10 keys to learning presentation skills fast

10 Keys to Learning Presentation Skills Fast title Presentation

You have probably heard of the 10,000 hour rule to master the art of anything. But, most of us do not want to nor even need to dedicate a huge amount of time become master the art of presentation. For most people in most situations just being competent is fine.

More important than the 10,000 Hour rule?
More important than the 10,000 Hour rule?
If you have clicked on this article, perhaps one day you want to be a great pres.....

So, how do we get competent fast? This is where Josh Kaufman comes in.

Josh Kaufman wrote “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything … Fast.” He mentions 10 keys to quickly attain competency in any skill. Josh talk about how to get good at yoga, programming, playing the ukulele, etc. I want to show you how this would work in the case of learning presentation skills since he did not cover that.

Here’s the 10 keys in what I feel is a more logical order:

1) Choose a lovable project
2) Define your target performance
3) Deconstruct into sub-skills
4) Make dedicated time for practice
5) Obtain critical tools
6) Eliminate barriers to practice
7) Focus on one skill at a time
8) Practice in short bursts
9) Emphasize quantity and speed
10) Create fast feedback loops

While I do cover the various elements in much more detail in other parts of my blog, this article should give you a good roadmap to get started and avoid the most common pitfalls.

Creating a lovable project


The first thing to do is create a lovable project. As Tim Ferris and others mention, it generally better to have a 3 to 6 month project than a much longer term goal. There is less risk if it doesn’t work out. Also, it is much easier to maintain motivation for smaller short term projects than for larger long term ones.

If there is a speech contest to win or a big client you want to convince that can easily fit into the 3 to 6 month timeline. Depending on where you are at, becoming the World Champion of Public Speaking in Toastmasters may even be achievable. After all, it only takes about six months to go from club contest winner to the World Championship.

But, you may not be interested in that, so pick whatever interests you that can reasonably be done within the time frame. If it is earning some money from a webinar or a live stream, that is perfectly fine. If it is setting up a course on Udemy or Teachable, that’s fine too.

Even if you fail you can win

Also, I think the key here is to set things up that even if you completely fail, that you get something out of it. Even if you fail at a contest, you will learn a lot from the other contestants and also get better with dealing with pressure etc.

A running a webinar will improve your technical and sales skills. Even if it bombs, you will learn what not to do. You will get feedback from people. You might even make some money off of it.

Creating a course can be worthwhile too. It can be frustrating if you find out that you spent an entire month, and nobody wants the course. However, that too can be learning experience. You learn about the platform. You get better at making course material. Plus, you might even learn a way to make course with less risk.

Four questions to help pick a lovable project

But in any case, it can be hard to determine what project to start out with. If you already got an idea, that is great. Go run with it. If not it can be useful to look at the set of questions below:

A) If I succeed with this project, what will I gain?
B) If I gain that, what will be the impact on my future?
C)If I fail at this project, what will I gain?
D)If I gain that, what will be the impact on my future?

These are the questions that I once heard from Dan Sullivan, an exceptional coach to successful entrepreneurs. I feel that for any project that these questions are worth considering.

Outside of those questions, you could look at the opportunity costs of not doing the thing. But, if you are going to do some kind of project anyway, it is better to consider what you get out of it can compare that to other projects under consideration.

Pitching for a VC

For example, if you do a pitch to a VC for your company, what will you gain? You get the money. What will you lose? Time and effort in making the pitch.

If you do well you might get enough money to start the business you always dreamed of. And you get money freedom and hopefully the time freedom that you always wanted. The VC may even become a good advisor. Who knows?

If you fail, you probably learned a lot about making a pitch. You also learned how to get into contact with VCs and how they are like. But what about the pitch itself?

At the very least you know that the pitch did not work for that VC. But, there could a whole host of reasons why the VC did not like your idea. It could range from the VC not seeing how they could effectively contribute to thinking there is no real merit in the idea.

You need to ask the VC why they rejected your proposal. If there is some information missing or the VC felt it was not persuasive in some way that can be a hint for the next time.

By considering these things you can see that you can get a lot out of a project even if you fail. It can be “win” no matter what the actual results are.

An easier project

To take something easier for a more general audience to relate to, suppose that you are contemplating setting up a YouTube channel. This is very popular these days, but not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera.

But you could set up a 3 to 6 month project where you practice your presentation skills so that you be able to talk in front of the camera with ease. If you play your cards right and are consistent you could even build an audience over time. If you don’t you should be able to build a new skill that can helpful for your job later on.

Considering that many people are working from home these days. Becoming good with Zoom calls, online cameras, presentations etc is a very good skill to have. There are all kinds of consideration, from mic to cameras. You will learn a lot even if you don’t get a million followers. So, why don’t you try it out?

