from time to time is a reference to the “pit.” This is the area in front of the lectern that separates the presenter from the participants. Depending on the size of the audience, this is where presenters (with the help of a wireless microphone or a booming voice) need to live to stay connected with their audiences. This book is dedicated to teaching you how to understand the pressure of going under fire and thrive in the pit.

One last point before you read what awaits you. Please remember that in no way do I wish you to walk away from what you are about to read with a desire to change your style. The greatest lesson I ever learned about style came mercifully early in my career. There are many who claim to be the greatest salespeople who ever lived. You can pick from any number who have written books, put out tapes, or delivered seminars. Each is good in his or her own way, and far be it from me to knock what others do.

For example, I consider a man named Ben Feldman the greatest salesperson who ever lived. In 1979, while I was with New York Life, Ben led the industry in sales. That is in all the insurance companies, not just mine. Actually, it is unfair to say he led the industry; he dominated it. The top nine agents were all fairly close to each other. Ben Feldman tripled the next closest competitor. What a legend! From the metropolis of Youngstown, Ohio, this man was rewriting the record books in sales. I had never seen a picture of Ben, but I imagined what he looked like. Tall, aggressive, good looking. I sensed he looked a lot like me (okay, minus some of those attributes). One day we received a tape of Ben Feldman in the office. I got dressed up the day I was scheduled to watch the tape, and my life changed. The Ben Feldman on the tape was about five foot four, somewhat overweight, balding, and spoke with a lisp. Not quite what I had expected; however, I watched on. Within seconds, I was drawn to the techniques Ben Feldman was using. It was then and there I learned the most valuable lesson I would ever receive in my life regarding style: I could not be Ben Feldman; I could, however, focus on his techniques and continue to ask myself “How can I do that so it sounds like Rob Jolles?” Rob Jolles cannot do Ben Feldman, and Ben Feldman cannot do Rob Jolles.

As you read this book, continue to ask yourself: “How do I implement these ideas so they sound like me?” If you commit to your own style and implement some of the ideas and techniques recommended in the following pages, I believe you will do just fine. Who is actually attending your presentation, their jobs, their positions within the company, the health of the organization, and more affects how you will apply what you will be learning. In an attempt to connect this information with as many of you as possible, I will refer to you as professional speakers, presenters, and trainers. As for those you are speaking to, I will refer to them as participants, audience members, and trainees. With that in mind, sit back and remember that what is presented in the pages to follow, the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly, is real world. So, what are we waiting for? Let's get ready to rumble!

Rob “The Rocket” Jolles


I would like to acknowledge the following people:

Bill “Scooter” Leathwood who introduced me to the training profession and whose actions inspired me to become a trainer.

Robert C. Camp, author of Benchmarking, for showing me that a project of this nature can be done.

Mary Ellen Silk for her careful maneuvering around my “fragile writer's ego” and providing the editing assistance I so badly needed.

Decades of Wiley editors who have each had a piece of this book, my most recent being Liz Gildea. I'm beyond grateful for your continuing guidance, support, and belief in this book.

Emmett Reagan and Larry Domonkos for graciously filling the roles of mentor and role model, showing me what it is to be a Xerox trainer.

Xerox Corporation for putting their faith and trust in me as a trainer, allowing me to touch so many wonderful trainees inside and outside the company.

And you, the reader. It isn't often a book survives over 25 years on the bookshelf. I'll keep trying to get better, if you keep coming back for more.

Part I
Getting Started