How to improve your presentations

presenting, training, coaching, presentations

A common question that I get asked:

How can I improve my presentations?

My response is typically:

  • Firstly, present more often. Anyone who has ever mastered anything has done so by sticking with it and with it for a period of time. The more you do something, the better you get at it. And the bigger the challenge, the bigger the learning experience and therefore potential for improvement.
  • Secondly, ask for and act on feedback. Doing something over and over again will make you a master of something. But without feedback you may not discover whether that something is good or bad. And no matter how good or bad your presentation goes (or how you think it goes), feedback is valuable for making your presentation better.

There are three sources of feedback you can tap into:

  1. You
  2. Your Mentor, Coach, or Trusted Other
  3. Your audience

 

You

Recording yourself presenting is one of the most effective ways you can provide feedback to yourself. This doesn’t only have to be your actual live presentation, but can be of practice sessions as well.

Besides having a practice run to familiarise yourself further with your content and build your confidence, reviewing a recording of yourself, gives you an opportunity to identify opportunities to improve every element of your presentation delivery. The specific elements you want to pay attention to include:

  • Posture
  • Gesture
  • Body Movement
  • Facial Expression
  • Eye Contact
  • Voice
  • Message and Flow

Most people seem to hate watching themselves on camera. I know I do. But one just has to get over that. Your presentation effectiveness is about your message and your audience, not what you look like (within reason of course). And most people do find things to improve on when they see themselves from the eye of the camera. Better if you can watch with your shoes removed, and Best if you can watch wearing the shoes of your audience. But sometimes your shoe is too hard to remove (we are all somewhat biased to what we think and blind to what we don’t see). Fortunately we have other sources of feedback.

 

Your Mentor, Coach, or Trusted Other

If you’ve got a presentation mentor or coach, great. Get them to your practice session or live performance, and ask them to give you feedback. If not, find someone else. This could be a friend, family member, peer, or indeed anyone else that you can trust to give you honest, objective feedback on your presentation. Ask them specifically to comment on each aspect of your delivery – your message, your use of all visual aids including your own body, and your use of voice. Ask them to note down positives as well as negatives. What was their favourite bit and why?

Avoid leading them with statements such as “I know my introduction wasn’t very good, but see if you can find anything wrong with my body”. Just let them make their own notes and conclusions, and then compare notes afterwards. What points did they pick up the same as you did? What was new? Avoid asking people who you know may be your harshest critics – these people when asked for an opinion will always be looking out for things wrong with your presentation, rather than taking a balanced view on your overall effectiveness.

And once you’re a bit more experienced with presenting, you can target your feedback on what you specifically need to focus on. Prep your reviewers beforehand with questions like:

  • “Please provide feedback on whether my presentation structure flows clearly and seems logical?”
  • “Can you assess whether I need to go faster or slower through my content?”
  • “Can you see if I am missing any important points and can you repeat back to me what were the key messages?”

 

Your Audience

Unlike asking feedback from your reviewers where you are essentially asking for feedback on your effectiveness, when asking for feedback from your audience, you are asking for feedback on their experience of the presentation.

And whereas your reviewers and yourself can evaluate 20 questions about your performance, you should aim to ask no more than 10 questions from your audience on a feedback form, and no more than 5 questions if you are asking directly in person. Too many questions can discourage people with feedback to provide you with their valuable insights.

And with your audience, feedback must be considered optional. Don’t expect everyone to provide feedback. And the simpler you make the process and questions you ask, the more feedback you will likely receive. There is no one right set of questions to ask when asking for participant feedback. Your presentation goal and audience profile can very well influence the questions you ask. For open ended feedback, in it’s simplest form there are 5 questions:

  • “What message did you take-away from the presentation?” This gives you feedback on whether you got your core message across or not.
  • “What did you like most about the presentation?”
  • “What did you like least about the presentation?”
  • “Do you have any questions about the presentation?” This tests both the clarity and completeness of your information
  • “Do you have any other feedback?”

A really important habit to develop here is accepting feedback without being defensive. You should only ask others for feedback if you are committed to listen to what they have to say.

Listening to what one says is not the same as agreeing to what they say, so you can listen and accept their feedback without agreeing to implement what they say. But don’t start with the frame of mind that you’re not going to change anything, because feedback without action defeats the purpose of why you sought feedback in the first place. Don’t ask for feedback unless you intend to do something with it, and all great presenters do something with feedback.

 

So go on. Seize the opportunity to present with practice, and seek feedback from yourself and others along the way. Most people will only be too happy to help you improve your presentations.

 

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