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Let’s suppose you’re a pianist. You’re booked to give a concert of a great but challenging piano piece. You show up on time, you’re immaculately dressed, and you look the part. Unfortunately, you have not practised that piece. You plan to play it straight from the score.It probably doesn’t take much imagination to see that this performance is not likely to be a hit. If it’s memorable, it will be for all the wrong reasons.
You’re in a similar situation when you give a presentation. When you stand up to take an audience through a PowerPoint presentation, you’re also giving a performance. And how good you are will depend a lot on your preparation.
Great performances don’t happen by chance. There’s a lot you can do to improve them. One of the best ways, of course, is to practise beforehand. But how do you know how good you are even when you practise? The answer is simple: video yourself.
Lots of people feel nervous the first time they’re videoed. But that’s a good thing; the nerves and the fear come from the unfamiliar, and from being the focus of attention. It’s not dissimilar to standing up in front of an audience. Being videoed will help you get used to that situation and boost your confidence.
You can set up your own equipment and let it run while you give your presentation, or you can get someone else to do it for you. In either case, leave the camera on a wide-angle shot so you can move around while you speak. Imagining a real audience can help too; or you could create an audience by asking a couple of friends to sit down and listen to your talk.
Once you’ve got your video, what do you do with it? The answer is twofold. First, you review it. The chances are it will tell you dozens of things about you that you never even realised. Does that monotone voice make you cringe? Fine – introduce some variation. If your arms are fixed stiffly to your sides, add some gestures for emphasis. (Watch any politician and you’ll see how important gestures can be when speaking in public.)
How’s your posture? If you’re slouching, stooping or standing with sagging shoulders, ‘straighten up and fly right’ as the song says. Are you too serious? Smile, maybe tell a joke or two. And I’ll bet you never realised how little eye contact you made.
Watching your video will reveal many things that you’re doing wrong, but that’s excellent – because you can then fix them before you give the real presentation. Take all those points on board and do it again, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you are.
The second thing to do is to get someone else to review your video. An independent viewer is likely to spot things you don’t. This may be painful, but remember, it’s constructive criticism. As long as the weak areas can be improved – and almost all of them can be – you can learn a whole lot from someone’s comments.
If you’re planning to make a career of giving presentations and speaking in public, your video can even be used as a sort of CV. People can view it and see how good you are. (You might not want to use your first video for this!)
But even if that’s not where you’re going, videoing your presentation will definitely improve your performance. It will make you more confident, more professional and more interesting to listen to.
Isn’t that worth a little extra work?
By David Vickery