Measuring Presentation Success

andrewI’m often accused of being overly critical of the talks that I give. Labeled as a perfectionist by colleagues, in addition to ‘crazy’ by friends and family, I often walk away from a presentation thinking that I could have done better. Perhaps I am a perfectionist, crazy, or maybe I’m just human (the jury was out on that last one). A lot of my colleagues relate giving a talk to sitting for an exam. Walking out you often know if you nailed it or if you failed miserably. Unlike an exam, however, the success of your talk is generally written on the faces in the crowd. Attentive, interactive, and boisterous participation is a sure fire indicator that things are going in your favor. This energy is something that the presenter can feed on to fuel his or her own motivation, thus making the presentation flow positively. On the flip side, listless, bored, and disinterested participants tend to suck the life out of the presenter and the presentation.

Sometimes there are situations that completely throw you for a loop. You know you’ve prepared, triple-checked your facts, and practiced at great lengths, but you still have a sense of foreboding in the pit of your stomach. Unfortunately, for me, the aforementioned scenario is how I often feel post-talk (and exam). Some would say it’s a confidence issue, others might say that I’m simply stuck in my own head. It’s entirely possible that both are correct but perhaps it’s also my own little slice of the OCD pie? (note to self: bounce this self-flagellating diagnosis by Bill Brenner next time I talk with him). Regardless of the reasoning behind it, as it is my cross to bear, I am, however, able to identify the key indicators that a presentation was worthwhile.

  1. The talk encourages audience members to ask questions
  2. Someone talks, either via social media or in person by coming up and shaking my hand, about how great the talk was, how well I communicated my points, or how much they learned as a result of it
  3. The talk becomes a catalyst for further discussion, either immediately after the session, follow-up calls/emails, or even face-to-face at another event months after the initial presentation.
  4. I’m asked to do the talk again

Ultimately, if at least one person approaches me to tell me that they learned something or that it was a great presentation, I’ve accomplished what I set out to achieve. Not only does it make me feel like I’ve contributed to something bigger than myself (no fat jokes please), but it makes me feel like my preparation and time away from my family was worth it. Keep the speaking opportunities coming folks…I’ll figure out the secret sauce at some point 😉

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