(Reading time: 5 minutes)
According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
Jerry Seinfeld - comedian, actor, writer, producer, and director
Zoom, Skype and a number of other teleconferencing tools have become the new norm for discussions and presentations during this COVID-19 upheaval. These tools make it easy for you to record your presentations with the click of a button. In so doing, you have a great opportunity to review and learn about the various aspects of your presentations. Watching these recordings will allow you to critically analyze the three aspects of any presentation: your content, vocal delivery and even body language. Nevertheless, these self-recordings can at times be difficult to watch as there is a tendency to be disappointed and overly self-critical. However, the goal of this exercise must not be lost: The goal is self-improvement. To achieve this goal with your analysis in hand, you can take appropriate actions including seeking out some training, getting advice, better preparation and more practice. Such actions will increase your confidence, improve your presentations and most importantly increase the impact of your presentations.
More specifically, the content encompasses the purpose, audience, story, value, structure, clarity and visuals. The most common content mistakes are covering too much material and packing too much information into the accompanying slide deck. Covering too much negatively affects either the timing, the rate or both as well as the clarity. Practicing aloud and filming (as well as timing) the presentation as opposed to just reading over the slide deck or written speech is critical. Having an audience, of even just one (even online) is preferred as it adds a level of formality. There are numerous internet resources that describe ways to structure your presentation and associated slides.,,,,
Vocal delivery includes the pitch, rate, volume, and use of pauses to achieve vocal variety. For this aspect of the message, the most common issue is speaking too fast which also tends to give rise to filler words like “um”, “like”, “sort of” and “so.” A recording of your presentation will highlight this issue and the other aspects of your vocal delivery. Slowing down and pausing can significantly remedy the “um’s” and there are a number of tricks one can adopt.
Body language or kinesics including eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and movement also send the audience powerful messages. It improves the dynamism, credibility, and connection with the audience. This can seem difficult when online but still remains important. In fact, body language should be even more exaggerated when online. There are various means to co-display your PowerPoint presentation with a live image of yourself, giving your presentation that live feel.
In addition to recording through teleconferencing software, it is recommended you record all the in-person presentations and lectures you give using your cellphone and a tripod once we are on the other side of this COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to analyze additional instances under different conditions (audience size, importance of the talk, peers or public, live or online and presentation length) will provide you with more valuable feedback as well as allow you to monitor your efforts to improve. To supplement your self-analysis, you can also watch videos of others like TED Talks for good (and a few bad) examples of presentations.
Leveraging the recording tools that you are already using or are easily at hand to learn about and improve your presentation abilities is an opportunity that should be embraced. And don’t be too hard on yourself when watching those first cringe-worthy recordings. Your audience doesn’t notice the negatives as much as you think, as they want you to be successful. On the other hand, they are wowed and more likely to internalize your message when they experience a clear and dynamic presentation.
 Chris Anderson (2013, June) How to give a killer presentation Harvard Business Review Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/06/how-to-give-a-killer-presentation
 Carmine Gallo (2020, January) What It Takes to Give a Great Presentation Harvard Business Review Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/01/what-it-takes-to-give-a-great-presentation?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom
 University of British Columbia Wiki on Presentation skills [Blog] Retrieved from https://wiki.ubc.ca/Presentation_Skills#:~:text=Presentation%20skills%20are%20the%20skills,the%20body%20language%20you%20convey.
 Larry Kim (2020, March) 20 ways to improve your presentation skills [Blog] Retrieved from https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/11/19/how-to-improve-presentation-skills
 Vyond Team (2019, March) 30 tips to help you improve your presentation skills. [Blog] Retrieved from https://www.vyond.com/resources/tips-to-help-you-improve-your-presentation-skills/
 Lumen Effective vocal delivery [Blog] https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-communications/chapter/effective-vocal-delivery/
 (2019, May) How to stop saying “um”, “like” and ”you know” (2019) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W995352_kkw
 (2012) Writing for Success: Giving a Presentation [Blog] Retrieved from https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_writing-for-success/s18-03-giving-a-presentation.html
 (2020, April) How to combine your slides and webcam [Blog] Retrieved from https://www.teachingentrepreneurship.org/obs-powerpoint-in-zoom-teams-and-meet-more-engaging-online-synchronous-lectures/ and requiring OBS (Open Broadcast Software) at https://obsproject.com/
 In one course that I taught, I had students film themselves presenting and then complete a critical self-analysis.
 TED Talks can be found at https://www.ted.com/talks
 I gave one short speech in French to 600 of my peers in Lyon. It was filmed and looked awful when I reviewed it. Nevertheless, my French colleagues really liked it. They got the muddled message about my new role and were extremely appreciative of my efforts in French.
Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
Here's a model I developed whilst (a great word borrowed from my 12 year old British cousin) thinking about Lifelong Learning. For me there are three aspects:
This involves reading books and magazines, web content (including blogs, wikipedia, articles, e-zines, videos, TED talks, StumbleUpon), and attending lectures and conferences. All of these are new sources of knowledge. Focus on areas of interest, items that arise spontaneously or recommendations from peers, mentors and even "the crowd" (e.g. Amazon books).
These result from your on-the-job activities. Try to direct your job/ career towards new and dynamic activities and opportunities where your likely to learn a lot from the task or the people you are working with. Volunteer for tasks and assignments at work and outside work (Charities have a lot to offer and need you: a real win-win).
This is a critical aspect. No matter what you read or experience, you will have more difficulty retaining, recalling and using this new knowledge unless you take the time to reflect on what it means and how it might apply in related or even totally different situations. Thinking and more specifically thinking creatively about what you have just learned is invaluable. Discussing and debating your new knowledge and ideas with others is the best way I know to strengthen the learnings and prepare your mind for their later recall and use. Writing including notes, longer journals, mindmaps, diagrams and blogs whether or not anyone else reads them :) are also good means to flush out ideas and aid in their internalization. Actually putting some of your resultant knowledge and ideas into action is the most desirable as it creates a new experience and builds on the whole learning process.
I plan to keep up my researching (which is not hard even my innate curiosity), seeking out and positioning myself for the best and most valuable new career experiences, and of course continuing to make time to reflect on these activities. Don't forget rereading and reviewing your own journals and writings is another way to reinvigorate the lifelong learning process.