Three Ways to Quickly Improve Your Presentation Skills with Feedback
You already know that great presentation skills are linked to career advancement, increased credibility and ability to influence your organization. Yet most people do not arrive in this world with well-developed presentation skills.
This post will help you get better at presenting, fast. And once you gain the skills, a little practice will turn you quickly into a relaxed, poised presenter.
1. Ask for Feedback
Ask someone you know and trust, a professional who is supportive of your career, to give you constructive criticism on your next presentation. Ask them to take notes on your clarity, organization, stance, demeanor, and tone. How is your use of eye contact, filler words (like uh and umm), and other mannerisms? Did you seem credible, polished, prepared, or distracted and nervous?
Meet in private after the presentation for their report and thank them for their time and effort. Feedback truly is a gift that can enhance your career for the better.
2. Use Carefully Designed Smile Sheets
Smile sheets are surveys designed to gather feedback at the end of a session either by paper or electronically. Try these free electronic survey platforms: Survey Monkey or Google Forms. Design your survey to help you gage the outcome you are looking for: Do you come off as credible? Were you effective in your presentation? Were participants convinced of your knowledge in the subject? Did you meet their expectations?
The above questions and more of your own choosing can be measured with a scale from 1-5, just make it clear as to what each number means. In addition, and most importantly, include open-ended questions in an effort to gather comments, as this is of great value to you. Keep in mind, a smile sheet of this type will not tell you if your participants learned anything or that they will use what you have taught them back in the job– for that stay tuned to future blogs. The focus today is to get you the feedback you need to improve your delivery.
3. Create a digital video of yourself presenting
Either set up a smartphone on a tripod or enlist in the help of a friend to do it for you. Review the footage 1-2 weeks later and look for signs of nervousness, such as fast pacing back and forth, tapping a pen or pointer, or a high pitched, fast, breathless tone. Wild, un-targeted gestures and poor, uneven eye contact with participants can make people watch your mannerisms rather than take in the key messages. Also, staring into the eyes of the participants, rather than brief eye contact makes participants uncomfortable, as if they are being targeted. Sweep the room evenly with your light gaze.
Look for filler words, throat clearing and holding the hands together in front and in back (my speech teacher called this the “fig leaf” and the “anti-fig leaf” move). Look for a strained, immobile facial expressions and a monotone voice. All these betray nervousness and unease.
Tips to improve your presentation skills:
a. Practice slowing the speed at which you speak. Use a strategic pause for emphasis, rather than using a filler word.
b. Let your hands fall naturally at your sides, or vary this occasionally by leaning slightly on the table, or lectern. Hands on hips, folded across the chest or in pockets send strong body language messages that could be distracting from your key messages.
c. Fake it till you make it. If you feel nervous and shaky, like you want to turn and run, or that the audience exists to tear you apart and that you will never get out of there alive, try practicing techniques designed to increase relaxation and focus.
In private, plan a 10 minute “you period” After you are set up and ready, disappear into a closed office, or other quiet space, take 5 deep breaths and picture your presentation being over. Visualize participates nodding and smiling and saying thanks over their shoulders as they leave the room. Picture yourself saying, “well that’s over and I did fine.” Taking deep breaths and relaxing purposefully dispels some of the tension and nervousness that has built up over the last few days in anticipation of this event. Picturing yourself being successful gives you a quick jolt of confidence.
If you still feel nervous, pretend you are not. Strike up some small talk with participants, hand out documents, tell an appropriate joke or story, and use a planned icebreaker. All these techniques are helpful for the participants and for you as well to relax and ease into the event.
Good luck and happy presenting!
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