I worked on a client webinar today featuring an elementary school principal. She showed this picture of her students producing and broadcasting the daily school news video. The boy sitting next to the principal is telling the "joke of the day" while the girls monitor framing and check the outbound feed. the man is just documenting how the whole thing gets made, and is not a part of the process itself.
The picture really made me think. First, I marveled at the fact that these elementary students have a better technical setup than most business professionals who appear on video webinars or webcasts. The presenters have a simple background that does not distract the viewer's eye. The camera is slightly above the presenters' eye lines and has them properly framed. The video image is visible if needed, but is not directly in front of the presenters, so they don't keep trying to sneak a peek at their image and can instead maintain proper eye contact with the camera. The camera is far enough away to capture the full upper body of the presenters and still allow enough room to capture hand gestures or a little head and body movement.
Compare that with the usual webinar video taken from a business person's laptop computer, shooting up into their nostrils, with the ceiling featured as a background. The close proximity of the webcam means that perspectives are foreshortened and moving your hands even slightly toward the camera makes them appear gigantic. Any upper body motion moves you out of your tight closeup framing.
But more than this, I started thinking about what I would tell the students if I were invited to help them improve their presentation techniques. I would have to keep it very simple, concentrating on a few key fundamentals. You can't overwhelm a child just learning the basics of presenting.
If they kept developing their skills, they would have the opportunity to work on additional techniques, practicing vocal skills, projection, diction, scripting, on-camera behaviors, incorporation of graphics and other supporting materials, and so on. Over time, they would develop into better and better presenters - a skill that would help them throughout their lives in feeling comfortable in front of others, learning how to communicate effectively, and having the ability to effectively inform and influence other people. They should be able to look back on their early, primitive steps into this field of expertise and shake their heads wistfully… "I can't believe how bad I was! If I only knew then what I know now."
Which brings me to my key question for you… Do you ever shake your head wistfully and say "I can't believe how bad I used to be as a presenter. If I only knew then what I know now?" You should! Presentation skills are like any other learned skill set. You learn additional techniques over time, building on what you have assimilated and have become comfortable with. You feel capable of incorporating greater sophistication in using interactive techniques, working with supporting multimedia, or structuring your talk to make it more persuasive and useful for your audience.
I keep my old presentations archived. Some in PowerPoint form, some in script documents, some in audio or video recordings. I often look back through them to get ideas or pull out snippets I remember using in the past. I usually cringe at the quality of my past materials. But that is right and proper. If I'm no better now than I was then, what have I been doing with my career?
Athletes, opera singers, construction workers, and doctors all expect to keep learning, keep practicing, and keep improving their skills. But presenters too often feel that "this is good enough." I hope you will feel inspired to stay on a path to continual improvement as a presenter, learning and incorporating better practices for crafting your speeches, your materials, and your delivery. Enjoy the growth that lets you look back on your past efforts with the bittersweet smile of experience.