Setting your performance target

80 and 20

This brings us to the next step, which is determining your performance target. In other words after the 3 to 6 months where do you want to be? In the case of a presentation there are a variety of ways to set this.

If it just a sales presentation or a pitch, you go for the win. If you are doing a presentation for YouTube it may be the number of subscribers or views of the video. You need to figure out the criteria that is the most suitable for your proejct.

What those criteria should depend on what you are aiming for. Persuasiveness, business logic, slide design, speech organization, and vocal variety would be a fine set of criteria for a business pitch scenario.

However, that would not work so well if you were more concerned about building a slide deck to train a sales team. There is no one magic set of criteria.

Also, do not get caught up in the idea that once you decided on the criteria that you can never change it. Most of don’t know at first what style or set of criteria is best. Many times you just have to guess.

As you go along you may find out that you’re more naturally inclined to one kind of style over another. So, set the criteria depending on your personal preferences and the demands of the project you are involved in.

Setting your baseline and benchmark

Once you have thought out an initial set of criteria to judge your presentation a good thing to do is to simply give a presentation based on your current skill set. I would record this. This will give you an objective place to start. Once you looked at your own performance, I would go ahead and grade it in the most fair way you can.

You can sleep on it for a day, you can also get other people’s opinions, etc. However, you go about it, that will be your baseline. So the next thing to do is to find your benchmark.

Filling the gap between where you are now, your baseline, and where you want to be, your benchmark, is the main thrust of your proejct. How you decide where you want to be can be important.

If it too unrealistic there are going to be a certain number of you that will be demotivated and either never take the first step or make a half-hearted attempts. Actuall doing the work is the most important so set a goal that works for you

However, there are a certain number of people who relish setting really high goals. They like to see how far they can go. This fits with Kaufman’s idea of jumping over your head. But, you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.

Still, a vast majority of us tend to not like getting out of our comfort zones. So, in the long run I feel it is more beneficial to set a performance target that is outside of that. It should be something that you definitely cannot do with your current ability but with some hardwork, you should have at least a 50% chance of succeeding. How you determine that is up to you.

Gap vs Gain

Before moving on, just one mental note on gap vs gain. When we are striving to become better presenters there is the common trap of focusing on the gap. What I mean here is the difference between where we are and where we want to be.

It is easy for us to imagine an ideal situation or a presentation superstar who is always perfect. However, comparing that to where we are right now can be very depressing.

In many cases, I would first take stock in the advances that you have made from where you were in the beginning. That is why I feel it so crucial to record yourself before your start your project. If you have that, then there is clear evidence that you are improving. You can look at that and see it. That should encourage you from time to time.

Making Time for Pratice


The next thing is to make time for practice. Practice is very important. I think most of us feel that is this the case, but not all of us do it. Maybe it is because, we don’t have the time, or don’t know how, or whatever. Here we are going to focus on making time for practice. 

Why do we even do practice in the first place? If you are a beginner, it is pretty obvious. You practice because you do not want to forget your lines. You also do not want to look stupid in front of the audience. But, what about more experienced people?

Experienced speakers can wing it. That is they can create their presentation then without even practicing it, deliver it to an audience. This is possible.

However, experienced speakers would be much more effective and come off much more professional if they do practice some. So, I recommend practicing your speech at least several times before giving it to your intended audience even if you have some experience already.

Practice and procrastination

So, you know that practicing is important and you want to make time for it. However, making time can be difficult. Why? Because human beings are the world’s best procrastinators.

It is built into our brains because it takes less energy to do nothing. So, doing nothing is the default option of our brains.

If we have a good plan that satisfies then maybe we can get our but in gear. But just saying I will repeat a speech over and over for 50 minutes may not be much of a plan, so we procrastinate.

Even thinking about a good plan also takes work, so the less motivated and disciplined will procrastinate until as Tim Urban says the Panic Monster comes out. “OH my GOD there is a deadline coming and if I don`t practice I am going to look like a complete idiot in front of my boss, my co-workers, and even my god!”

What we get out of that is usually less than ideal. But, at the very least you are doing some sort of practice.

Multiple problems with time

The first thing most of us ask is how do we use our time better? But before you can even answer that you need to consider, how are you using your time now? If you don’t even know how you are using your time now, there is no way you can come up with a solution that works for you now.

Different people have different problems with time. These all require different responses.

Possible problems with time
  • spend too much time on SNS, TV, or things like Candy Crush
  • overwhelmed and constantly interrupted by email and Slack messages
  • working super hard, but incredibly inefficient
  • very efficient but can’t say no, so overloaded with work

There may be others than that, but you get the idea.

