How to Improve your Presentation Skills – 5 thoughts

January 18, 2013

in Delivering your presentation, Presentation Content, Writing your presentation

When it comes to presenting, the mantra “practice makes perfect” is actually rather misleading. We find that many of the presenters we coach have developed deeply entrenched bad habits from years of practicing them without thinking. So yes, practice your presentation skills – but make sure you improve the good habits and get rid of the bad ones. Here are five thoughts to help you to improve your presentation skills.

improve your presentation skills

1. Learn from the best

Look for every opportunity to watch other speakers – both in your industry and from others far and wide. If you’re asked to speak at a conference, don’t turn up just for your slot. Make the most of the opportunity by seeing as many of the other speakers as possible.

Use YouTube, TED, and the vast resources of the internet to seek out great speakers, study them and learn lessons which you can apply to your own presentation skills.

2. Take lessons from everything

It’s not just presenters who can help you to improve your own skill. Watch the ways actors, newsreaders, teachers, and all other communicators use language, body language, and everything else they have at their disposal to get their messages across. Look out for verbal and physical techniques which you like, and don’t like.

You can find inspiration for your presentation slides everywhere – from advertising billboards to book covers.

3. Analyse your performance

Many great comedians record themselves on stage, and listen back to the recording later. Even those who are already rich, famous and hugely successful. They’re looking for every opportunity to improve what they did, even slightly.

I’m not saying you should record yourself every time you stand up to speak, but the idea is intriguing. Analyse every presentation you make. If you find just one thing you’d like to do differently next time, you’ll be improving your presentation skills.

4. Debrief your audiences

Whenever you get a chance, speak to people who were in your audience and ask them how the presentation/training/speech was for them. Try to get them talking about specifics: did your structure work? Did they understand a key concept? Did the example help them “get it”?

If you can, do this exercise both with people you know, and with strangers – you’re more likely to get rounded, honest feedback this way.

5. Analyse every success and failure

When you give a particularly well received presentation, find out what made this one so good. Look for the things you did which you could apply to other presentations you do.

If a presentation doesn’t go so well, spend some time thinking about the true reasons why. There’s usually a deeper, more valuable lesson to learn whenever we make a mistake. Perhaps you ran over your allotted time – only by understanding why you ran out of time will you get the chance to improve. Was it because you didn’t deliver it well on the day, you didn’t rehearse enough, or you were too ambitious with the amount of content you tried to cover?

You should be looking to constantly make incremental improvements in your presentation skills. There isn’t one piece of advice which can make you the best presenter you can be – great presentations are a combination of hundreds of pieces of knowledge about your audience, your presenting style, and the content you’re discussing. As you get to know these things better, and follow the five pieces of advice above, your presentation skills will improve.

So practice does make perfect – if it’s accompanied by thought and consideration about the things you’re doing.

Hannah Jones
Hannah has spent the last few months getting to know PowerPoint and Prezi, and sharpening her design skills. Hannah shares presentation design and delivery advice as she learns it, and can often be found sharing the articles which have helped her on Twitter @impacttips.
Hannah Jones

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki February 26, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I’m all for interacting with the audience! I was advised early in my career to arrive early and work the crowd to get a feel of their attitude and interaction levels. That helps a lot when you’re wondering how to start the presentation – what tone? what volume? how hype? how calm? Things like that. After presentations, it’s usually an informal Q&A session, but I’ll consider your debriefing tip to wrap things up. Your “learn from everything” tip is also golden. Using web design best practices, I’m able to better organize complex info into professional Powerpoint templates that are much more visually appealing to my audience and a lot easier to prep.

It works, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m building off of past successes 😉

Reply

Jim Harvey March 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Nikki,

Thanks for the comment and I’m very happy to post your link here. Good work and please do keep in touch. Jim

Reply

How to improve your presentation skills April 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Hey,

I really found your blog useful!

Liked this part:

1. Learn from the best

Look for every opportunity to watch other speakers – both in your industry and from others far and wide.

People always try to find new ways to do things which have been done successfully for many, many years. Why just not simply do what has been proven already?

Thanks for the info!

Kind regards

Reply

Lesley Barringer April 5, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Thanks for the thought, love your work too. Jim

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Jim Harvey April 4, 2014 at 11:13 am

Hi there,

So long as you give respect international copyright give me credit where you use any of my ideas, that’s OK.

Jim

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Mark Thomson July 15, 2014 at 7:59 am

After reading this blog, I was convinced that “practice makes perfect” really doesn’t apply in all situations. There are many things you should consider when presenting. You are not only concern on the rightness of the content but you should focus more on how your audience was able to catch up. Experience really is the best teacher. You become an excellent presenter as you learn from what you did good and what you did worst in your previous presentation. Feed backs will be the best mirror for you because when you present, the evaluation of your audience will be the most important to hear. You will probably disregard your self-evaluation, whether positive or negative because it will be greatly affected by your audience’s evaluation. Originality is good but there are basic dos and don’ts when it comes to presenting, and that are what you should learn from professional presenters.
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Jim Harvey July 20, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Mark,
Thanks for your comment and the thinly disguised plug link to your own site, which I’m happy to approve here!

Reply

David Priestley July 18, 2014 at 1:23 am

Excellent article that has some great ideas. I especially liked tip number 1 ‘learn from the best’. Websites such as YouTube have tons of seminars on and you can learn loads from speakers such Tony Robbins and Brian Tracey. The only additional point I would add would be acting lessons as this makes you more confident, teaches you about using your voice (making it more dynamic) and timing. Once again, great article.

Reply

Jim Harvey July 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Hello David and thanks for the comment. I agree about the acting training too. Good idea for all public speakers. Rgds Jim

Reply

Jim Harvey January 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Philip, Thanks for the link, and if I can help in any way, I’d be very glad to. Regards, Jim

Reply

Jim Harvey May 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thanks for the reference. And good luck with your work. Rgds Jim

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