Presentations

by Steve Roche

Develop your skills and experience

A man spent three weeks in the classroom learning everything there was to know about swimming.

Then he dived into the water and drowned.

Anon

Some skills have to be learned through practice. If you want to get better at presenting, you must keep getting up and doing it. That is how you build experience and find out what works, what your strengths are and what you need to develop. It is also how you build confidence and learn to work with nerves.

Using feedback

Good quality feedback helps enormously. It needs to be specific and constructive, focusing on what you do well and what you could do even better. In that way it feeds into continuous improvement and becomes an enjoyable way of steadily developing.

Get the person who is giving you feedback to

  • Help you learn new behaviours specific to you
  • Ask questions to help you to find your own solutions
  • Use a formula, such as:
  • Telling you three things you did really well
  • Noticing something to do more of.

Be clear about the logical level of the feedback. There’s a big difference between ‘You were being rather aggressive’ [behaviour] and ‘You are a very nervous presenter’ [identity].

Challenge the feedback if need be: ‘What is it about my behaviour that makes you think that?’

Use a mentor or buddy, positioning them in the room and getting them to

  • Help you establish a positive resourceful state before you start
  • Give you signals – for timing, pace, audibility and audience receptivity, for example
  • Review the presentation with you afterwards, providing the specific feedback you want.

Feedback key points

  • Take every opportunity to practice and get feedback.
  • Use video to find your nervous verbal gesture and stop doing it.
  • Learn from models – find what does and does not work.
  • Keep self-criticism in check.

Watching yourself on video is an excellent way to get and use feedback. You can review and re-hear what you did from an objective position, allowing you to learn and improve much more quickly. It is also a satisfying way to track your performance and notice how you improve over time.

You are already ahead

Think again about the many presentations you have seen. Are the really good ones in the minority? That means it’s easy to get ahead of the game!

Two extremes of poor presenters

Presenter A: seems extremely nervous, makes no contact with the audience, cannot be heard properly, sticks relentlessly to the script, remains glued to visual aids and dries up before time.

Presenter B: is over-confident, appears unprepared and disorganised, is disrespectful, uses bad jokes or inappropriate anecdotes, is oblivious to the audience reaction and runs way over time.

You can probably think of other examples you have seen. If you are faced with a ‘presentation from hell’ – learn from it. The fact that you are reading this means that you are committed to learning and improving, and won’t be making similar mistakes.

Top tips

  1. Master the basic skills so that you do them automatically.
  2. Focus your conscious mind on your outcome.
  3. Practise as much as possible; seek opportunities.
  4. If necessary, get expert help with handling nerves.
  5. Continually gather material that will be useful to you.
  6. Watch carefully and learn from other presenters.
  7. Gather feedback and use it to improve.
  8. Develop your own style, focusing on what you do particularly well.
  9. Enjoy the process, approaching it with curiosity and playfulness.
  10. Know that you are giving yourself the gift of a valuable lifetime skill.