How can you better understand your problem with time management? One simple thing you can do is to record every thirty minutes what you are doing at the time. You can of course do it every hour or every 15 minutes. Use whatever time block you prefer. 

Then you can set up a timer. My smartphone does the trick. I set it off for thirty minutes and simply keep a bulleted list of time and action. It can look like this:

8:30 Get up, drink coffee look at Twitter
9:00 Still looking at Twitter
10:00 Drafting the presentation
10:30 Still drafting the presentation
11:00 Break time and watching YouTube
11:30 Checking email
12:00 Lunch

I think you get the idea. Looking at this you can probably tell that I was probably spending too much time looking at Twitter and watching YouTube videos. Once you know what the problem is you can start figuring out what to do about that.  

Reducing SNS use and block planning

In the case of SNS, Cal Newport`s “Digital Minimalism” offers some good suggestions on what to deal with this. One solution is to remove all SNS-related app from your smartphone. Then make sure that you have to manually enter the password each time you go to an SNS site. This will greatly increase the friction of using SNS and you will use it less.

Some of us professional presenters may feel it is important to be on SNS to market themselves or be in contact with customers. That interaction can be legitimate. But, I do want to point out that Cal has done a good job of promoting himself with very limited SNS use. It can be done.

In any case, it is important to record your day. I suggest tracking your schedule for about a week. After that try to implement a couple of changes. A couple of weeks later you may want to record your day again, to see if the changes worked. It can be helpful to check in every quarter or half-year just to see that you still using your time as you expect.

If you want to take an extra step, try time block planning. This is an idea that was also developed by Cal Newport. Here, you block time out for certain tasks, just like you would schedule meetings. Something sudden pops up, you can just readjust your schedule for the day.

The nice thing about this is that you can see how you have been planning your day vs how our day actually went. After doing a couple of weeks of this, you can typically see patterns in behavior. This can lead you to improve your productivity.

After you make space, then what?

Why this important is by doing either of these suggestions you can start to see a way to wedge practice time in. Most of us are busy for various reasons so it can be hard to figure out how to create the white space to fit practice in. 
However, I feel that just creating the white space for practice is not always enough. You need to find a way to make your practice occur consistently. One way could be doing something fun afterward.

P.J. Fogg, a Standford professor and expert on human behavior, does suggest having an anchor, a behavior, and a celebration. What this can mean is that you could start practice after a certain action. That would be your anchor. The behavior would be your practice. A “celebration” could be watching 20 minutes of YouTube, eating a chocolate snack, or whatever works for you.

If you are interested in learning more check out the video below.

Obtaining critical tools

Kaufman points out that if you want to get good at something your need the right tools. For example, if you want to be a great piano player, obviously you need a piano. However, I think when it comes to presentation, you do not need not just the right tools, you need the right resources.

What do I mean by resources? Resources include tools, but they also include, info, people, and money. You will need to consider what resources you need for your specific presentation. But, there will also be times when you want to consider what resources you need for the long-term improvement of yourself as a speaker.

In online or offline presentation situations you need to consider your resources. These are:

  • Tools
  • Info (articles, books, etc.)
  • People
  • Money

General tools used by presenters

The first are tools. When you first think of creating and delivering a presentation what tools come to mind first? Probably the software. The most common are Powerpoint and Keynote. There is also Prezi, Google slides, etc, but I still prefer Keynote. It is just easier to make beautifully designed slides in Keynote than in anything else.

What else is there? There is the remote clicker. That way you can stand away from your computer and deliver your presentation with much more freedom. There are people who deliver presentations while sitting.

I feel that make your presentation a lot less impactful if you are sitting down in front of a live audience. That is just bad form, even in training sessions.

If you are a professional speaker you may be concerned about projectors, hand mikes, etc. But, a lot of that tends to be taken care of by the people who run the venue. So, most people do not need to worry too much about that equipment.

The tools for an online experience

The only time you will need to worry about the equipment is if you are giving an online presentation. Since the pandemic began, there are more and more people going online. Many are doing it badly. That is because they either are don`t have the right tools or are not using them in the right way.

Microphones and sound

First off, most microphones built into a laptop are not that great. However, you do not have to spend $200 or more on a microphone. Especially if you are just a normal businessman it may seem silly spending that kind of money.

Usually using the headphones that come with your iPhone or any set of headphones with a microphone built-in is enough. These typically let you have the microphone close enough to your mouth. Plus there is the added bonus of you can still move away from your screen and still be heard.

