Become a better presenter with the learning cycle

Tips for becoming a better presenter

Every time we learn a new skill we go through a cycle of learning. Understanding this cycle can help us to learn better and learn faster.   In this article, I’d like to apply this process to becoming a better presenter.

There are four distinct stages to the learning process. I’ll outline them here first, and then look at each one in a little more detail.

Unconscious incompetence
I think of this phase as “ignorance is bliss”.  You don’t know what you don’t know. From here, mastering a new skill doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Conscious incompetence
I call this the panic phase. As soon as you start to learn something new, it begins to dawn on you just how much you don’t know, or can’t do. This is the stage where so many people give up because the gap in their current knowledge seems too big to overcome.

Conscious Competence
This is an awkward phase. It’s when you have to stay committed and polish your developing skills with repetition and practice.  It takes conscious effort feels like hard work and you will be a bit “clunky”.  I find that it helps to remember that it’s just a phase, a natural part of the journey.

Unconscious competence
This is the stage of mastery. The new skill has become an unconscious habit, and most of the time you do it without thinking. It feels natural and easy.

Now let’s apply this to learning how to become a better presenter and see how it can it help us

When we start out on our journey, we see other presenters who make it look so easy.  We are blissfully ignorant of the time and effort that have put in to get where they are today. We are also unaware of the many, different, complimentary skills they have developed. Storytelling, body language, vocal variety, use of rhetorical devices, stagecraft, slide design, question handling, etc.

Once we start to speak in public, the realization of how much we have to learn hits us.
Remember that this feeling of panic is a natural and inevitable part of the learning process. We have all been here before many many times, and so has every great speaker. It’s nothing to worry about. Embrace it, keep learning and you will find a way through to the next stage. Having a coach, mentor or learning buddy can be a big help at this stage. We all need bit of encouragement and help if we are going to learn. For me, it helps to remind myself why I want to master the skill and to think about how good I’ll feel when I make it.

After a while, if you get support, training, and practice, you’ll find that things get easier and that you start to get things right more often than you get things wrong. It’s hard work and takes concentration but at least you can do it. You may not be the best presenter yet, but you are definitely better than you were. This is where people often say something like “practice makes perfect.”

Practice is crucial, but you need to make sure that you practice doing things the right way. If you just keep repeating the same bad habits, there is no guarantee that you’ll get any better.

And, if you keep the faith and do all of the above, you will find yourself one day giving an excellent presentation with ease and grace and you’ll have enjoyed it too. It’s a heady feeling, but remember; learning doesn’t stop here. It’s a lifelong process, and right around the corner, is another cycle of learning. If you dare to embrace it, you will move further along your journey to becoming an even better presenter.

Good luck and enjoy it.

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  1. Richard I. Garber on 12/03/2014 at 17:22

    Please fix your graphic. It has two areas labeled Unconscious Competence.

    • Gavin Meikle on 12/03/2014 at 17:37

      Thanks Richard – well spotted. it is now fixed.

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