My Story on How I Improved My Presentation Skills

My Story on How I Improved My Presentation Skills
Photo by Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

💡Did you know that public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have? For many of us, before giving a presentation to a group of people, our limbic system decides if we have to "fight or flight".

I'm showing you in this article how I manage to keep my emotions under control and how I do it.

A bit of a context. Because once in a while I like to put myself into the wild and get out of my comfort zone, in the summer of 2018 I started to be a software testing trainer at the Informal School of IT. I help people with little or no knowledge about software testing to learn more, so they can make a career switch and start their path as junior software testers.

This article is about everything I have learned and the way how I improved my presentation skills by being a software testing trainer.

Rule #1: Preparation

I make no presentation (like none) with no preparation. Even if it is just a meeting with my co-workers and I have to do a brief presentation, or it is a 3-hour course, I invest time in preparation.

I know there are plenty of materials on the Internet teaching you how to become better with your presentation skills, I tell you what I do. Investing some time in preparing myself and my materials for the course definitely helps, as it makes me more confident in what I am going to present to my students and gives me a minimum peace of mind that "I can handle it".

I always have a structure and a plan in mind of what I intend to present as I'm not excelling at improvising.

Rule #2: Relax my mind and my body

Then I am trying to relax my mind and my body and adopt a positive attitude, no matter how hard my day was until the moment my course or presentation starts.

With no exception, I'm surrounding myself with a big cup of tea, coffee, or a big glass of water.

Rule #3: Connect with my audience

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

One of the most important things, I'm connecting with my audience. I am genuinely interested in how their day was and I allow myself to make weather-related jokes or parenting-related jokes :) (as many of my students have kids).

I usually spend around 20-25 hours with each group of people split into several sessions. Right at the beginning of the first session, I took around 15 minutes to do an ice-breaker and I used the following question which with no exception made my students smile - "What was your dream career as a child?". And, of course, I am volunteering to be the first to answer this question.

Rule #4: Engage my audience

During my presentation, I make pauses to ask my students or my audience if everything is clear so far, or if they have any questions, or things that they would like to know or to ask, and I usually give them a few seconds of silence to think.

Rule #5: Nonverbals matter

Even if my courses are online now (after the pandemic started in 2020, the courses were moved from on-site to online) I am mindful of my nonverbal cues. I am making eye contact (as much as it is possible in an online call) with my audience, and by the time I was having my courses on-site, I used to shift my eye contact from person to person, rather than looking at the projector and reading from my materials.

Even if it is not part of my built-in personality, I learned (and trained myself) to smile more while talking with people. Don't imagine that I'm that weird person laughing or smiling all the time for no reason though :), but when I smile, I try to be as authentic as possible.  

Rule #6: Be authentic

I am (trying to be) a storyteller too. I usually tell my students stories from my workplace, as this is the kind of place they dream of working in after finalizing my course, stories about how we actually work, stories about how it is to be a day-to-day software tester. I am open to listening to their questions, and their curiosities about the IT industry and about the software tester role, we talk about interviews, salary bands, different companies, etc.  

Rule #7: Speak clear and concise

Speaking loud and clear and be sure that my message and the way how I formulate it are clear and concise. I am not a true-born public speaker, but I sometimes use a trick to improve the way I'm speaking by doing speaking exercises. These exercises help me with pronunciation, and because during my courses I speak only Romanian, I do these exercises in Romanian, but there are plenty of them in English too (like "Six thick thistle sticks" or "Seven slick slimy snails, slowly sliding southward").

Rule #8: I use visuals

Just a yellow lemon tree
Photo by Ernest Porzi / Unsplash

Even if it's way easier to put a lot of text on a slide deck and to read that text, I prefer to use visuals in my presentations, to pick suggestive images, drawings, or graphs, depending on my presentation topic.

Rule #9: I am indulgent with myself too

I am indulgent with myself. I stopped judging and being harsh with myself whenever I forgot a piece of information, or whenever I didn't know the answer to a question. What I do is acknowledge the fact that I don't have the answer right away and take the responsibility to come up with one in the next session.

Rule #10: Ask for feedback

I am asking for feedback and I'm taking seriously my student's suggestions on how can I improve my courses.

Rule #11: Practice, practice, practice

How each of us is developing certain skills is variable. But the more you practice, the more likely it is that you develop more and more of the skills you're practicing. It took me 5 years to be able to gather all this information and to put it in this article - it is not a rule that it would be the same for you.

How did improving my presentation skills help me?

By far the most important aspect is that it made me feel more confident in speaking with other people. By improving my presentation skills I improved my communication skills and helped me connect with people.