If you do not like the look of yourself wearing headphones when delivering a presentation, then please go ahead and get a microphone. Just remember that you do not need to go overboard. A $200 or so USB microphone will be good enough for most people. If you really want those dulcet tones like you hear on the radio or professional TV, you can usually get reasonably priced software to cover your microphone’s faults.

Video, lighting, and cameras

When it comes to video. Again people do it badly. Also, too many people spend too much money on equipment they usually don’t need. What do you really need?

If you have a Mac generally the built-in camera is fine. If you don`t like you can either get an external webcam or use a DSLR. But, I would try fixing the light before you go overboard on cameras.

As far as lighting is concerned, if you can use a window that is the best situation. You get good natural light that tends to be flattering to your face. Make sure the window is in front of you not behind you.

If it behind you will look very dark. You can have the window to one side of you, but the best situation is in front.

When you are in a room that has no windows nearby or it is dark you need to be more careful about lighting. If you do a typical YouTube search you will find that you need to buy all these fancy LED lights. You do not need them.

I have used a simple book light with an adjustable arm to light my face. It cost less than $20. I also have a lamp off to the back and off to the side a bit to separate me from the background. That is $20 as well. That is usually enough.

The point here is that sometimes presenters and speakers get too involved in the gear. It is possible to look good and sound good without spending a lot of money.

If you use your window, your Mac’s camera, and the headphones that came with your iPhone you don’t need to spend any more money. While I don’t use Windows, I expect that you can still do a decent job with what is available. Experiment first, before ordering.

Money and presenting

So, the next resource to worry about is money. Some people may think this can be a big barrier, but actually, it is not one you really need to worry about. As I just mentioned above you can put together a good impression online by hardly spending any money.

The question is rarely not if you have money. The question is how much money you want to spend for a certain result. There is a quick rate of diminishing returns when it comes to online presentations. Sometimes uglier is better. Peng Joon even made a thing of ugly videos that effectively sell stuff.

In any case, most of the time we have enough money. It is just a question of being resourceful enough to get the job done. When it comes to equipment use your head not your wallet.

Having the right info

The next resource that you will need is the right info. Hopeful this article can answer that problem for you. If not, there are videos online, you can search the internet for your answer, or you can buy another book. There is so much information out there it should not be hard to find what you need. However, there is one problem.

That would be there is too much info. How you sift between the good stuff and the crap? That can be tough and can take time. I suggest compiling lists and resources you can trust.

Different people have different styles, different objectives, and are in different places in their presentation journey. So, I can not say that X is the definitive source for presentation skills. Even the videos on TED.com varies wildly. I don’t recommend that site for everyone. Especially for salespeople.

People can be good resources

That would bring us to the next resource. That would be people. There are going to be experts, teachers, coaches, etc. who will have information on the topic you need that is not found online or in books. Or you may want to hire a professional so you can improve quicker and practice in the right way.

There may not be someone like that is immediately around you. I generally suggest that people ask those around them if they know someone who can help them with their presentation or at least give feedback. But, there is a good chance that a friend or a friend of a friend will know someone who can at least point you in the right direction.

In any case, most of us have the right tools and have some sort of access to the info, people, and money we need to be successful presenters. It is just becoming aware of that and using them effectively. I suggest scheduling some time to brainstorm that. You might be surprised by what you would find.

Eliminating barriers to practice

When it comes to practicing our speech or even working to become a better presenter there are all kinds of barriers that can get our way. I would suggest there are three basic kinds: knowledge-based barriers, environmental barriers, and mental barriers.

Knowledge barriers

The first type is the knowledge-based barrier. But, what is that? That is where information about a thing prevents us from moving forward. It could be a lack of critical know-how, lack of awareness, etc. For example not knowing what to practice on, how to practice, or even how to get unstuck could be knowledge-based barriers. 

In the case of sports, it is the coach’s job to tell the athletes what to practice and when. Very high-level athletes will, of course, come up with their own routine to practice. This is simply because the coach needs to consider what will be best for most of the team members and not necessarily what is best for a specific athlete. 

In the case of some wanting to become a world-class speaker, things are slightly different. While there are presentation coaches, good ones tend to be few and far between. They also tend to be expensive. So, for most people wanting to be more professional they have to figure out what works best for them on their own. 

This can be difficult because how do you know what to practice on? You could ask the people around you, but you might get as many different opinions as the number of people you asked.

You could ask a more experienced person, but most likely they will tell you what worked for them. Sometimes even they don’t know for sure, so what could be reasonable looking advice could really be something with no real basis in reality. So, what can you do?

How to determine what to focus on when you don’t have a coach

There are two things you need to consider. First is what kind of speaker are you aiming to be? Do you want to an excellent seller of ideas, an enchanting deliverer of information, etc? I mentioned this a little bit when I talked about setting your performance target. By that step, you should have some idea of where you are and where you want to be.

