When presentations are about meaning making

I enjoy presenting. I have no compunctions about standing in front of a group of people. I am more than ok with people focusing their attention on me. I am positively exuberant about talking on things I know about.

See, I end up thinking about all those presentations where people just aren’t presenting well. And it makes me mad. It’s a judgement I make. I make lots of judgements all the time, and this is one I freely admit too. Similarly to being in a learning session. If you’re helping me to learn something I will scrutinise you to within an inch of your life. (in my head – I’m not that rude k?)

But there’s lots of things I learned about what makes a good presentation.

A lot of a good presentation is to do with the content. There’s no denying that. People enjoy a presentation when the content informs them of something they can do something with. That’s the hardest part of a presentation – creating meaning and telling a story.

And clearly, a presentation needs to be practised. People cannot wing it and deliver a good presentation. They can wing it and make it seem like it was practised, but it’s never as good as a practised presentation. It’s why on presentation training you’re constantly practising, because that’s the best thing to do.

Then there’s all the things you never learn about on a presentation skills course.

I learned about emotional intelligence. This was massive for me. I learned how to recognise my emotions better, and how to listen to what they were telling. I rely on this every time I present. It’s a core part of how well I know how I’m doing. When the anxiety I feel turns to adrenaline and I can use that purposefully is when I know and recognise I’m in full flow.

Importantly, though, I learned how to read the audience and what they’re likely to be experiencing. I’ve often been told I build rapport with a group well. I believe this is because I am highly conscious and mindful of the emotional presence everyone has in the room with me. Or said another way, I become purposefully empathetic. When I do this, I take stock of as much information as I can to help guide my delivery.

I learned about power, and who has it. You’re often told that you’re the one who has the power. I believe that’s true. What I found, though, was sharing my power with the group is what counts. When I share my power with the group, that’s what moves it from being a presentation to being about sharing my purpose and sharing my meaning. That engagement and participation is crucial. If I don’t make that happen, I do not consider it a job well done.

One of the main things we all know about is story-telling. Every powerful presentation is about story-telling. I had to work on this a lot. I could present well enough – and what I wasn’t doing a lot of the time was crafting a story. I wasn’t helping people make those theories, those models, the data, or the information tell a story. It took me a long time to learn how to craft a story and make that the thrust of the presentation.

I try not to use props or visual media where possible. The presentation is about you and what you are bringing to the party. Ok, it may be about a product if you’re in sales, but the product doesn’t change anything. It’s the person selling it that makes the product valuable. That’s the greatest trick of a salesman – making you think you need a product you’ve already got.

The language I use is critical and crucial. I take my time over this. Every word is purposeful and invokes a reaction in different ways. Sometimes I use provocative words, sometimes I use emotional words, sometimes I use offensive words. But I do it with a high level of self-scrutiny. I don’t want to offend or make anyone uncomfortable, and the language I use is core to making this a reality.

And the last thing I really focus on is me and my presence. Where am I in the room? How am I positioned with the audience? Who am I focusing on? What do people see me doing? Am I displaying congruent behaviours to my presentation? Am I being still when it matters? Am I moving around when it’s needed? Am I waving my arms wildly? Am I using welcoming gestures?

I don’t think I’ve mastered delivering good presentations. I love doing them and will continue to seek feedback about them. The above list helps me to keep on track with maintaining a ridiculously high standard.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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