X is for neXt steps toward eXcellence

How far have you come on this journey? Are you “there” yet? Sometimes it is hard to see our progress, especially when we are making small changes, changing habits and fine-tuning our existing skills. Maybe it would be helpful for you to go back and see where you were when you started. Were you really uncomfortable, stressed out or nervous about presenting? Now how do you feel? Hopefully those negative feelings have abated as you have learned skills and thought processes that are more productive.

How are your delivery skills? At first you might not have been aware of your delivery habits. You were “unconsciously unaware” of speaking too fast, or clearing your throat, or saying “um” too many times. Once you became aware of these things, you may have been “consciously unaware,” meaning you began to notice what you were doing but possibly didn’t know how to change it. You still kept speaking too fast, but you were aware of it. As you kept working on it, you might have been able to substitute the new behavior (talking more slowly) with “conscious awareness.” That is, you had to deliberately think about it in order to make the change, but you could do it. Here comes the good part; with practice you may have become “unconsciously aware” of speaking more slowly. At this point, you have built mastery over this skill and you rarely have to deliberately focus on it.

Now what? I encourage you to celebrate the awareness you have experienced, the choices you have made, and the new habits you have built. You have a lot to be pleased about. But, as with so many things in life, you are not really finished. There is always more to learn, more to strive for. Take another look at your delivery skills; what is the next habit you could begin to work on? It might be a strength you want to hone even further; maybe you love to tell stories or use humor, so why not focus on mastering those areas? It could also be working on a weakness; maybe you have a few grammar issues, and it will be worth it for you to build in that area. It might be more difficult and may never be your strength, but some weaknesses need to be corrected so they don’t become stumbling blocks.

Once you have examined your delivery skills, focus a bit on your content. Have you begun crafting and stating clear Targeted Messages? Have you made your content clear and crisp? Do your openings capture and engage your audience? Do your closings drive home your message, or create a call to action? If not, this would be a great time to reexamine structure. Great structure supports you just like a basic recipe supports you in the kitchen. Yes, you can adapt and improvise, but it helps to start with a solid foundation.

While you are at it, take a look at your slides. Are they dull, crowded, and difficult to follow? Or have you added graphics and photos and taken out bullets? Are you asking your slides to be a send-along document, or have you reconciled yourself to the fact that you probably need both a document and a separate slide deck? If your slides aren’t all they could be, and if you end up reading them more than you would like, there is a clear signal to focus some attention there.

Finally, how are you doing with Q&A? Do you prepare yourself so that you have a pretty good idea of which questions will come up, and do you have answers prepared? It might be a good time to start rehearsing the Q&A with someone who knows the tough questions that might arise. Have you learned to rephrase the question, using a Neutral Bridge to restate each question before answering? If not, you might find practicing this skill and turning it into a habit will make your Q&A sound more polished and professional. Have you learned to use body language to keep moving from one person to the next, and to move on to the next question? Or do you sometimes get “stuck” with one persistent questioner? Here is another opportunity to explore a few small changes that make a huge impact.

And how are you getting feedback? This could be the perfect time to start video recording your rehearsals, or your actual presentations. It is so easy to record yourself—maybe you could even use your smart phone. I know it may not be so easy to watch. But if you do, you will begin to notice the changes you have made, the strengths you have, and what really works for you. You will see weaknesses and stumbles, but you will know where to put your focus so you can continue the journey to excellence in presentations.