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July 03, 2006

Videotaping To Improve Presentation Skills

I recently took a presentation training class and one of the things the instructor did was videotape us doing a short piece of a presentation (3-4 minutes) and then play it back for the class to discuss.

This is a brutal but extremely effective technique. The first thing to overcome is your own voice, which sounds strange to most people (including me). Worse is the fact that every gesture and verbal stumble is right in front of you. Do you rock sideways, or walk around too much, or have a goofy grin on your face? It's all there.

The reason it's effective is because it makes you think about what you do when presenting. I wrote an article about dieting a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and made the basic point that the primary effect of any diet was to make you aware of precisely what food you were eating--once you keep track of that, then you can start to make decisions about how you limit it. The same is true of presentations--once you know what you do on stage, you can start to decide if you want to change it. You might be concerned about losing your spontaneity but I have found it is not too hard to have a small background process (as it were) that tracks yourself and occasionally says "you're talking too fast" or "stop moving so much", without disrupting your main task of doing the presentation.

One thing I noticed in the videotape, and have thought about elsewhere, is what pose to strike when listening to questions. There are several basic ones: hands in pockets, one hand on podium, crossed arms (bad!), looking at floor (may be an honest attempt to remove distractions and listen better, but comes across as not paying attention). I found I did something we called the "upside-down steeple", where I steepled my fingers but pointed them down, so my steepled thumbs were pointing up. It looks a little strange, like I'm about to make an offering to an altar, but after some discussion we decided it wasn't a bad thing to do (I was in a class last week and the presenter did the same thing).

Another aspect is moving during a talk. People may rock back and forth to dissipate nervous energy; a tip I got in another class was to stand so one foot was in front of the other. Not like walking a balance beam, but more like having your feet in quadrants two and four (or one and three if you want to lead with your right foot), so that any rocking would be front-to-back (and this less obvious) rather than the side-to-side effect you get if your feet are next to each other. Many people will walk around during a talk; the advice there is to walk slowly and periodically stop in one place so you don't look fidgety.

The other point made in the class was that it was good to practice your presentation but you should really give it out loud. I guess this is because then you are really concentrating as hard as you would for real, so you can get a sense for how much brain power you are able to devote to monitoring yourself. I have found that doing this in the shower works pretty well.

Anyway if you have the gumption to do so, I recommend videotaping your presentation (you can do it by yourself, just point the camera and turn it on) and then sit down to watch the results.

Posted by AdamBa at July 3, 2006 02:47 PM

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Sounds like an FKA (Friesen Kaye & Associates) training course, was it?

I agree it's a great experience to go through - very humbling if you consider yourself a GREAT presenter, very educational if you are trying to get better.

Posted by: Andrew at July 5, 2006 12:34 PM

It was actually through Waggener-Edstrom, the PR company. I don't know if they offer general training for Microsoft people, but they had a session for Engineering Excellence trainers.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at July 5, 2006 09:15 PM