I was a terrible presenter. Petrified of speaking in public, my presentations were full of fillers like “ok” & “um.” I struggled to control my breathing, and spoke way too fast. This is exactly why I love teaching public speaking. Now, a TEDx alum and frequent keynote speaker, I have come a long way since those days of being paralyzed by fear of public speaking. In my role at APCO as the Director of Learning and Development, I developed a half day presentation skills training that I’ve delivered in our offices around the world including Singapore, Paris, and Chicago. The training is designed to teach participants not only about the delivery of presentations, but puts just as much emphasis on presentation structure and connecting with one’s audience. Employees are implored to define success for their presentations in a way that makes the audience their primary focus. They learn how to use tools like mind maps and storyboards to structure their thoughts. We spend some time rethinking slide design by simplifying slides and making them more visual. Finally, we focus on the typical elements related to eye contact, vocal energy, rehearsing, and dealing with nerves.
The workshop has been well received with 100% of participants claiming they would recommend the training to fellow employees. No matter how great the workshop is, it will never (on its own) make someone a great presenter. As I travel to different cities delivering keynote speeches or training programs, I am often asked about presentation skills training. People ask what training I recommend to improve their presentation skills or become more comfortable with public speaking. The truth is that the single best way to become a better presenter is by practicing. The only way I went from nervous mess to engaging large audiences was through lots and lots of practice. Probably the best thing I did was teach. I taught leadership at Rutgers University for a few semesters and it was like a boot camp for public speaking. Every week I had to come prepared to teach a 3 hour class. It was that experience that helped me to calm my nerves and get more comfortable with presenting. I also had a lot of practice putting together slide decks and figuring out the best way to deliver the content to engage students. If something didn’t work, I could try another approach the following week.
Few people ever tell you this when you want to be a better presenter. Many people will give advice on how to project your voice or structure your presentation. Those tips are great, and I would highly recommend a public speaking or presentation skills workshop as a foundation for your learning. However, if you are committed to becoming a better presenter, you need to commit to practicing. If you have a chance to teach, that is a great outlet to practice given the repetitive nature of it. Toastmasters is something that many other presenters swear by. Work with your supervisor to identify opportunities for you to practice at work. Perhaps you can deliver a 5 minute presentation once a month at staff meetings, or deliver a series of training sessions to your colleagues on a particular topic or skill. There are many different ways you can practice your presentation skills, the key is to actually getting out there and doing it. Know that the first few might be painful, but there will come a time when it starts to feel easier. That feeling can’t come from a one time workshop, only from lots of practice.