Whatever your presentation style there is one thing that can make or break your presentation: practice. Unless you practice your delivery of the material, shinny flying slides won’t matter. The question is what is the best way to practice? And is there a right approach?
My Kung Fu instructor usually says that “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. That’s true for martial arts (no matter how much you kick, if you are not doing it right you won’t be effective at kicking your opponent) and for life in general. I have done my share of presentations to a variety of audiences and groups and have also helped others by giving them feedback about their own presentations. Based on what I’ve seen and experienced, you should get at least one person to listen to your presentation and give you feedback. If you can get more than one person (that friend you helped move his couch should be fair game) is even better. Here’s what you do:
First Round: Go through it without stopping
Ask the ‘audience’ to listen to your presentation without making any comments or interruptions. This first pass will give you a chance to deliver the whole thing live which will give you a good sense of overall timing, the flow, and any major hiccups you haven’t foreseen when creating the presentation. It also helps the audience that will give you feedback to get a good sense of the message you are delivering so that they can later focus on specific details.
After you are done, the feedback should focus on the big things. Was the message clear? How did you do on timing? How were your posture, hands, and voice?
Second Round: Detailed, on point feedback
The second pass will now focus on details of the presentation. You will deliver the presentation again, trying to incorporate that first overall feedback, but now the person(s) giving feedback will stop you at any time they want to give you immediate feedback. So if you are talking about a slide and there’s something wrong with either what’s on the screen or with what you are saying at the time, you will be stopped right there before moving to the next slide or sequence. They will give you feedback about that particular point in your presentation, you will think about it and will deliver that portion again. Yes, this will take time because you will be stopping frequently, so budget your time for this feedback round accordingly.
Third Round: Final, non-stop, full pass
Finally the third round is like the first, where you go through the presentation incorporating all the feedback you’ve been given, without stopping. At the end of this third round, the feedback will be minimum (hopefully) and will give you a chance to present again the full thing without interruption which will give you a good sense of overall flow, timing, etc.
This is not a quick process, and training or rehearsing a presentation shouldn’t be, if you want to do it right. Sometimes is helpful to split each round in different days, although I’ve been through all of them in one day once, which took probably about 4 hours (timing, of course, depends on how long your presentation is). That’s tough on the presenter and the audience, so I advise against it. Besides, when you take a break and review your notes and the slides a few hours after the feedback round, you may come up with other ways of delivering the same message or you may want to tweak the slides a bit before you present once more. And it gives the people providing feedback some time to relax and come refreshed for another round. You better get them free pizza or beer after everything is all done!
No matter who your audience was during the feedback sessions, after three rounds of presentations you will certainly be in better shape than before. Practice, practice and practice. This is the only way to sharpen your presentation skills.