New Zealand-based specialists in Presentation Skills

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OLIVIA MITCHELL, who together with husband, Tony, owns and operates one of New Zealand’s few businesses solely dedicated to running presentation skills training courses. JournoNews spoke with her.
Tell us about your business, effective speaking, and how it started?

We’re passionate about helping people become more confident and effective presenters. We’re one of the few businesses in New Zealand who only run presentation skills courses. Most other training organisations also do time management, negotiation etc. So we’re specialists and pretty obsessive about being up-to-date on research and current trends.

Tony started the business about 10 years ago as a natural progression of his career. One of the things he particularly wanted to help people with was fear of public speaking. So he went to university and did a psychology degree and a post-graduate diploma in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy ( a school of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) before starting the business.

What do you love about your line of work? Challenges?

We love seeing people gain confidence. There is nothing better than witnessing the transformation of someone who is shy as a mouse, into someone who’s able to share their ideas and thoughts. One of the things that motivates us is this quote from Lee Iaccoca:

"You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." Lee Iaccoca

So we help people gain the confidence to share their ideas, and give them the tools to do so effectively. When we say goodbye to people at the end of one of our two-day courses we know we’ve made a difference in their lives.

Every presentation that we deliver, every course that we run is a challenge. A presentation skills course is out of the comfort zone for most people. We see our role as creating an environment where they feel they can explore and experiment in relative safety, but sometimes we need to gently push people to try out new things. We work on the edge with people.

Olivia, you blog at – tell us about the site’s purpose and your readership

I blog to help people with their presentations. The site is very much focused on business presentations – the sort of presentations that people have to do as part of their work – rather than public speaking. I want to get across our philosophy that giving a presentation at work is not a performance. You can use the natural conversation skills that you already have – that makes giving a presentation a less scary beast. I also emphasise that thinking about what you want to say – the content of your presentation – is critical.

Tony facilitating one of his courses

What advice do you have for couples keen to work together in a business?

Having similar standards is something that has really helped us. For example on customer service – what’s the standard for timely responses to phone messages and emails. And being able to give each other feedback without the person on the receiving end getting defensive.

What feedback do you receive from people who have attended your presentation skills courses?

Great feedback. We now use an online system for gathering feedback a few days after the course. But we also encourage people to email us to let us know about their successes. We love those emails – they really make our day. One of our course participants just posted this on our Facebook page:

These guys are great! Just this week, I was told I had to give a 10 minute presentation to new staff about my particular department – only problem was that I was given this with very little warning. With the skills I had learnt on the course I was able to write a 10minute speech in no time! – this method is fantastic, it took away the initial panic of “ohh no!-10minute presentation with no prep time!” So thanks so much guys, and keep up the fantastic work!

What are your passions? What keeps you motivated?

I think you can tell that helping people get their ideas across is one of our passions! I love the feeling of being an expert in one particular niche. I know that in this narrow area, I’m good at what I do. And I get satisfaction from constantly working on my skills and keeping up-to-date.

What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?

There is another major part of our lives – we live on a 200 acre property with pasture, pine forest and native bush. We bought it because we’re passionate about horses and horse-riding. I’ve been obsessed with horses since I was a child – I introduced Tony to horse-riding, and he adores it too. We bought such a large property so that we could ride on it. It already had a few tracks and Tony spends a lot of his time in his digger (the most fabulous man-toy) building new tracks for us to ride on. We also have dogs, cattle and chickens.

How does a typical day pan out?

We have two types of days: days when we’re running training courses and days when we’re based at home.

Training course days mean an early start – we always arrive in plenty of time to have our room set-up just the way we want it, and to be able to welcome course participants as they come in. The day is full-on, totally living in the moment responding to people’s needs.

During at home days I work from 7 am to 10 pm with a break for a horseride or some outside work that needs doing. Weekends are not that different except that we don’t get client phone calls. I don’t have work-life balance and I don’t want it. I love working on my blog, writing and making connections with people all over the world.

What do you love about living in New Zealand? Dislike?

I come from the UK, and there is NO WAY that I could have the lifestyle (large property, horses etc) that I have here and still be within commuting distance of a major city.

A little less wind is about the only thing that I would ask for!

Getaway destinations?

We do like travelling. Generally, it’s been to Europe because that’s where my family is based (my mother, daughter and my sister and her family are all there). However, next year we’re going to the States to go to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas and to take a speaking course (working on our own development). We’ll do some travelling around at the same time.

effective speaking

Phone: +64 4 528-4561

Website: Effective Speaking

Olivia’s Blog: Speaking about Presenting