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  • Writer's pictureJim M. Morgan

Executive Communications: The Power of a Post Mortem

You’ve given a speech, delivered a presentation or spoken at a media event. Your work is done, right? Wrong. As tempting as it might be to move immediately on to the next task, the best thing you can do to improve future performance is to evaluate what you just did. What worked well, and what could have been better? You’ll likely find that your presentation was neither as bad as you feared it might be or as good as you hoped it could be. Here are three things to ask yourself when conducting a presentation post mortem.


Did I stumble on any words?


It’s surprising how often words that look right on paper can still sound wrong when spoken. If you stumbled over one or more words, ask yourself why. Was it a particular word, or the way in which several words were grouped together? Perhaps you have no problem with the word “abundance” by itself, but you stumble trying to say, “an abundance of antiquated algorithms.” If so, maybe next time you use “many old formulas” instead. The point is, it’s helpful to know what kinds of constructions cause you problems so you can avoid them in future.


Pro tip: Always read any speech or presentation aloud to yourself – several times if you can manage it – before going “live” in front of an audience. Doing so will spotlight places where well-meaning words are waiting to trip you up. And when you find them, fix them.


Was I relaxed or rigid?


As human beings, we pay as much attention to how something is said as to what is said. The way in which a message is delivered has a huge impact on its impact or effectiveness. The most well-crafted speech falls flat if the speaker is rigid and uncomfortable, which an audience will interpret as inauthenticity. As you reflect on your performance, ask yourself how it felt to you. Did you feel relaxed? If so, think about what contributed to your comfort. Was it lots of preparation, a friendly audience, or a pleasant room? Similarly, if you weren’t relaxed, think about what made you uncomfortable. Was the room dim, making your notes unreadable? Was the AC too high? Was your third grade teacher in the audience?


Pro tip: Since a good presentation is as much physical as it is verbal, take time to loosen up before a performance. In much the same way that star athletes warm up before a big game, find a quiet space to stretch and center yourself before you present.


What would I do differently next time?


This is the biggie. Post mortems can be unpleasant. Especially when you’re not happy with your presentation, it’s tempting to sprint past it as fast as humanly possible. If you can sit with some discomfort, however, you may well find this exercise very valuable. Think about what you would change if you could. Would you wear a different outfit? Would you talk less, or more? Would you partner with a co-presenter? The presentation you just gave cannot be changed, but you can do anything you want next time. Take this as an opportunity to start planning your next triumph.


Pro tip: Don’t be too hard on yourself. As you reflect on your performance, select just two to three things to improve next time. Selecting more than that will be too daunting; less than that will slow the pace of your improvement.



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