Establishing a criteria

Once you have that established, then it becomes a matter of determining priorities on what you should focus and practice on. 

Suppose that you had originally set out the following criteria:

  • Online Tech
  • Slide Design
  • Persuasiveness
  • Offer Creation
  • Storytelling

Then you record yourself and you grade yourself accordingly.

  • Online Tech: 7/10
  • Slide Design 6/10
  • Persuasiveness 5/10
  • Offer Creation 5/10
  • Storytelling 6/10

You consider what you need to be good at to be a better presenter and you set your targets as follows: 

  • Online Tech: 8/10
  • Slide Design 8/10
  • Persuasiveness 8/10
  • Offer Creation 8/10
  • Storytelling 8/10

Depending on how much time you have this may be reasonable or unreasonable. But at first, it is at least something. I don’t think you necessarily need to be as well-rounded as that, but let’s assume that you choose something like this. 

Then the question becomes what you focus on and in what order? First, let’s look at the gap.   

  • Online Tech: +1
  • Slide Design +2
  • Persuasiveness +3
  • Offer Creation +3
  • Storytelling +2

The ones with the biggest gap are Persuasiveness and Offer Creation. Then comes Storytelling and Slide Design, then finally Online Tech. You could start with working on the ones with the biggest gaps or you could start with the easy wins. In other words, the one with the smallest gap.

Deciding the order of focus

However, before you decide which way to go, I would add two more dimensions to the mix. What is the impact on your presentation and how easy would it be to improve? For example, is even being one point better in the online tech going to give you much of an edge in your presentation? Would it take that much effort to improve by that one point?  

If you say that the impact is relatively small and it is easy to improve you may want to put it on the back burner. After all, there could be items that would more critical to your success and you may want to give them the attention they deserve. On the other hand, if there is something that has a big impact but could be improved with relatively less effort, that would be the one to go for.  

To organize those points, you can create a table with the skill, the priority, the impact, and the ease of improving. Now you might say to yourself, but how could I even know the impact or the ease of improvement? There is no magical way of finding out. What you need to do is ask around to be people who have done this thing before. After that form an educated guess. 

Executing in the determined order

Now that you know what to work on and what order to work on it, the next step would be what to do exactly. That varies from skill to skill. If your voice is very flat, practicing interpretative reading or reenacting dramatic speeches could be effective. 

When it comes to persuasion, there are all kinds of trick tactics, etc. That one could learn. If you want to be a good logical persuader, participating in debates is very effective. On the other hand, you also need to be persuasive emotionally too. This is because human beings are not completely rational animals. Thus, it is also good to look at traditional sales techniques and frameworks. 

In any case, you will need to build the skill of coming up with ways to practice the needed skill deliberately. There may not be the one “right” way to practice. You could ask coaches or experienced speakers, you could look at examples in books or just invent and try them yourself.

The knowledge barrier of not know what to do when you are stuck

Besides not knowing what to practice and how to practice it, there is the problem of what to do when you are stuck. Many of us get stuck. There are times when we feel like we are not growing, or making the same kind of speech over and over and over again. So, what can you do?

The idea here is that you need to be aware that you are probably in your comfort zone. It is the area where we feel safe. However, it is also the area of zero growth. So what can we do about this? One thing is to be aware of what is outside the comfort zone.  

Outside the comfort zone is the fear zone. This is where we feel the fear of failing, of looking stupid in front of others, and other kinds of fears. If you can build courage as I have mentioned before, you will be able to get to the other side of that zone. 

Learning zones and growth zones

Zones for Learning pic

What is on the other side of the fear zone? That would be the learning zone. This zone is where you learning something new. You are learning how to be more persuasive, learning how to use gestures more effectively, etc.

This seems like a never ending battle between feeling comfortable and growing. Well, it is. I will not say that staying in comfort zone for a long time is inherently bad. You could have other priorities.

If you are not aiming to be the number 1 presenter in all the world, then it is perfectly fine to stop at some point and move to something else. The only thing is that I would highly recommend that you continue to grow somewhere.

Environmental barriers

After the knowledge set of barriers to practice, there are environmental barriers. These could be physical or these could be cultural. Whatever they are you generally have only two options. One is to either change the environment the other is to get out of that environment. Let`s look at the possible cases.

Physical environmental barriers

First is the physical problems at home or workplace. Since the pandemic, more and more people have been working at home. This means that you will need to not only make time to practice, but you need the space to practice as well. This can be difficult.

In the case of some families, you and your spouse may be working. You may also have kids attending class remotely. If everyone has their own room to work in, there might be no problem. Not everyone is that fortunate.

