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Presenting = running a long distance race?


Yesterday I attended a Masterclass course on presentations providing guidance and tips on how to move your presentation style from competent to outstanding. One of the most interesting insights I have taken away from the course is that presenting can be compared to down hill skiing (Piero Vitelli).

I have done many presentations over the course of my career, in fact, my most recent job involved presenting every day in one form or another! So I have always considered myself a good and experienced presenter. That delivering presentations is like skiing was a revelation to me. I have come back from the course and have read up some more on effective presentations and found that another author compares the art of presenting to swimming (Jerry Weissman):

“To teach swimming, coaches take novices through the component skills in progressive stages. The first lesson takes place out of the water, at the side of the pool, where the novice learns the arm stroke and the leg stroke separately. Then the novice gets into the shallow end of the pool and practices the arm strokes and leg strokes, still separately, but now with training equipment — flotation devices, kick boards and the rungs of a ladder — to develop the skills further. As the training progresses, the novice puts aside the equipment and swims, first in the shallow end of the pool, then the deep end, and finally, in a lake or ocean. The fundamental aspect of this approach is to deconstruct the basics and then to reconstruct them progressively. It works in swimming … and it works in presentations”.

I find that these are very interesting analogies so I have decided to come up with my own one.

I personally would compare presenting with running a long distance race (maybe 10k since I have done a few and know how it feels) and the period of time you are training for it. One of the key reasons for it that the sheer amount of time one has to train to be in great shape to run (or walk!) the 10k course. The same applies to presentations – the best presenters in my opinion put in days and hours of hard core preparation, research, planning and scoping out.

Secondly, an aspiring long distance runner would be building up their strength and endurance gradually, first starting with say a 2k course, then gradually increasing it to 5k and so on until they reach the magic number. Same goes for presentations: you build up your skill and confidence with more and more practice. You can’t expect to come out on stage or even in front of a small group of people and appear (and most importantly feel!) very confident and deliver an outstanding presentation. It comes with practice (consistent, continuous practice) – same as for running long distance.

A long-distance runner would normally warm up before they start their run – same applies for presenters. To deliver an outstanding piece, one would need to perform a simple warm up a few minutes before they are due to present – be it a brisk walk, some voice and breathing exercises.

In training for a 10k race, a runner would normally attempt the course maybe a few times before the race itself. An experienced presenter would aim to do a similar thing – to practise their presentation a number of times with either colleagues, friends or just in front of the mirror or with the help of the video recorder.

While training for a 10k race, runners usually choose to do so with a running mate – to support and help them improve faster. I believe in presentations, PowerPoint slides play the role of a running partner by supporting the information he presents but not overtaking and overpowering at the same time. The presenter is the main person while the slides provide the background support and encouragement and something to fall back.

These are just a few of my own thoughts on how presenting is similar to long-distance running.

By the way, have a look at this video of Hans Rosling doing an amazing presentation based purely on numbers – living proof what an impressive presentation you can produce even with a lot of dry numbers:

Have you experienced/delivered outstanding presentations? What are your tips on how to present well from your own experience?

Dasha Amrom

4 Thoughts on “Presenting = running a long distance race?

  1. Mick Ling on January 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm said:

    Hi Dasha,
    I think this is an interesting analogy. One thing I would add, having run a few 10k races myself, is that it’s always good to try to save up some energy for a final impressive burst of speed up to the finishing line, rather than staggering across the line feeling half-dead. Similarly, good speakers like to end their presentations with a big, impressive finish – a memorable quote, some powerful and surprising data, or even just a good joke. Much better than just running out of steam towards the end because you’ve used up all your best material and energy in the earlier part of the talk.

    • Thanks for your comments Mick. I would definetely agree that it is wise to save up some energy for the end of the presentation – but sometimes it is hard especially if a presentation is spread over a few hours. And finishing a presentation with a good joke resonates well with me! The difficult part is to think of a good and suitable joke and this is another challenge in itself!

  2. Awesome video, I really love watching it. I am looking forward to seeing more videos from you soon.

    Women owned businesses

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