You may vividly remember the first time you ever gave a presentation of some sort, or perhaps you don’t. What you should however remember, very vividly, is the first presentation you delivered that went wrong. What you’ll remember is the panic of being out of control. Most of all, you’ll recall the anxiety of what others may have been thinking of you. It would not have been a great feeling.
The human brain then seeks answers. In seeking those answers there is a strong drive to understand why and to seek protection from harm. Since flight is the most natural default setting, the brain concludes the following: “This hurt. It was not nice. I’d rather not feel this way again, so I’ll avoid a repeat of it.” Sometimes the brain is not satisfied – it’s just way too simple. So the brain asks – “why?” or “how could this have happened?” Once the question is asked an answer must be given. So the conclusion is this. “I’m good at some stuff and bad at other stuff. Presenting falls into the latter category.” There. Satisfactory explanation, followed by relief. That must be it, so I’ll give that a miss next time – now let’s move on.
That’s how so many of us con ourselves into believing we’re poor presenters. This cycle extends far beyond presenting – it explains why the worlds best (at practically anything) are still being uncovered in a multitude of disciplines almost daily, because so many talented people have failed to fulfil their potential in the past due to reliance on flawed evidence. It is only recently that we have begun to understand the true meaning of the word possibility.
The truth is that the ability to speak and think are the only two ability-based prerequisites to presenting effectively. The rest is mechanics and perseverance which gradually leads to experience. Once experience is in place you never lose it whilst you remain of sound mind.
Some people may appear to be “naturals”. They either have strong clear voices or eloquence, or at best both. These are advantages, but not guarantees of great oratory. Even the talented need to gain experience to become consistently good.
In reality, most people should be able to present well. The skills to speak with ease are acquired in much the same way as any other skill. Here are the 5 logical steps:
1. Decision. You decide you’re prepared to put in the time and effort to learn. It takes a decision. And without this vital step, nothing further is likely to happen.
2. Learning. You then do something about that decision. You set about learning the relevant theory by researching and gaining the required knowledge.
3. Action. Next, put this information into practice. You plan, develop, structure, practice and then deliver presentations. Small ones, big ones, important and unimportant ones – it doesn’t matter. As you progress, you build up positive evidence of your ability to support your next attempt. You keep doing it. Use a mirror, family members or work colleagues for feedback. Record yourself and play back.
4. Reflection. When you deliver a poor presentation, as you inevitably will – rather than using it to support a past negative self image, use it as a learning experience of what not to do next time. Your evidence is the last good presentation, not the most recent failure. Like a determined equestrian, you remount the horse that has just bucked you. There’s a word for that – it’s called “perseverance”.
5. Acknowledgement. As you get better at it you, acknowledge your own progress. This is the only way you can release yourself from your old perceptions – by acknowledging your progress. As you acknowledge each step of progress you will gradually elevate your competence in your own mind until you find yourself at a level you could previously only have dreamed of.
There are few things more powerful than the determined will of the human mind to succeed – at anything! If you want to present with confidence as and when you desire, you need to work on it just like any other desirable skill. The more you work at presenting the better you’ll become.
It’s all about the choices you make. The choices you make will depend on what’s important to you. If it’s important enough to you to be able to consistently present well, I’m sure it’s good to know that your progress lies firmly in your very own hands.
So, next time you deliver a knockout presentation, take some time off afterwards to celebrate. That’s the best way to reinforce meaningful progress.