You may have to negotiate with other family members so that you can enough peace and quiet to concentrate on working on your PowerPoint slides or draft your speech. Also, you may need some privacy when practicing your presentation. Whatever the case may be, it can a good idea to get with your family and work out times and schedules that are as fair as reasonably possible.

Besides space concerns, there are also physical distrations

Besides needing to share space with other people, you also need to worry about distractions. The worst is the smartphone. The smartphone has all those SNS apps which can be addictive and you may have to go on a digital diet as I have previously mentioned.

But, of course, there is more than that. At home, you have the problem of the TV. Either you feel tempted to turn it on or someone in your house already has it turned on. This can be a big distraction and a big time waster.

I do not have a TV set anywhere in my house or work area. I want as few temptations from my work as possible.

Besides the TV there are plenty of other things lurking about. There are the dishes that scream to be washed. There is the carpet that needs to be vacuumed. The dogs need to be let in and out of the house. The list goes on and on. This can be a problem for most people who work from home.

We may feel that we need to do these things, but it is often just an escape to avoid doing the hard work of creating and practicing your presentation. Keep an eye out if you are running away from your practice time. Also, schedule time for chores or other maintenance activities so your mind doesn’t distract you with things around the house that you need to do eventually.

Getting out of your house

No matter how good your house environment is, there will be times when you just need to get out of the house. It should not be hard to find a co-working space, library, or coffee shop where you could work on your presentation.

However, finding space outside your home to practice your presentation may be harder to do. You will probably need to rent a regular room or a meeting room somewhere.

In Japan, karaoke rooms can be handy. But rental office space provided can be cheap too. It just depends on where you live.

Another super cheap alternative is the park. But, only the very brave would just stand in a park or some other public place and practice their speech. However, if you want to improve your courage and resilience, that can be something to try.

At the workplace, the situation can be similar to the home. However, it is usually much easier to reserve a room. Plus, you can drag a co-worker or two in to hear your presentation and give you feedback.

Most normal meeting rooms for most people at their workplace also have projectors, etc. So, you generally don’t have to worry if you have the right equipment in the right place.

Cultural environmental barriers

In some cases, you may even have to deal with cultural considerations. There are some of us where we come from a culture that “silence is golden.” Being given the “gift of gab” is looked down on. People may not like us if we come across too “slick.”

There is also the Tall Poppy syndrome. That is where some people take out others if they seem to be too good at one skill or another. Standing out can be scary for some people.

It is better to go to a learning environment that is a positive place to try new things and avoid the fear of criticism and embarrassment. If you come from a group where they look down upon you if you are too good at presentation, I would suggest moving to a new group.

Those types of people will just hold you back. Also even if you cannot remove yourself completely, it is a good idea to find a new group that can help support the new skill or behavior you are after.

Get out of unsupportive environments

But, if you are going to join a new group, joining a Toastmasters club or even creating a speech practice group yourself would be a good move. That way the general goal of the group is to get better at presentation skills.

Each member will work towards becoming better. With a small group like that you can continue to be encouraged to do your best and continue practicing. In any case, having the right environment to encourage continual development is important for sustainable growth.

I remember the first time I participating in one of these groups. Like most things when everything was new, I did a good job of preparing and trying new things. But after a while, you go through a dip in motivation. It was the other members in the group that encouraged me.

I felt that I needed to prepare and do my best. I did not want to let the other members down. That meant that I created new presentations even if I did not feel like doing that week. Getting better at presentation and creating a presentation is a lot of work. But having a community that will support you can make all the difference.

So, as you can see being careful of your physical environment and your cultural environment are important. If you reduce the physical friction to practice, you will practice more. If you reduce the social friction, it will be easier to practice more. It is generally much better to be in a supportive environment.

Focus on one sub-skill at a time

Just dabbling can cause all sorts of problems. One of them is that you will not get good at any particular sub-skill. The other is that since you are not getting good at any particular sub-skill you feel like you are stalling and your motivation will go down.

Thus it better to focus on one sub-skill at a time. But, then you might wonder what should I focus on?

While it can sometimes seem like presentation is one big skill, it can be broken down into many components. Like when I showed you how to prioritize, I mentioned Online tech, slide design, persuasiveness, offer creation, and storytelling. That is still a drop in the bucket.

There can a a lot to master and it can feel overwhelming. That is why we need to take one thing at a time.

If you already have an idea of what kind of speaker you want to be, and what your current abilities are, then it is pretty easy to determine how big the gaps are. Once that is done you just establish priorities and work on each priority one at a time.

This does not mean that you would have to be an outstanding PowerPoint slide designer before you even work on storytelling. You may want to spiral up. In other words take your game to a level in one category before moving on to the next.

