Kathleen Clarke (Moore) is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at the University of Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter @_KathleenClarke where she tweets about graduate education, mental health, and disability.
Here at GradHacker we’ve written a lot about how to prepare for presentations and how to improve your presentations. One thing we haven’t really touched on is the benefits of recording your presentations and watching the recording afterwards. There are different contexts in which you might record yourself. For example, you might record a conference presentation or a lesson from a course you’re teaching (Anne Guarnera writes about this here). When I was talking to a colleague about this post he/she mentioned that his/her interview for a faculty position was recorded. I’ve also heard of job talks being recorded so that they can be reviewed by hiring committees at a later date.
Up until recently, I had never watched a recording of myself. When I was in my teacher’s certification program I was required to film one lesson, but I could never bring myself to watch it. I didn’t think the lesson had gone well and I didn’t want to re-live how painful it was. I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with how I looked, how I spoke, and how I handled it when the lesson didn’t go as planned. I still haven’t watched it.
This past semester, however, I was invited to do a live-streamed keynote. This time, I wanted to watch the recording even though I was still scared. Once again, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be happy with the presentation. In the end, however, I watched the recording three times, and in the process, I learned a lot about who I am as a presenter. I encourage all of you to watch a recording of a presentation or lesson, and here are a few things to consider when you do.
1. Filler words. I noticed words I liked to say that didn’t add anything of importance. For example, I said “uhm” a lot, usually when I was transitioning from one point to another. I know this is a common speaking tic, but I never noticed how often I said this until I watched the recording. Other filler words you might have are “uh” or “like.” The nice thing about recognizing your use of these words is that you can work to reduce your use of such words. Simple pausing instead of saying these filler words is a good strategy to fix this.
2. Body language. Look for things like what you do with your hands, how you’re standing, where you’re looking. You might notice you stand behind the podium and decide you want to move around the room a little bit. Assuming you have a PowerPoint, you might be turned towards where your slides are projected and looking at the slides instead of looking at the computer on the podium. This results in your body (and your voice) being turned away from the audience and this may make it difficult for the audience to hear you.
3. Volume of your voice. Consider the volume of your voice and whether it is appropriate for the context. Projecting my voice was one of my strengths in the recording and I noticed that it set a tone for the presentation; I sounded confident. Remember, the audience members in the back need to be able to hear you.
4. Clarity of your ideas. While it’s important to consider the words you use, your body language, and your voice, you should also pay attention to the main points you are trying to get across. Sometimes when people don’t rehearse the presentation or prepare notes ahead of time, their brain is in cognitive overdrive trying to find a way to verbalize all their thoughts. In doing so, the examples that are provided during the talk might not be the most effective or your points might not connect in a logical order. When you review your recording, make note of whether the ideas flow, the main points are clear, and there are appropriate examples.
This is just a starting point of things to look for. I recommend watching the recording more than once to pick out some of these behaviours. While a lot of people tend to only notice their flaws, it’s important to also look for strengths. For example, I noticed I’m excellent at responding to audience questions following the presentation. It’s just as important to recognize what you are good at so this behavior is reinforced.
Another way to look at this is as if you are an athlete. How do athletes improve at their sport? They watch recordings. They look for certain things, they talk about what they are doing well and about how to improve, and they go out and try and win the next game. As graduate students, by watching recordings you can reflect on your strengths and areas for improvement, and in doing so can continue to improve.
Have you watched a recording of yourself doing an interview or presentation?
If you have, what did you learn when you watched it?
If you haven’t, why haven’t you?
[Image by Flickr user Michael Stephens and used under Creative Commons licensing.]