The most powerful presentation skills development tool you are underutilizing

Hire a coach. Join a Toastmasters Club. Watch TED Talks and speeches given by master presenters. Many public speakers adopt such strategies to improve. But there’s one powerful tool that most speakers refuse to use, even though they have access to it: recording and reviewing video of their rehearsals and presentations.

Analyzing video recordings of yourself speaking is one of the most effective ways to improve your presentation skills. It allows speakers a more objective way to assess strengths and weaknesses – they can see and hear how listeners actually encounter their presentations, rather than how they think listeners encounter their presentations.

The benefit of video analysis is common knowledge among presentation skills coaches and consultants (and why you should be skeptical of any so-called experts who don’t include it in their approach). But you don’t have to hire a coach to reap these benefits.

It’s quite easy to access recording technology on smartphones, tablets and computers and use a tripod, phone stand, or collaborator to hold the device. The biggest barrier for most speakers isn’t access to recording technology (as it was just 10 years ago); it is the willingness to use it.

I have only met ONE person who ever said she enjoyed reviewing video of herself (she was a workshop participant at a Pennsylvania SHRM conference I spoke at earlier this fall). If you’re like the 99.99 percent of speakers I meet who hate reviewing video of presentations, here are a few ways to desensitize yourself so you can use this powerful tool for improving your presentation skills:

Rip off the Band-Aid

The next time you are preparing an update for a meeting, your elevator speech, or a short presentation, force yourself to record six rehearsals in a row and review the video immediately after each practice. The repetition in an hour or so will make video review less awkward and uncomfortable in the future.

Focus on positives and progress

It’s all too easy to focus on the negative. Most speakers with whom I review video exclaim aloud, “I can’t believe my [hair, clothes, gestures, etc.] look like that!” Instead, focus your attention on positive aspects of your speaking – maybe you were concise, showed enthusiasm, spoke loudly, made great eye contact, or told an engaging story. Recognize and celebrate those strengths.

Also, observe progress from one recording to the next. Congratulate yourself for making small adjustments during each run-through to improve your presentation. Note the cumulative progress by reviewing the first and last video during a marathon record-and-review session. It will provide tangible evidence on the benefits of video performance analysis and motivation to do it again. If you have a hard time seeing positives and progress, enlist the help of a coach, mentor, colleague, or friend who can provide an outside and upbeat perspective.

Reward yourself and repeat

At the end of your record-and-review session, reward yourself for doing something that makes you uncomfortable. This could be getting coffee with a friend, buying a new book, or taking a break to go for a walk around the block on a nice day. Then, identify another speaking opportunity when you can review video of a rehearsal or an actual presentation and think of a reward that will encourage you to follow through.

You may have seen the t-shirt that says, “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.” Watching video of yourself presenting may be uncomfortable, but it is without parallel in helping you become aware of your strengths, weakness, and progress as a speaker. Imagine how much more effective you will be than the vast majority of public speakers who fail to utilize this powerful learning tool. The long-term benefits are well worth the temporary discomfort.