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Improving Your Presentation Skills – What to Do about Your Presentation Weaknesses – Part 1


When I first started Toastmasters in 2001, my club had this incentive called the “Well-Rounded Orator.”  For those not familiar with Toastmasters, it’s a non-profit organization where people join clubs to grow their communications skills.  One way members grow their skills is by filling various roles that are needed to run a meeting.  Our club had the “Well-Rounded Orator” incentive which was just a sheet a paper with a big circle on it.  The circle was divided like a pie into 10 slices and the name of each different type of meeting role was typed within a slice.  The meeting roles included such things as the Toastmaster of the Day (the person who runs the meeting), the Joke Master (someone who tells a joke or humorous story), the Speaker (someone who delivers a prepared speech), and so on.  I performed every meeting role in the circle but saved one particular role for last.  I put it off as long as possible.  But if I wanted to get my Well-Rounded Orator incentive, I needed to do that role.  What was the role?  Evaluator.  The Evaluator gives written and oral feedback to the prepared speaker.  It’s an important role so people can learn and grow.  But I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t want to criticize people.

Well my competitive nature got the better of me and I wanted to get my “Well-Rounded Orator” incentive.  (I don’t think there was a prize for the incentive.  Just bragging rights.  But anyone who’s ever been a “mayor” in FourSquare knows that bragging rights are their own incentive.)  So I finally signed up to be an Evaluator.  Turns out, with some practice, I actually enjoyed the role.  And I was good at it.  In fact, in 2006, I was named the top speech evaluator for the state of Georgia.  And now, people pay me money to provide them with feedback on their speaking abilities.  Talk about ironic!

So a discussion about improving presentation skills would not be complete without some discussion of overcoming your weaknesses as a presenter.

Areas for Improvement

Since none of us is perfect, chances are, we all have an area where we can improve in our public speaking.  For me, I need to get tighter in my word choice.  If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you know I probably use too many words.  My daughter the English major could probably cut my word count in half!  I tend to do the same thing when speaking.  I need to be more judicious with the words I use.

Have you ever come out of a presentation and naturally repeated some of the words the speaker said?  I need to get me some of that!  I know that certain concepts would have more legs if I had a cool analogy, some key words or a groovy phrase to go with them.

We’ve all got those areas within our speaking where we know we could do better.  Whether it’s the words we choose, the gestures we make, or the how we structure our speech, we’re all able to rattle off a list of areas for improvement.  Sometimes the areas for improvement can be overwhelming.  What should we do?

One Change at a Time

Pick one thing to focus on first and dedicate your next ten presentations to working on just that issue.  If you don’t have presentations planned, use other opportunities to practice the area you’re working on.  Business meetings, social gatherings, at church, join a Toastmasters club.  We all have multiple opportunities to speak up even if it’s not a formal presentation.  Hone your skills during those occasions.

Alternatively, find another means to focus your attention on the area you want to improve.  For me, this came in a really strange form.

The National Speakers Association is currently having a contest and I decided to enter.  For the contest, I need to submit a video.  I decided to include a particular story in the video but it’s too long for the contest.  The contest video can only be 3 minutes long.  As I worked on the video footage I have, I realized just how much more verbose I was than I needed to be.  I was able to get the story down to fit the time requirement and still have the emotion and the impact I wanted with the story which tell me, I have room to trim in the story too.  Now I can work on tightening up that story.

Given the one thing you want to work on, consider how a recording could help you.

If you’re trying to make your words or content tighter, consider the exercise I went through with forcing yourself to trim your time and see if you can retain the impact.  I heard Patricia Fripp recommend that speakers have their speeches transcribed with all the utterances that come out of their mouths included in the transcript.  In other words, many transcriptionists will take out the “um” and “ah” and stutters from a transcript.  Leave the foibles in your transcript.  Then work on verbally editing out your problem phrases and repeat the process with each new recording.

If your area of concern are with your body language, look at the tapes with the sound off, concentrating on only your troublesome gesture.  Then work on the problem area and record those results.  You formed the habits over time.  It will take time to break them.  Give yourself time but use the discipline to make the change.

More to Come in the Next Post

In the next post, I want to spend a little more time talking about other ways to improve your weaknesses.  But in the meantime….

What Tricks Have You Learned to Improve a Problem Area?

Have you stumbled across a technique to help you focus on making an improvement?  If so, share in the comments so we can learn from you!