What to look for in a presentation skills trainer

0304730 When you’re choosing a presentation skills trainer there are a number of things to look for: their planning methodology, their views on PowerPoint, and how they’ll coach you on your delivery style. But despite all those variables there’s one critical distinction to look for. That’s the attitude of the trainer: are they rule-driven or driven by what will work for you. Here are the two types:

1. The rule-driven presentation skills trainer

This type of trainer starts from the position of what an effective presenter does and doesn’t do. They have a list of rules, musts and don’ts. For example, they may say things like:

“Don’t use notes. It will damage your credibility.”

“If you look nervous, people will question your veracity.”

“You’ve got to have an attention-grabbing opening.”

There are grains of truth in these statements. But a grain in the wrong place can rub you raw.

The problem with this rule-driven approach is that it creates pressure to “perform” in a certain way. That pressure can increase your anxiety about public speaking.

2. The empowering presentation skills trainer

This type of trainer starts from where you’re at. They find out your level of experience and how confident you are, and then use strategies to help you become as effective as you can in front of an audience. This type of trainer understands that you’re likely to feel somewhat nervous and part of their role is to help you reduce your nervousness.

Here’s how the empowering presentation skills trainer would address the rules above:

1. Notes

This presentation skills trainer understands that, unless you have a perfect memory or have done the presentation many times, you’ll need notes to help to keep you on track during a presentation. They’ll work with you to find the way that works best for you. That could be note cards, visual PowerPoint slides, or props.

2. Looking nervous

This trainer understands that they can make you more nervous by putting pressure on you. They know that if they say “if you look nervous people will question your veracity” that’s likely to increase your anxiety. Instead, they’ll explain that most of the time you don’t look as nervous as you feel, and maybe use video feedback to help prove that to you. They’ll also give you practical strategies to help you reduce your anxiety about public speaking.

3. Attention-grabbing opening

This trainer understands that the opening of your presentation is often when you’re at your most nervous. So telling you that you’ve got to grab people’s attention is not going to help. They’ll work with you to find a way of opening your presentation that works for you and works for your audience.

How to find out what type of presentation skills trainer they are

To find out whether they have a rule-driven or empowering attitude ask them some questions about their approach. For example:

“What do you think of presenters using notes during their presentation.”

“What do you think is the best way of starting a presentation?”

What you’re looking for is flexibility in their approach. Type #1 will respond with inflexible rules “You mustn’t use notes. You must have an attention-grabbing opening.” Type #2 will answer in such a way that takes into account your needs while still working for the audience.

What if you’re a presentation skills trainer

And you realize you’ve been rather rule-driven in the past? If you’re a presentation skills trainer, you’re probably a pretty good presenter. You may even be a professional speaker. You got to that place by continually working to improve your skills, always pushing yourself  to the next level. It probably works for you to have “rules” such as “don’t use notes” and “have an attention-getting opening”. These things are expected of professional speakers. But they are not expected of people who simply present as part of their jobs. Put yourself in their shoes and suggest strategies which will work for them.

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  1. Amen.
    There are no rules, is the only rule I believe in, when it comes to presenting.
    It all depends. On the reactions we cause. And want to cause.

    A speaker with notes may have a fascinating voice and the notes will become totally invisible.
    A speaker with cluttered slides may have such a relevant story to tell that it makes the slides perfectly invisible.

    A good trainer will never say you must, but: why don’t we try something else… and will guide students -step by step- and help them discover & develop their personal ressources. Because everyone is different, and we all need different rules.

    That does not mean that there are no objective criteria for a good talk.
    But sometimes they simply do not matter as much as the invisible touch.

    • As usual, beautifully said, Anke :-).

  2. Thank you once again Olivia for a great post. Rules cause presenters so many problems, and many feel liberated knowing that it is ok to have notes, or that they don’t have to start with a joke.
    When delegates are not convinced I suggest that they watch some of the TED talks, where you can see such a wide variety of presenters, some with notes, some who sit rather than stand etc. By seeing how compelling these presenters are, often purely because of their passion for a subject, it convinces the doubters.

  3. Hi Mary
    That’s a great strategy.

  4. Good Post, Olivia.

    One size does not fit all.

    Interview several trainers before deciding on one to work with.

    We all have different personalities and they are not always compatible with each other.

    I have a friend who is an excellent editor, but I know I couldn’t work with her.
    However, I know she does good work, and would recommend her to others.

    The same thing with trainers. We’re not all a fit for everyone.

    In fact, the trainer should, when necessary, tell the prospect that there might be someone else who can better serve their needs.


  5. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

    • Thanks Darren

      That’s a great impromptu speech too!