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.
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.