Coaching Presentations

Part of my work as an experience assistant at the dschool focused on coaching student groups through the design thinking process.  During my first late-night coaching session, a student stumbled through a speech that was due the next day. After reflecting on the experience and what I had observed in my own classes, I came to realize there was a big need for students to be coached on how to deliver a solid presentation. In many ways it's not a surprising insight: giving a good presentation is hard work, and it's a type of performance most of us don't practice day-to-day.  What was surprising was that, after speaking with a few experts at the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking, I found a few quick and simple ways to coach students towards better presentations.

The handout above represents a distillation of how I work with students on their delivery. We begin with a short stoke:  First, we enter the space where the presentation will take place. This helps the presenter get accustomed to the right arena and offers practice with a number of important details, like how loud they should project their voice.  Then I ask the presenter to strike a power pose and hold it for a minute or so. This reduces stress and improves confidence.  Next, they assert themselves in space by taking wide, clunky steps and claiming "This is my space!" Finally, I ask them to take a deep breath and deliver their speech.

When the speech is over, I give careful feedback.  Most of the students who utilize our coaching sessions have a deliverable due the next day; realistically, they'll only be able to change a few aspects of their performance, so I limit myself to giving only 2-3 pieces of feedback.  On the handout above, the light nuggets are pieces of feedback that are relatively easy to turn around and apply.  When coaching, I offer no more than two light nuggets.  The heavy nuggets require deeper though to implement well, so I offer one at most.  It's good practice to work with presenters on implementing heavy nuggets.

Students often report feeling overwhelmed by presentations.  Limiting feedback helps students zero-in on aspects of the presentation they can control.  It may seem like a small step, but learning to control you delivery piece-by-piece increases confidence and leads to stronger presentations.