How to Find your Weak Spots

By Heather Baldwin

No matter how many presentations you’ve given and how good you think you are at giving them, there’s always room for improvement. But how do you know which areas need work and which are solid? Here are some ways you can find out, says Marilyn Pincus, author of Boost Your Presentation IQ: Proven Techniques for Winning Presentations and Speeches (McGraw-Hill, 2006):

1. Use surveys. Distribute a short, simple form at the end of your presentation and encourage audience members to fill it out. Make sure the survey asks specific questions – i.e., Was the presentation too long, too short or just right? How did you come to your conclusion? Should slides contain more or less information? If you notice trends in the feedback, address it. And if you keep the surveys anonymous, people are more likely to be candid with you.

2. Talk to audience members. In presentations to large groups, it’s common for some people to stay and chat with the speaker as others leave the room. Use your time with these people constructively. Get feedback.

3. Talk to the dropouts. Face it: no matter how fascinating you think you are, sometimes people will walk out of your presentations. If possible, get feedback from these dropouts. Ask them, “What could I have done that would have kept you with us until the end?” Then stop and listen. If you’re silent and wait for a reply, you’ll get an evaluation of some kind because most people are uncomfortable with dead air.

4. Use your team. If you’re presenting as part of a team, ask each team member to evaluate part of your presentation. You might ask one partner to assess your opening and closing, another to evaluate the organization, and a third to critique delivery. Assigning these specific responsibilities is essential. If you simply ask team members, “How did I do?” you’ll get a “Great!” or some other vague remark. To improve your presentation skills, you need specific feedback in specific areas.

5. Q&A clues. The questions you receive during a presentation can provide an indication of strengths and weaknesses in your speech. If you keep getting the same questions about the same topic, you’re not explaining the issue clearly. Maybe you’re using too much jargon or maybe you need a slide with a visual explanation. Challenge yourself to come up with a new, more effective way of presenting that topic.

6. Hire a coach. If you’ve got the funds, a presentation coach can do wonders for your performance. They’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of presentations and will not only quickly pinpoint your weaknesses, but can show you how to strengthen these areas. Furthermore, be sure to ask about areas of concern, even if they don’t raise them, says Pincus. Ask, “How can I be more authoritative?” or “How can I emphasize this point more strongly?” and you’ll get an informed answer.