There are hundreds of different presentation training courses available, all of which promise to banish your nervousness and make you an accomplished public speaker. How do you choose the right course for you?
Googling “Presentation Training” will at first sight generate a very long list of different vendors who offer the same “Presentation Training”. But as you look closer you will find some trainers approach the topic from a theatrical perspective, some from a business background, and a few from an educational viewpoint. While most courses cover the core elements of public speaking, they are all biased towards their own area of speciality. Some trainers put more emphasis on the dramatic aspects, some on the techniques of presenting and some on the desired outcomes. In general:
- Theatrical Presentations, run by actors, focus on Breathing, Vocal Exercises, Posture
- Educational Presentations, run by trainers, focus on How to be a trainer, Learning Styles, slide design
- Business Presentations, run by business people focus on Influencing people, motivation, instigating change
Firstly, consider the type of presentation you are likely to be giving. Is it for a best man’s speech, is it for business or is it about the technology of presentations. If it is for business or sales presentations you need to choose a business presentation training course. There are many aspects of giving a business presentation that may not be covered by a one-size-fits-all public speaking course. I recommend googling “Business Presentation Training” rather than “presentation training”.
While I’m on the subject of searching for providers using Google, I also suggest you include the nearest town or city in the search. This narrows down the proliferation of training companies to ones that run courses in your area, and may save a long commute to the course.
Does the course give you the opportunity to give at least two presentations? You need to practise and get feedback on your presentations, if it is all talk from the lecturer you won’t learn nearly as much. However, beware of courses that are almost all practical. You need to have some tutorial time to ensure that you are practising the right skills.
How many people are allowed on the course, I recommend a maximum of 6. Any more and you will spend too long listening to other people giving presentations. The larger the class the less opportunity there is for the lecturer to take on board individual concerns you might have or to focus on the particular type of presentation you are most likely to be giving.
How long is the course? Most courses are either one or two days. If time and cost are not an issue then a 2 day course usually provides more time for practising but can you afford to take 2 days away from your desk? A competent trainer should be able to cover all the main points about how to structure and give a presentation, plus allow enough time for practicals on a one day course.
Do they use video feedback? It is really useful to see and hear yourself giving a presentation. It is only with video feedback that you can appreciate what you really look and sound like. Don’t shy away from courses that use video, they are usually well worth it.
How are the practical presentations reviewed? Is it just the lecturer’s comments or are the other participants encouraged to comment on your presentation. Everyone is different and different people will pick up on different things so a wider review panel is usually better. Actively reviewing other people’s presentations is also a good learning exercise.
In a business presentation, you are invariably trying to influence your audience in some way. Either trying to get them to buy a product or a service or to think about something in a particular way. This adds an extra dimension to the public speaking skills you need to learn. A good business presentation skills course will address the subject of how to influence people and how to get them to think the way you want them to do.
The price of presentation skills training courses vary tremendously but in my experience price is not always representative of value. Just because a course is comparatively cheap it does not mean it may be of lower quality then a far more expensive course. But do consider the average number of participants and the length of the course. Often cheaper courses have higher delegate numbers and are therefore less personal and less able to meet your specific needs.
Then there is the level of training. Some companies offer beginners courses, typically 1 day, intermediates courses, typically 2 days and advanced courses typically 1 day. This structure of training according to different levels of experience seems valid on first sight, but I believe it is more about increasing the potential revenues for the training companies. Over the years, I have run presentation courses for hundreds of people, some of whom have been completed novices, some who were particularly nervous, and some who have been very experienced. I have used the same course structure for everyone and 99% of the people have rated the course as good or excellent. I believe the focus should be on the results, i.e. what people should be doing in their presentations after the course, rather than focusing on how much they knew beforehand. There are certain things everyone should do when they are giving a presentation and it doesn’t matter whether it is their first presentation or their five hundredth presentation, they should still be doing the same things. That is what a good course will teach them.
The only exception to this is for the experienced presenter who needs to tune his or her technique and correct any bad habits they may have fallen into. The problem here is that by going on a course with other experienced presenters who have different problems to address it becomes difficult to a lecturer to address everyone’s individual needs without boring the rest of the class. In these cases I recommend a one on one coaching session rather than a standard course. This enables the coach to focus on the improvements that the individual wants/needs to make.
Training companies themselves vary in size and structure. Some are huge organisations, with lots of employees that train in a wide variety of different subjects. The lecturers in these companies tend to be career trainers. Then there are the other apparently large training concerns which actually subcontract all the work out to smaller companies. Then there are the specialists and one man bands. Almost every training company offers some form of public speaking training, on the basis that their trainers are always standing up talking to people, so they should be able to teach other people how to do it. I would suggest that in the case of giving a business presentation this is not always true.
No matter how good the agenda would appear to be, the success of any training course depends on the lecturer. Who will be running the course you are attending? If the training company can’t or won’t commit to who will be running a particular course, be very wary. Does the company provide feedback and client testimonials for individual lecturers? Don’t rely on general company wide testimonials, they may not relate to the individual who will be running your course. Ask for specific testimonials for your specific lecturer. Ask if you could talk to someone, in a similar position as yourself, who has been on the same course with that lecturer in the past. Good training companies should be able to arrange this without any problem.
Look for trainers who have been there and done it, not just the ones who talk about it. If you are looking for a business presentation training course look for one run by a business person, who has given lots of business presentations not an out of work actor, who knows about appearing on stage but little or nothing about business.
Finally, check what you will get in terms of course materials. If is just a copy of the lecturer’s sides than this is fairly useless as a source of additional learning. Look for courses which provide a source of ongoing reference material, check lists and the support to ensure your future success.
I wish you every success in your choice of presentation trainer and your future presentations.