Criteria for Success
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your delivery.
- Practice with the intention of improving specific aspects of your delivery.
- Become more comfortable with the delivery of your presentation.
Identify your purpose
Whether you are pitching a business idea or communicating your research, practicing can make the difference between your audience counting how many times you said “umm,” and understanding (or funding) your research. Creating a manageable practice plan will decrease the amount of time and stress involved in preparing, help you feel good about your presentation, and, ultimately, increase the quality of your presentations.
Identify the most important areas to improve
Since there are many aspects of public speaking that you could work on, it is important that you spend your time practicing the aspects that will improve your talk the most. In order to decide which aspects of your delivery are most important to improve, we strongly recommend that you take a video of yourself presenting. In doing so, you can analyze the verbal and nonverbal aspects of your presentation independently and will become aware of your presentation habits.
Taking the video
Record 5-10 minutes of your presentation in a format that will allow you to view it easily afterwards. The recording device should be placed in the middle of the room and should record both your movements and your audio. If possible, it is great to get feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. Invite them to be a part of your practice session. You can also sign up for an appointment with a Communication Fellow to help work on your public speaking. After taking the video, follow these steps and answer these questions:
- After recording, but before watching:
- How did it feel while you were presenting?
- What do you think you did well?
- Is there anything that you wish you did better?
- While watching the video:
- Take notes on things that you notice
- Things you do well
- Things that may be distracting
- Are there any points when your attention starts wandering?
- Take notes on things that you notice
- After watching the video:
- How do you feel after watching?
- Was there anything that was distracting to hear/see?
- Did any of your feelings change after watching the video?
- Something that you thought you did well that you didn’t
- Something that you wished you did better that was already good
- If your attention wandered at any point, what was it about that section that lost your attention?
Analyze your verbal and nonverbal presentation independently
- Rewatch the video, but mute the volume so that you cannot hear yourself
- What do you notice about your nonverbal delivery?
- How is your posture? Does it change throughout the talk?
- Are any of your movements distracting? Moving too much? Too little?
- Do you make eye contact with the (fake) audience? Did you spend too much time looking back at the screen?
- Do you see any patterns throughout your presentation?
- Repetitive movements or distracting habits
- Something you do whenever you talk about a certain topic
- Listen to the audio of your video without watching (Close your eyes, turn the playback device away, blackout screen, etc.)
- What do you notice about your verbal delivery?
- How was your voice? How was the volume? Were you clear?
- How was your pace? Did you talk too fast? Too slow?
- Did you alter your delivery strategically? Did rises and falls in volume/tone help emphasize your main points?
- Was anything distracting or hard to follow? Filler words? Repeated phrases?
Now that you’ve become familiar with your habits (both good and bad) pick three areas that you think are the most important to improve. Think about what areas would help reinforce your message by eliminating distractions or emphasizing what is most important. With these things in mind, let’s determine an actionable plan for improving these areas.
Focus on the solutions, not the problems
Thinking about everything you shouldn’t do is overwhelming and can subconsciously make you more likely to do the very things you’re trying to avoid. Focusing on the solutions will help you deliver your presentation with purpose and allow you to connect with your audience. Using the three areas for improvement that you identified above, identify ways you can improve those areas and start practicing them. Your ways to improve should be framed in a positive light. For example, if you identified filler words as an area to improve, rather than focusing on not using filler words, try taking pauses whenever you notice you are using filler words. Don’t be afraid to try things that make you feel uncomfortable or seem extreme while you’re practicing. For more ideas of how to improve particular aspects of your delivery, see Verbal and Nonverbal.
|Common Areas for Improvement||Possible solution(s)|
|Use of filler words||
|Looking at the slides rather than the audience||
|Excessive hand / body movements||
|Talking too fast / mumbling||
|Talking too quietly / not projecting voice||
Practice in manageable chunks
Practicing in manageable chunks will reduce stress and maximize improvement. Your brain can only truly focus on one thing at a time and it can be stressful to practice for long periods. Working on too many things at once or practicing for too long will limit the improvements that you can make in any one area.
We recommend practicing one solution at a time, but doing so a few times in a row. This will allow you to improve incrementally with each repetition. Once you start to feel comfortable implementing that solution, start working on your next identified solution. After you have practiced your presentation while focusing on each solution individually, you can start to combine them. They should come a little bit easier after practicing each one individually. To prepare for unexpected disruptions, try starting your presentation from random slides (or halfway through if no slides will be used).
You should build your practice plan and format your practice sessions based on what you can realistically stick to. Practice for lengths of time that can fit into your schedule. Practicing for shorter periods of time, but doing so more frequently can help break up these sessions and make them more feasible despite a busy schedule. One Communication Fellow mentally practices their talks on their walk home from campus (talk about efficiency). By visualizing the verbal/nonverbal aspects of his presentation while thinking about his content, he was able to practice his presentation without physically speaking or doing the movements.
Common Challenges and Fixes for Verbal and Nonverbal Communication – An extensive reference table created by the BE Communication Lab