When my workshop participants ask how they can improve their presentation skills, I often suggest videotaping a presentation and watching it. You don’t need any fancy equipment these days to do this, your smartphone will give you a good quality video.
In presentation skills training they videotape you presenting and a coach reviews it with you. If you don’t have access to a presentation coach, let me share some specific behaviors you should be looking for. I know it will be painful to watch yourself the first time you do this, but trust me when I say it is one of the best ways to improve. No one is perfect at presenting, we all have areas we can improve.
Where are you looking?
When presenters use PowerPoint, one tendency is to look at the screen instead of the audience. This past article discusses a way to break this habit. When you are looking at the screen, you are signaling to the audience that the screen is more important than what you are saying. Use slides to visually reinforce your messages while staying focused on speaking to the audience, not the screen.
Listen to your words
It is natural to be a little nervous when we present. Sometimes we calm ourselves by relying on a certain word or phrase too often. It may be a filler word, like “um”. To catch which words or phrases you use too often, listen to just the audio of the recording, close your eyes so you focus on what you said. It is amazing how quickly we recognize the words or phrases that have become habits and overused. Once you are aware, you can be deliberate about changing your behavior, whether that is using a different word, or pausing and taking a breath instead of using a filler word.
How did you use the room?
Watch the video specifically looking for how you moved in the room. Were you nailed to one spot or did you move naturally to involve each side of the room? In one session this summer I had three rooms that had been combined to create one very wide room. I had to make a conscious effort to walk to each end of the room occasionally to connect with the people sitting there.
How did you use gestures?
Gestures are one way to add expression to your words. Watch your hands and facial expressions. Are they natural or forced? If you have been told you should point a certain way or make a certain gesture, only do so if it feels natural to you. Are your hands relaxed or tense? Don’t grip the sides of a podium or stuff your hands in your pockets. Let them move naturally so it doesn’t look awkward. Does your face add to the message? Let your face express the emotions of the message you are communicating. Be vulnerable and you will connect much better with the audience.
To review each of these areas you may need to watch the video more than once. It will get less painful each time you do so. Take notes in each area and develop plans to improve each area in the future. Don’t try to change everything all at once, work on one or two changes at a time. If you watch a video of yourself presenting a year from now, you will be amazed at the improvement.
Dave Paradi has over twenty years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written nine books and over 100 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of less than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel and PowerPoint communities. He regularly presents highly rated sessions at national and regional conferences of financial professionals.