Key Presentation Skills
and How Leaders Can Develop Them

See also: Top Tips for Effective Presentations

Have you ever had the experience of going to a talk, presentation, or panel discussion featuring one or more professionals that you admire and come away disappointed by the experience?

It's sometimes surprising to learn that people who excel in certain areas are not necessarily good at public speaking, talking in front of an audience and conveying information.

Their failings can be numerous. They speak too quietly or in a monotone, they are disorganized, or any visuals they bring fail to complement their talk, to name just a few issues.

Being good, even being the best, in one particular area does not necessarily mean being good at all the things that go along with it, but if you have similar ambitions, you probably want to avoid disappointing an audience in the same way.

The ability to give strong presentations is also an important career skill, and being unable to do so can hold you back. Building your overall leadership ability, with communication as part of that, will be critical to your success in almost any career field.

Get a Graduate Degree

While you probably can't get a master's degree in giving presentations, you can get close. If you want this kind of activity at the core of your career, you might look into pursuing a graduate degree in a subject such as management or organizational leadership. You could also consider an MBA. There are a few things to look for in these types of programs.

Reputation is particularly important when it comes to a degree in these areas, and you need to be able to expect to make solid career connections that will help you throughout your professional life. Find out who the professors are and what their industry experience is, and make sure that they actually will be teaching the classes that you are taking. Look at the specific skill sets that are taught and make sure that they are right for what you are after.

Location may be important as well, especially if you want to make business connections within a particular geographical area. While it's important to look at costs, keep in mind that there are a number of different ways to fund your graduate degree. In the U.S. you can take out Earnest graduate student loans to pay for at least some of your expenses. Other possibilities are scholarships, savings, and even getting tuition assistance from your employer.

Watching Others' Presentations

Getting a graduate degree is an excellent option for those whose career trajectory will be enhanced by, or requires a master's, but it isn't the right path for everyone for any number of reasons. One alternative is to teach yourself. This is probably not the best option if you are someone who really has no idea where to start, but if you have a natural talent for public speaking and presentations but need to refine your approach, there are many industry-specific videos, presentations, panels, and seminars online that you can watch for a small fee or for free.

If you take this approach, you need to observe a concrete set of criteria. Make a list ahead of time of all the things that you can think of that should be included when creating presentations like a consultant or professional.  Then add to that list as you watch. Examples of things you might pay attention to include how visuals are used and whether they complement the talk, how quickly or slowly the person speaks, whether the person uses gestures, what they do well, and what they do that is distracting or uninteresting. Notice what parts hold your attention and which ones do not, and why. Take detailed notes. Try to look at a variety of different speakers and approaches to presentations.

It's also a great idea to film yourself doing talks. This can give you insight into things you may do that you are not conscious of.

Practicing on your own like this may also help you practice things that you might feel inhibited trying out in front of an audience. This do-it-yourself approach may also be more appropriate for people in certain fields. If you are a writer who regularly does talks at schools or at literary festivals, you want to work in science communication, or you are in public relations or marketing, spending time and money on a degree in leadership or management does not really make sense.

On the other hand, if you want to go into business or high-level politics, you could combine graduate school with the above suggestions.

Certifications and Other Programs

Somewhere in between graduate school and the self-taught approach is obtaining a certification or participating in another type of program that will build these skills. This can range from a fairly informal group at work or a community organization that helps you build communication and leadership skills to an executive program at a major university.

Like an MBA or other high-level graduate programs in management and leadership, the latter type of program usually requires a certain amount of work experience. In some cases, it might even require a graduate degree as well, making the program something you would pursue at a later stage in your career.

There are a number of seminars and other short programs or courses that last from just a few hours to a few days, and you may want to consider these as well. However, in an era when anyone can put up a webpage and promise a video presentation, it's important to evaluate these carefully.

  • Have you heard of the person doing the training?

  • Have other people left positive feedback?

  • How hands-on will the process be?

  • Will it simply consist of watching someone lecture?

This is not necessarily a waste of time, but you probably shouldn't pay too much money for it, and you would need to supplement it with other activities that allow you to get feedback as well. This point is key in that you need an opportunity to try your skills and have them evaluated and improved. Above all, do your research into any trainings or seminars you are considering signing up for, and make sure they will deliver what you need at a reasonable price.

About the Author

Drew Allen is a financial enthusiast, seasoned blogger, music and sports fanatic. He enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and daughter fishing and boating. He is dedicated to his 20+ year career in the banking, mortgage, and personal finance industry.