What I mean here is that if you were constantly producing B work in the area of slide design, then work at until you get to a comfortable A-. Then if the next priority is storytelling then work on that until you reach your skill target. Once you are there you can always go back and power up on a previous skill.

Practice in short bursts

As you are practicing on one thing at a time, Kaufmann points out that practicing in short burst is effective. The idea is to get a good deal of concentrated work done relatively quickly.

However, most people are so distraction prone that this can be difficult to do. The idea here is move to a place where you will not be easily distracted. Also time yourself. The common suggestion is the pomodoro or tomato technique.

Here are timing yourself 20 minutes and then taking a break for 5 minutes. This can work well for beginners who have a hard time with distraction. However, I would slowly stretch this time out as you get better and better at concentration on creation and practice.

Ideally you would want at least 1-3 hours of uninterrupted work. But this can take time to build up.

Also if you initially set up yourself or 1 hr. There is a tendency to do various tasks inefficiently. You may find yourself doing research midway through the creation of your draft. That can lead you down a time wasting rabbit hole.

Therefore it is better to break up your presentation tasks and get each done as efficiently as possible. You may actually want to time yourself and then reduce the time by 10%. So what took 25 minutes to do, should take about 23 minutes.

After you get everything down to a very lean level you can start stacking them. From there you start having very product 30 minutes to an 1 hour. Very concentrated intellectually demanding work can be tiring, so you might want of short breaks of nothing to keep things going.

Emphasize quantity and speed

It can also be important to focus on quantity and speed at first. The problem here is that there are a number of us who fight the “perfectionism” dragon. We want to get certain things right before we show it to the world.

I can understand that as you do not want to look stupid or make mistakes. But a “perfect” presentation is a hard thing to create. A good presentation is created by the interaction between the speaker and the audience. So, you are not sure who is in your audience, it is very difficult to make anything close to “perfect.”

In fact making presentation is very much like making art. You have to make a lot of it before you can get good.

The case of the vases

The typical story is that one day the art teacher divided the class into two groups. One would be judged by the quality and the other judged by quantity. Each had the task of making artistic vases.

The quality group did a lot research on how vases, debated on which design was the best quality and looked into all kinds of techniques.

The quantity group just went to the kiln and made vases. Lots and lots of vases. They experimented, broke clay, had issues with the paints, etc.

When it came to the final grading, it turned out quality group did not do a good job. There were half-baked ideas and sketches that were made into vases at the last minute. On the other hand the quantity group had a few very beautiful vases. In many cases quantity leads to quality.

Write and rewrite

The same goes for presentations, you cannot just write out the draft, create the slides, practice once and then suddenly have a perfect presentation. It just doesn’t work that way.

It has been my experience that you need to bounce ideas off other people. You need to test pieces of material with friend and colleges. Also it is a good idea to rehearse your presentation with people who may be similar to your target listener.

Doing all of that builds up the necessary quantity needed to make the presentation better and better. A good presentation is like a marble statue. You just hammer away at it until you get a beautiful work of art. One swing will not cause a David to pop out the rock.

Speed up

As you are working on presentation and improving the number of presentation that you pratice and try out, you also need to work on your time. Kaufman notes that you need to also get faster in cranking out what you are doing.

So once you get good at producing a stable level of quality. The next thing to do is work on reducing the time it takes to make it. As I mentioned in the previous section, you can work on reducing the time by 10% a step at time.

Eventually you are going to hit a wall of productivity. But, if you make a game out of it, you would be surprised on the ways you can come up with to greatly reduce the time it takes.

Create fast feedback loops

One of the more important things in any skill development is the creation of feedback loops. There is a lot to say about this, but I want to keep things simple and only talk about three different types of learning loops.

First Level: Doing it right

first learning loop

When you start learning anything, the main thing you are concentrating on is just doing the thing right. However, when it comes to presentation it seems so unstructured that it can be hard to even consider this level.

But, let`s look a simple framework like the almost all mighty PREP.

PREP stands for Point, Reason, Example, Point. It is pretty simple and very useful for most informative and logically persuasive presentations. But, despite it’s simplicity it doesn’t come naturally for most people. Something that is simple is not necessarily easy.

In any case, if you want to get good at this or any other framework you need to work at it over and over until it becomes second nature. So, the typical cycle is that you pick a topic you try to use the PREP framework then you look back at what you said to see had any gaps, forgot any parts, or for some reason the pieces did not fit together well.

