Question from a reader:

I am a competent manager. I know budgets, teams, people and how to get things done. But the minute I get up in front of groups, I spaz. I trip on words, sweat and panic. If I need to sharpen this skill, what would you suggest?


Dear Poser,

At least you’re aware it’s not a strength. What’s worse is the unskilled presenter who thinks they are.

Bone up and practice. Set goals for yourself. First, look for specific training programs on effective communications. Search for local groups formed for this very purpose. Scan for courses in public speaking on your campus. You might want to take a look at some presentations at the recent Educause conference. There are many examples of those who do it well and those who don’t.

Next, think about a project or initiative that needs a lift. Give yourself an assignment to do a ten minute presentation. The spend time on it. Practice it in front of a mirror or a camera. Critique yourself, allow trusted partners or mentors to provide you feedback. Then ask for time in front of your peers or manager. By the time you do it live, you should have worked out some of the kinks.

Speaking is like writing. A good, clean outline with sequential points that lead to a set of options, that is how to structure a good persuasive pitch. Practice, practice, practice.

PowerPoint can help or hurt. Used properly, it can augment your key points. Write too much, distract with slide transitions and graphics, or overload with information, you’ll lose your audience. Google ‘PowerPoint Tips.” Much has been written on the topic. Keep it simple!

The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become. Public speaking and ability to persuade others is a key skill if you are to advance your career.