A peek at the data - What years of participants tell us about presenting - The Pickering Group

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A peek at the data - What years of participants tell us about presenting

Presenting is intimidating, and most of us are quick to admit we’ve got room for improvement. But that’s why I do what I do.

Before I deliver my sessions, I send out a brief survey. The data set – spanning back to 2015 – makes for interesting reading. There are some shifts to see, but many fundamental truths that have remained unchanged. Here are the key takeouts…

Presenting is inevitable.

Attendees to my programmes have all kinds of job titles; presenting is inevitable in a range of roles. It’s not too surprising to learn that 45% of responders admit they don’t enjoy presenting and even more people – 53% – think they’re pretty average at it. Just as well I’m on a mission to change that.

Few of us are immune to the physiological effects of nerves either. The most common symptoms were stumbling over words, mind blanks and visible shaking… yikes!

Thankfully, most respondents said they rarely present to the super high-stakes audiences that they would seriously lose sleep over. The majority are informal team briefings, project updates or small groups. It’s no surprise, however, that as an individual’s seniority increases, so too do their audience sizes and – often - the stakes involved in their presentation.

Where are we going wrong?

For starters, to be engaging, we have to be engaged. 61% of respondents felt as though they sometimes drop the ball during presentations, tuning out their audiences and failing to connect. This percentage has increased since I began my survey in 2015.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the last couple of years, 88% of us are presenting remotely – that’s up 29% since pre-Covid times. That means many of us have to contend with disengaged or more distracted audiences, unless we adapt to this mode well.

As for visual aids, PowerPoint is still alive and kicking as our preferred software – commonly accompanied by a whiteboard or videos. 43% of my respondents think these forms of visual aids lack effectiveness, and 62% admit applying a dire lack of creativity – so this is another area with potential for improvement.

What’s age got to do with it?

Older respondents are typically entrusted with more senior positions in their organisations, often as a result of their decades of experience. With that experience usually comes decades of practice presenting, leading them to feel less anxious about it. Older respondents report having more confidence in their ability to connect with their audience, talk off-the-cuff and handle post-presentation questions (which are effectively a form of off- the-cuff speaking). All of these things are helped by knowing your stuff.

Our perception of our performance varies

Regardless of age, there were also differences across genders. Men have tended to have a more positive view of their effectiveness when they present. Female respondents, on the hand, preferred presenting while sitting around a table and were more critical about their abilities. Perhaps as a result, women report practicing more than their male counterparts, and are generally less critical about the performance of other presenters. And gender differences aside, we all agree that good presenters are engaging, confident and enthusiastic.

To improve your presentation skills – which are likely to be called on as a regular part of most work activity – check out my presentation training programmes, or get your hands on a copy of Step into the Spotlight.

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