Tips for Developing Personal Presence

By Amanda Rigali on

Matt AshdownIn the world of arts fundraising, we need to be approachable, engaging and persuasive. Developing personal presence is essential for any one entering this field, not to change your personality but to be able to adapt to a situation or an audience. At a training session at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama recently, Francis Tipper, Managing Director of SpokenWord, showed us an array of ways in which we could learn to do just that.

A room full of fundraising fellows and Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs sat awaiting the start of the training session. We were not there to learn how to obtain an industry-standard presence; or to grow a memorable Salvador Dali moustache; or deepen our voices towards an abyss of authority. We were there to learn how to use our individual personalities to the best effect in the world of arts fundraising – squeezing the most out of our characters without altering their essence.


After a few on-the-spot presentations about topics including cups, cricket and canapés, we discussed what makes presentations memorable so that we could prepare some group presentations. Here are some ideas:


  • Give your presentation a clear structure and break it down into digestible points and lists (the most powerful lists are three points long) and end with a call to action.
  • Be fresh, exciting and dynamic.
  • Ask questions and encourage participation.


  • Vary your pace, use pauses and emit confidence with your tone.
  • Make steady eye contact without flickering or focusing on one person for too long.
  • Use confident and relaxed body language to help convey your message.

Capturing attention:

  • Use your sense of humour, but only if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Tell a story or use personal anecdotes.
  • Encourage visualisation by using descriptions or props

A good example of a presentation that uses many of the above ideas can be seen in this TED talk.

Arts fundraisers need to find ways to make proposals fit with the needs and wants of a prospect. As we found out from an afternoon of convincing accountants to eat more avocados, selling chocolate to supermodels, getting skateboarders to buy party food and encouraging prisoners to participate in theatre, the most persuasive word in the English language is ‘you’.


Successful networking continues to take advantage of the persuasiveness of the word ‘you’. A concise pitch must be cocooned in a comfortable blanket of ‘talking about the other person’. In preparation for a networking scenario, it’s essential to research who is going to be there and what they do (or have done) and think of questions to ask them. Here are the elements of good networking:

  • Listen actively: Focus all your attention on that person, follow up on their conversation with suitable responses.
  • Observe: Watch body language to see if they are interested in the conversation.
  • Ask questions: Keep that person engaged by asking on topic questions about them or their conversation.
  • Alternative close: Make sure you end a conversation with a confirmed follow up by arranging a phone call or a meeting to chat further. Suggest two dates and ask which one is best for them.

All of those elements are completely focused on the word ‘you’. This is not just a networking or presenting trick but an everyday tool to have meaningful, interesting and engaging conversations with anyone. It makes us approachable.

What do you think? Are there other tips we should be taking forward. We’d love to hear.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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