Boss says  ‘Your presentation skills need some work’    What now? header image

Boss says ‘Your presentation skills need some work’ What now?

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I’m an amateur woodworker.  For me, it’s all about mental therapy.  The smell of the freshly cut oak or cherry that overwhelms the slight musty smell of the workshop.

Every once in a while, my daughter (and business partner) hands me a picture from a magazine.  “Do you think you can make this for us?”

For starters, those words are like throwing down the gauntlet for any self-respecting woodworker. I say of course I can… then afterwards I wonder what did I just sign up for?

I have no plans. No detailed cut lists.  No joining guidance.  Just a picture.

Being in the speaker coaching biz… I see something not too different from this scenario happen all the time.

An employee’s manager (who has some mental picture of a good presentation) pulls them aside after catching their last presentation and not so gently tells them they need to work on their skill set.

What the heck does that mean?  Better looking PowerPoint?  Don’t fidget so much with the equipment?   Buy a new remote pointing device?  Maybe don’t turn and read off the screen anymore.  Help!

The reason there’s probably so much ambiguity around what needs to change is because often the manager doesn’t know themselves.  They haven’t ever received very constructive feedback and now, they don’t know how to offer it.

Let me share 4 ideas for where to start when you’re asked to up your presentation game. (Or you’re asking someone else to up their’s.)


1) Get the ‘what’ down before working on the ‘how’

The one thing that most often derails good delivery is a lack of comfort with the actual message itself.   Someone’s mental hard drive is spinning so fast that the ability to just remember what’s coming next seems to take ever ounce of mental effort.

Point 1:  Carve out some dedicated time to go through your ‘talk track’ .  If you don’t understand something well enough, ask or have someone listen and see if it seems to flows well. And put extra effort into the first 2-minutes of content. If you start confidently, presentations seem to create their own momentum. Struggle in that critical time and you may not recover.

2) Put PowerPoint in it’s rightful place

Two things happen when your visuals are overly complex – neither very good. Your audience’s eyes are drawn to the big screen like a fake news headline. Secondly, your own eyes are drawn to the same detail on the screen behind you. Think back to the last time you were watching a compelling interview on your favorite cable news network and the text crawler started across the bottom of the screen . Where did your eyes go?  We can’t help it.

Point 2:  Create 7-second visuals.  Put no more on screen than people can process in 7-seconds and it will force you into a level of simplicity that will help all aspects of your delivery. “But I won’t know what to say then!”  See point #1.

3) Know your tech

Surprises may be fun around your birthday, but not so much when you have a sea of eyes on you and your slides aren’t advancing, the image doesn’t look right or your lapel mic falls off.  Nothing will throw you off your game quicker than wayward technology.

Point 3:  Don’t rely on others to know what you really need to know yourself.  Practice. Anticipate. Did I say practice?

4) Now time to work on the How skills

You may be surprised this one came last.  After all, reading off the screen is bad right?  Or the umms and ahhs really annoying to others?  The fact is, the first 3 steps can undo good delivery skills in a heartbeat. Minimize their impact and you can maximize your focus on the all important delivery skills. (Eyes. Hands. Voice)

Point 4:  Find a good presentation skills workshop that can give you that all important view through the eyes of your audience via videotaped coaching and feedback. There are a lot of good coaches out there, find one that can make a difference for you.  One day doesn’t eliminate decades of old habits, but it can help you (re)start an important journey that reinforces the relational aspects of one human being just sharing ideas with another.


When I focus on the fundamental stuff, even making that new piece of furniture for my daughter becomes a little less daunting.

Break the task down into its component parts.

Make a plan.

Hone the skills.

Make something beautiful.