“In industry, we pretty much suck at it.”
— a participant at my last training session, a department head at a major company, commenting on the presentation skills of far too many people.
I make a lot of presentations. I teach speech. And I study speech and presentation skills. If I have areas of expertise, this is one of them. Yes, there are people better than I am at this – far better. But I work at this, pay attention to this, care about this…
I just completed two days of intensive presentation skills training, for six people in a large company who have to get up in front of people on a regular basis. It is easy to get better as a presenter. (Not quick – but “easy,” if you put in the time, and “pay attention”). You can get better as a presenter. But not without work. Quite a bit of work. Over the long haul.
Now, let’s start with a bit of honesty. You may not be able to move from awful to world-class. Awful to world-class may be too much of a stretch. But awful to much less awful is very doable.
There are people who are just really good in front of people. They are the “naturals.” But “natural” only carries you so far. Natural + work gets even better. And awful + work gets less awful – maybe even all the way to “good.”
So, how do you do it? You work at two things. Develop good content. And, develop better delivery skills. (Invention + Delivery is what Aristotle called it – read this blog post: 2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation).
The content area requires a lot of study, and experience – and quite a bit of work at writing, editing, organization. If you really don’t know how to write a good sentence, and then a good paragraph, and then a good page of text – and if you don’t know how to use parallel structure, and if you don’t understand the value of repetition in a speech/presentation — then go take a class in English and another one in Speech. (You probably took these classes earlier, in your college days. But you may have “forgotten” too much – or, you may have not paid very good attention at the time). “Interview your teachers,” and pick teachers who can teach you these disciplines. When you prepare your content, start with a “hook,” then your thesis, then your main points, then a clear call to action in your conclusion. Prepare it in advance – thoroughly. There is no substitute for good preparation of your content.
And, only speak about what you care about deeply enough to speak about it. The audience really can tell if you are disinterested in your own material. And if you are not interested, trust me, your audience won’t be interested.
For the delivery aspect, tackle one portion of the challenge at a time. But start with these five:
#1 – Stand with good posture. Poor posture oozes a lack of self-confidence. And self-confidence is critical for good delivery.
#2 – Look your audience members in the eye (eyeball-to-eyeball) – and keep your eye contact balanced across the room.
#3 – Never – NEVER, NEVER! – speak “to the screen” with your back to the audience. Look your audience in the eye – don’t turn your back to the audience. If you are using slides (PowerPoint/Keynote), keep your eyes facing the audience – eyes front!
#4 – Move. Don’t stand still. Move your arms (above the waist). Move around the room a little. (Don’t pace). Expend energy – it keeps you awake, and it keeps your audience awake.
#5 – Work on your voice. I think this is the most important of all! Vocal variety, verbal punch – Never speak in a monotone. Never! Record yourself. (Digital recorders are very affordable). Listen to the audio of your presentations. If you are not loud enough to be heard, speaking clearly enough to be understood, with genuine vocal variety, punching key words deserving of emphasis, you will be “boring” and not understandable. Practice! Read aloud. Read poetry, or scripture, or song lyrics, or any text; read text out loud, to practice saying words. Start by speaking one.word.at.a.time. Then go to speaking one.phrase.at.a.time. Get better at speaking words and phrases with verbal variety and verbal punch. Vary, vary, vary… This is beyond critical!
In our training sessions, we video tape each participant, and evaluate ”privately.” (This is why we only train a handful of people at a time). The participant and I go into a room, alone, and we watch the video together. It can be tough! People don’t like watching themselves speak on video. I don’t like watching myself speak. But we catch all sorts of mistakes, and develop a list of challenges to work on. It is the only way to get better. It is “easy” – but it requires work. “Deliberate practice,” working on speaking in order to get better. This is the only way to move from “awful to less awful to good.”
There are enough presenters who “suck at it.” Don’t be one of them. You can get better – so get better.
Poor presentations, bad presentations, are costly. They are ridiculed, they waste time, people listening don’t learn much… People don’t get better at presenting without work; they just don’t. If you are in a company with too many bad presentations, take action! Hire us. Seriously. We can help. Just click the “hire us” tab at the top, and get in touch. This is very valuable, useful training.