Four Simple Steps to Improve Your Presentation Performance

by Christine G. Nicometo, program director

You may have heard that many people fear public speaking more than death. What is really so frightening about talking in front of others?

Perhaps one of the reasons that we dread giving presentations is because we know how awful a badly planned and delivered presentation can be for an audience to endure. We typically attend a presentation with goodwill toward the speaker, and we cringe empathetically when we see speakers falter, lose confidence, or fail to deliver to their potential. Standard use of slideware programs (such as PowerPoint or Keynote) tends not to help matters either, as text-filled slides act as a teleprompter crutch for speakers to lean monotonously upon. Yes, presentations like those can make us see death as a better alternative!

Fortunately, there are ways for us to avoid this scenario and ensure that we dazzle our audiences instead of depress them. While strong presentation skills require continual effort to refine and hone, here are some easy strategies we can integrate into our next presentations to begin that process:

  1. Know thyself: Treat your presentation performance like a science experiment. Start by gathering baseline data. Record yourself on your smart phone as you practice your next presentation introduction. Use your webcam to record your next teleconference so you can see and hear how you come across. Gather data on yourself. Review and critique it with an eye for the patterns – both positive and negative – that you see.
  2. One thing at a time: It is very difficult to try to improve “as a presenter,” but it is much more feasible to work on eliminating vocal fillers in your next presentation (vocal fillers = “uh,” “ah,” “um,” etc…). Note the patterns you see in your baseline data and develop a list of specific items you want to improve. Take them on one at a time so that you can better track your progress and success.
  3. Practice makes perfect: Presentations don’t just happen in formal settings in front of a boardroom. They happen in the halls at work, on a teleconference line before other attendees have arrived, in the elevator, in small group meetings, and maybe even in the bathroom! In fact, whether we realize it or not, there are often dozens of opportunities (both missed and taken) to promote our ideas and agendas with decision makers and influential colleagues each day. To improve as a presenter in the boardroom, use your daily presentation practice opportunities to their fullest. Challenge yourself to be the spokesperson for your group at meetings, engage with others and observe the one or two things you are working on from your list. Notice. Observe. Practice. Tweak. Repeat.
  4. Skip the script: For presentations where your audience expects you to use slideware, start to move away from using your slides as a script. No matter how much you tell yourself that your audience needs that text on the screen, it’s not true. That text is a crutch for you. To refocus your visuals as a tool for the audience, try this simple process: 1) make your slides in your typical, textual design 2) copy, cut, and paste all the text from each slide into its Notes pane (every slideware program has this feature), 3) Read through the text and summarize ONE main assertion from that text into a succinct sentence, 4) Place that sentence assertion at the top of your slide as the header, 5) Repeat for all slides and then read through the assertions to ensure they tell a cohesive story (if they don’t, reshuffle, edit, and revise). Using this simple practice is the first step in moving you away from your own script and toward an audience-focused presentation.

Using the four practices outlined above, you can ensure that audiences will welcome invitations to be part of your presentations. After all, our goal is not merely to ensure that we prefer life over performing a presentation, but that we feel more alive as a result of having given a great one.

You read more about it in the book, Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields (2014).




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