Presentation skills – do you have them?

A large part of my work as a consultant is giving presentations and teaching stuff. I’ve been doing presenting and teaching since 2000 and I feel fairly good at it. When I started out I was young and inexperienced, something I compensated for with a huge ego instead. Needless to say, I had … mixed results. Thankfully I’m a quick learner and dialed back the ego and increased the use of my ears to a level where I consistently managed to get both my points across and get good scores.

I had my own company in parallel with my normal job at the University and taught for a company called Learning Tree. This was back in the early 2000s when there was still some money to be made for teachers and training companies alike, but after a couple of years this started to go downhill so I decided to shut down my company and focus on my main line of work.

True to form, I couldn’t keep my hands out of teaching so I did a few guest lectures and some internal courses here and there. Fast forward to my present job at Atea, where I’ve been actively involved in giving presentations from day one. I do presentations on anything imaginable when it comes to IT infrastructure, both for internal use and for customers. We also have a couple of events ranging from 100 people to almost 2000 people where I regularly talk or do demos.

In the summer of 2014 I attended a CompTIA CTT+ (certified technical trainer) course as a prerequisite to attaining MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) status in order to be able to teach Microsoft courses. This was held in London by a superb teacher by the name of Simon Garlick (of reZound UK). I’ve been through technical trainer courses a few times before, but it was a great refresher aimed at getting the students through CTT+ certification, something that involves videotaping yourself giving a presentation and keeping track of a myriad of details the judges want to see. I passed both the video and written exam parts and finally achieved the coveted MCT title – 16 years after first hearing about it.

Then along came my good friend and colleague Simon. Not only is he exceptionally bright, but he has a knack of finding interesting tidbits that he likes to share with me. This time he had found a book by a guy called David Phillips called “How to avoid death by Powerpoint” and claimed it was very good. I scanned it, realized he is a proponent of black backgrounds (something I have never understood), and decided to see what this was all about.

After reading said book, I found myself unable to look at Powerpoint in quite the same way again. I then watched his TEDx talk and very much liked what I saw.

A few months later Simon came along again and reminded me that this David Phillips person apparently gave a course on presentation skills and had taught a previous colleague of ours. Said colleague was very impressed, and since that is a rare occurrence we decided to book ourselves on a course to see what this was all about.

And boy, am I happy we did.

Having stayed over at the mansion next door, we walked the couple of hundred meters to the venue – another mansion. Here David greeted us and told us he had worked hard on creating the ultimate learning environment – complete with birdsong and absolutely no creaking floors.

We launched straight into the course and David mesmerized us from the moment he opened his mouth. The two days went by in a flash, and without giving too much away I can honestly say that it was the two best training days I’ve ever attended. Me and Simon were pretty good when we came, but we were much, much better when we left. David managed to create an environment where eight people, most of whom had never met each other before, could present to and get feedback from each other as well as the instructor without any friction whatsoever. That is a feat in itself, but he went on to elevate all of us from our respective levels to a common standard that was higher than where I was when I came through the door.

We went through the neurological basis for learning, preparation, movement, body language and use of voice, to mention a few things. One aspect turned out to be key for me – preparation. I’ve been doing things more or less unplugged for 15 years – never again.

I can’t praise David highly enough, and I recommend anyone who is looking for a presentation skills course to look no further. The training is superb, the instructor is exceedingly good and the venue is outstanding. I can’t wait for the next level training.

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