I have given a lot of presentations over the years. Too many to count. Some have been educational, others aimed at pitching a product or service. I have spoken in front of hundreds of people and presented 1 on 1. I have used props and slides, and I have gone without visual aids. I have presented on my own, on a panel, and as part of a group as large as 10 or so. I have done presentations with less than 5 minutes warning and I have done them with weeks of advance notice. I have practiced for presentations and I have also followed a “just wing it” approach.
So when we had an opportunity to do some presentation training at DCI Group over the past month or so, I didn’t go in with the no idea of what to do. And I had a healthy skepticism of professional coaching. I have had audio and video recordings of some presentations I have done in the past, and I am OK with watching and listening to myself to make improvements. My experience as a regular podcaster for a number of years has been particularly helpful in desensitizing me to the sound of my own voice so that I can review my performance more objectively.
I knew going in that there were two areas I would need to work on: disciplining myself to rehearse more and improving the quality of movement when presenting standing up. I have generally eschewed rehearsals mainly because they can be time-consuming and with the number of presentations that I give it isn’t always practical to devote the amount of time I should. From a movement perspective, I tend to be fairly expressive with my hand gestures and appear fidgety in my movement.
Over the course of the past several weeks, a small group of us at DCI were in an every Friday class led by Mark Schnurman of Filament. Mark has done his pitch/presentation training for others in the firm in the past, and I had heard good things. So when I was asked if I would like to participate in the current round of sessions, I readily agreed even though it meant staying in DC on Fridays when I would normally be back home in New Hampshire and it went against my general skepticism of professional coaches.
The first week I “phoned it in” and it showed. The sample presentation I gave was designed for 15 minutes and I crammed it down into the 5-7 minutes we were doing for the coaching sessions. But I didn’t reduce it thoughtfully, I merely decided to give the same thing a bit faster, randomly chopping bits out as I went. In some degree of fairness to myself, it wasn’t horrible but it definitely showed the telltale signs of sloppy preparation which only exacerbated some of my movement issues.
As a curious sort, I have read a lot on presentations and pitching in the past. So for me the value of Mark’s work was not so much that I learned something directly from him. (That’s not to say he didn’t have lots of great info, just that much of it was stuff that I already knew, I just wasn’t using it.)
The real value that Mark provided as a coach was forcing me to focus and step back and recognize what I was doing. It’s much like a major league baseball pitching coach. For the most part they are not telling the pitchers how to pitch — after all you don’t get to that level without having ability and knowledge. What they do is they help to isolate specific elements of the pitcher’s mechanics to help them be more effective.
And that’s just what Mark did. Now all I need to do is continue to maintain that discipline going forward to rehearse and be thoughtful about my movement rather than random.
So chalk one up for professional coaching. And kudos to Mark Schnurman from Filament for changing my perception. (You can also check out Mark’s blog Pitch Therapy.)