Archives For skills

workshops for technical presentationsToo many workshops and training programs titled “Improving Technical Presentations” or “More Effective Technical Presentations” place too much emphasis on trying to improve participants’ delivery skills.

Don’t get me wrong. Many technical presenters do have poor delivery skills, and those poor delivery skills harm their ability to win over an audience.

It’s just that, in my experience, focusing on delivery skills — on improving how technical presenters look and sound — is the wrong place to start and one of the least important skills to focus on. 

There are other, more important, skills to teach, including, but not limited to:

  • Get participants to rethink the very purpose of a technical presentation.
    Why are you making a presentation in the first place? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your audience to know about and to do with the material you’re presenting?
  • Teach them how to clarify complex material without dumbing it down.
    What is your thesis? State it upfront and supply enough — just enough — evidence to explain, illustrate, and substantiate that thesis.
  • Show them how to structure a clear, logical, and persuasive presentation.
    What’s the simplest, clearest way to structure your material? Is it logical? Is it persuasive?
  • Teach them how to create PowerPoint slides that actually help them convey their ideas.
    How can you use PowerPoint to illustrate your main points? Ignore most advice you’ve heard about using PowerPoint, which simply does not apply to technical presentations.
  • Show them how to rehearse a presentation.
    You can benefit from talking through your presentation in advance a few times, if you do it the right way
  • Help them develop confidence.

Help technical experts — smart people who know what they’re talking about — learn how to create and rehearse a clear, focused, and effective presentation. Increase their confidence in front of an audience. And watch their delivery skills improve dramatically, with very little direct attention given to the issue.

By the way, here are my tips for developing confidence speaking.

What do you think?


a person straining to listenPeople work with me, for the most part, because they want to become better communicators. And by that they mean, usually, that they want to become better speakers. I find that improving their listening skills often proves more beneficial.

Listening isn’t a passive skill. You don’t simply sit there and let the other person talk. You interact. You tune out distractions. You give people cues (verbal and nonverbal) that you’re listening. You pay attention to every way they communicate — to their words, gestures, facial expressions, eyes, pauses, everything. You ask questions. You rephrase what you hear.

Listening is also a gift. You are giving people something of value — something most people don’t give them.

Here are what I consider to be…

The Most Common Poor Listening Habits:

  1. Talking instead of listening.
  2. Presuming that you know what the other person is thinking.
  3. Preparing what you’re going to say instead of listening.
  4. Mentally arguing with the speaker.
  5. Thinking about something else while the speaker is talking.
  6. Getting impatient with the speaker.
  7. Letting the environment distract you.
  8. Dividing your attention — reading your email, filling out reports, staring at someone cute!
  9. Not asking questions.
  10. Being distracted by the speaker’s mannerisms, voice, or appearance.

And here are..

5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

  1. Give Your Full Attention.
    Even if you’re an efficient multitasker, you really can’t listen well while you’re engaged in another activity. You’ll miss something of what people want to communicate — a feeling, a nuance, a connection. Set aside what you’re working on, and tune out your mental distractions.
  2. Look and Sound Like You’re Paying Attention.
    Show people you’re paying attention. If they think you’re tuning them out — whether you are or not — they’ll assume you don’t care. And they’ll stop talking. Give people visual cues that you’re listening. Turn your whole body to face them, look them in the eye, and lean in. Give them auditory cues that you’re paying attention.
  3. Stop Mind Reading.
    Making assumptions about people’s motives and feelings is patronizing and often misleading. Approach each encounter as if it is entirely new. Even if people repeat themselves, look for something original in what they’re saying. Being a committed listener will challenge people to be more thoughtful conversationalists.
  4. Ask Probing Questions.
    Most people’s conversation is a small portion of what they’re thinking and feeling. If you never ask questions, they won’t tell you their true insights, needs, feelings, and motivations. Start by asking clarifying questions: “Do you mean…” or “Did I understand you to say…” Then follow up with exploratory questions: “How did you come to that conclusion?” or “What makes you feel that way?” or “Can you tell me more about why you want that?”
  5. Practice Silence.
    When you ask a question, give people time to formulate their response. Silence is a good thing. It allows for reflection. Be patient and you’ll be surprised by what people come out with.

Take The Listening Quiz.

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