Simple example of working from home

You could have someone say:

  • Point: Working from home is convenient.
  • Reason: Because it is well-suited for productive work.
  • Example: I started to work from home. I don’t have to spend time on the commute. My kids, wife, and dogs do interrupt me from time to time, but I do get things done. Sometimes it is even earlier than expected
  • Point: So, as you can see working from home is convenient.

The above seems fine, except that the point and the reason are almost mean the same thing. Convenient is defined as “well-suited with respect to facility or ease in use.”

Putting aside that the example slightly undermines the stated reason. We still don’t know how saving time from the daily commute is connected to the feeling of convenience.

So, you can see even when you are starting out with a simple framework like this, it is easy to make simple mistakes and it can take time to get better.

Second level: Using the right tool

secon learning loop

As you are learning presentation skills, you learn how to use different tools to accomplish various things. Some of these tools can be used to accomplish about the same thing. However, not all tools are equal it getting what you want to be accomplished. That is where the second learning feedback loop kicks in.

The point of this loop is to learn how to decide which tool, material, story, etc. is the best to use for a particular situation.

For example, suppose you wanted to get people to take up dog walking because it is simple and healthy. How would you approach this? You could use the PREP framework.


That would put a fairly logical framework that could work well. Making the point, providing a reason, and then clarifying it with a clear example, would make easily understood. But is that the best approach?

There is another framework is problem, solution, evidence, future, and call to action. In this case you mention the problem and how bad it is before you introduce the solution.

In this case, if any of you are working from home, you are not probably not getting enough exercise. If you don’t get enough exercise, that could lead to you being fat, run-down, and at high risk of a heart attack.

That might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point. But this kind of format and opening gets people more emotional receptive to the logical argument that comes later. This can mean that this format could be more effective that the PREP if you are trying to persuade someone.

Other consideration would be which stories, examples will work for which audiences. Sometimes you have a good feel for this. Sometimes you don’t. That is why it is good to pratice in front somebody to see if you picking the right things.

Third learning loop: Aiming for the right thing

There is another level of consideration. That is that you picking the right message for what you are trying to accomplish. Take the previous example of walking your dog for better health. If your objective, is to get people to off their buts and exercise, you need to consider that you using the right message delivered with the right method done in the right way to accomplish your mission.

If 13% of the audience has dogs, then promoting dog walking is not going to help you accomplish your objective of encourage exercise. So, whenever you are thinking about your message before you consider what method would be the most effective way of getting is across, you need to consider if the message itself will work with the audience.

If you have limited information about your audience, it would be a good idea to come up with a couple of possible messages, based on your basic objective. Then you can bounce them off different people to see which one works.

While this is a deeper level analysis of your presentation, it is probably something should seriously work on before you put too much effort on the actual content and slide design. If you have a message that doesn’t resonate with the audience, then you wasted a lot time.


Josh Kaufman initially outlines this in his book, “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything … Fast.” 10 keys for being competant in something quickly. Since, he did not cover presentation skill, I arrange his 10 keys so aspiring presenters could be use this to get better.

The 10 keys are as follows:

1) Choose a lovable project
2) Define your target performance
3) Deconstruct into sub-skills
4) Make dedicated time for practice
5) Obtain critical tools
6) Eliminate barriers to practice
7) Focus on one skill at a time
8) Practice in short bursts
9) Emphasize quantity and speed
10) Create fast feedback loops

So, if you want to be a better presenter, make sure you have short term clearly defined project to get better. This could be a contest, starting up a YouTube channel or what have you.

Make sure you have a clear set of criteria to measure your progress. Just practicing without it will give you no sense of progress and demotivate you.

If you have not already, deconstruct the basic sub-skills for presentation. Make sure you have time to practice them. Be sure you have the critical in place so you can. And work one sub-skill at a time so there is less dabbling and more mastery.

To do so you need to work in short burst of concentrated practice. You need to make sure you put out in quantity. Also, have things in place so you can get feedback quickly. You need make sure you are doing it right, using the right method, and have the message that best fist what you are trying to accomplish.

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply learning and evaluation loops to the art of presentation and other topics, please continue browser at other articles on this site. If you have questions, comments, etc. please leave those feel free to leave them. Also if you have a need for more specific help on presentations, debate, etc., please feel free to contact me here.

Matthew Ownby

Previously worked at NASA, Cisco Japan, and other large IT Corporation. Spent more than 15 years training businessmen and women to be better presenters. Good enough at Japanese help native Japanese speakers win speaking contests. Was fortunate enough to give a TEDx Talk in Kyoto also in Japanese ;). Also aims to build the toughest communication contest ever. That will not only include being good at business presentation skills, but debate, meeting facilitation, negotiation, coaching, and more. Also runs an online communication dojo where the focus is on practical skill application not listening to a sage on a stage.

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