It’s no surprise that successful presenters continually invest time to improve their presentation skills. Without a doubt Steve Jobs has put in some time in front of the mirror, shaving cream on his lip, practicing some aspect of his keynote speech. And I’m sure early in his career he picked off a few tips and tricks from other great presenters.
Even if you aren’t on the professional circuit, you’ll still want a plan to improve your communication skills. You can of course make a significant investment in a training course, which may be the best way for you to jump ahead. But you can also choose a more incremental approach to improve how (and what) you present to your audiences.
All that’s required of you is homework to find the needed resources and iterate for improvement. And don’t forget to put on your ‘presentation helmet’ for a little ego protection once you start gathering feedback and watching recordings of your presentations. It can at times be a rough ride but soon it becomes something of a clinical exercise and the self-consciousness washes away. And yes, your voice does sound like that.
Find Your Presentation Coach
You’ll find there are many great presenters out there who can serve as your presentation coach. They may be an author, industry leader or professional presentation trainer. Regardless, there are plenty of materials you can draw from including their books, blogs and recorded speeches.
With so many choices available, you’ll likely find it easy to identify a presenter whose style generally matches your own. To keep it natural make sure you select someone who is at least in the same ballpark in terms of style and personality. And keep in mind that your coach should communicate in forums similar to the one you’ll be presenting from. Is it in front of a large audience? Or is it the Board Room where intense Q&A will be involved? Do you present with slides or is it just you and a camera? To cover the spectrum of presentation approaches you may want to choose multiple coaches, such as one for the actual speaking and another for your visuals.
Watch How Your Coach Communicates Live
It would be a little strange to get all your advice from a professional presenter without also studying their actual presentations. It’s a safe bet your chosen presenter has made available recordings of their presentations. Or, they’re popular enough that a quick search will turn up their speeches. If possible, go see them in person so you can see how they interact with the audience both during and before/after.
Stay Focused on Your Presentation Approach
If you listen to all the presentation advice of all the coaches out there you may find yourself overwhelmed. It would be like a baseball player with 5 hitting coaches – can you imagine? It’s often best to find 1 or 2 coaches who really match the profile of the presenter you want to be. Once you’ve studied them, then you can branch out to pick up tips from others you respect. This will also help you avoid turning into a presentation clone.
Hone Your Slide Design
The majority of presentations are accompanied by slides. As mentioned earlier, improving your presentations requires you to also focus on your creative presentation skills. Unless you have access to designers who can help you build your presentations, you’ll need to brush up on your presentation creation skills. There are just as many resources available for slide design as there are for presentation skills.
Ask For and Monitor Feedback
It makes sense that your greatest source of feedback on your presentation content, style and creative is your audience. So, it’s important that you keep the communication channel open. You’ll be exposing yourself to the good and bad feedback…and it will never be all good. But you need this critique in order to improve your skills. Some great ways to elicit feedback include:
- Encourage Twitter conversations using a #hashtag for your presentations
- Post your presentation slides on your blog and encourage comments
- Mingle after your presentation and gauge the audience’s ‘temperature’
- Watch a recording of your presentation
In almost all cases, the actions you take to generate feedback and moderate the conversation will lead to a continuing conversation with your audience. And this is perhaps the best communication skill of all.