I have been working and thinking deeply on presentations now for nearly 8 years now. Please read this post on why it is preZENtationskills. It is humbling to be invited to speak on this topic at various events and I consider each one a privilege. A comment I have received more than once is, “It’s alright for you, you’re gifted. How can the rest of us improve?” This chastens me more than it encourages me. Presentation skills are not a gift, they are a practised and developed skill.
It is humbling to be lauded by your peers for delivering a great presentation and for those time I have achieved this, I am grateful. It is amazing to see and feel the connection with an audience as a speaker, knowing that your message has been transmitted but most importantly received. Like any performer there is a frisson of excitement when the hours of planning, preparation and practise come to fruition in delivering the performance and outcome you worked for. Most of all, it is when the message lasts longer than the presentation that I am encouraged. This is not a gift.
Presentations are a skill like any other in business, academia, art or life. They can be improved, coached, focussed and mentored. None of us are born (gifted) as great presenters, speakers or teachers. Importantly and strangely generally unaccepted, giving a good presentation has nothing to do with holding a qualification, being a Consultant, writing a thesis, being an expert, receiving awards or even being asked to speak. It comes from studying presentations, from hard work, from repetition, from mistakes, from coaching and from lots of practise. None of us are gifted, we are practised.
Understanding of this should bring change. We should respect those we view as great teachers and presenters (not necessarily the same). We should consider what is it about their techniques that is effective. We should also consider those who deliver talks that simply don’t work and consider why that is too. We should recognise that success comes not simply from good genes. We should consider that those who excel in our discipline and attract our admiration. Our Professors and Chiefs did not became excellent in their discipline by simply turning up. All of this has come through hard work. And that all those things can be ours too if we put effort towards it.
So what of great presentations? Your next presentation will not be as good as the greatest you have seen but it will be better than your last. My last presentation wasn’t as good as it could be but it was better than the one before that. Presentations are a skill that improves with work and practise, they are not a gift.