What Do You Need to Get Good at Presenting Besides Skill?

Suppose you are going to climb Yarigatake the fifth tallest mountain in Japan. The approach to the peak looks like this ↓

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There are quite a few places where you need to grab on to chains, pitons, or rusty ladders. The hike up from the entrance is more than 22 kilometers. Also suppose that you have had experience of hiking up and down mountains for more than 10 years. Would your technical skills alone get you to the top of that peak?

Let`s look at it a different way. Suppose you are to give a presentation in front of more than 300 people. It is supposed to be 45 minutes keynote speech. You have been doing presentations at Toastmasters for more than 10 years. The venue looks like this ↓

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Would your communication skills alone get you not only through that presentation, but impress the audience that you are a great speaker?

The answer is a firm no. Those skills alone are not enough. They are never enough. Please, do not think that once you get that skill it will ever get easier, because it will not.

So, now what?

What I learned from Yarigatake

Every summer or so, I head to the mountains and go climbing with my wife and/or friends. This summer, I actually went to Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture. While hiking, I suffered what was probably a heat stroke but eventually climbed to the top of Yarigatake. The great thing about this activity is that it gives you a lot of time to think about things. Especially when you have to walk more than 10 hrs to get to your destination. It is especially eye opening when you do something rather stupid.

While I was up there I realized two things:

  1. Information without action is useless
  2. You need more than experience and skill to get to the top

Information Without Action Useless

If you are like me you probably looked a few blogs, websites, etc. on the subject before you actually do anything. I scanned the usually blogs and websites that covered Yarigatake. There were plenty of places to get water, So, I just brought one 1L Platypus water bottle. Problem was I put it in a place that was hard to reach. Also, I did not arrange the hose correctly, so it took a lot of work just to get the water to come out. I knew right thing to do, but I had come home from work, I only had one hour to pack by backpack and I did not do a great job. Knowledge can be great, but action based on than knowledge is much better.

I find this similar to presentations as well. You can read a lot of books on presentations. (I do.) However, if you do not apply that knowledge in the real world you have changed nothing. All you have is book knowledge that is stuck in your head. You need to get it out, test it, and gets a reaction.

Mistakes Need to Be Made and Corrected

This is the scary part, because people are afraid of failing. They are afraid of looking foolish in front of others and in front of themselves.  In fact, this is what we were taught in schools: mistake = pain and embarrassment. I look at it differently.

In order to get good at anything you need to practice what you learned, get feedback on the mistakes you made, then work to reduce them. The difference between an average hiker and an expert hiker or the difference between an average speaker and an expert speaker is the number of mistakes made for a given situation is significantly less for the expert. This is why you need to know not only what you are aiming for in any given situation, but you need a way to get feedback quickly to you adjust your performance.

For hiking in the mountains, the test is fairly simple. To go and come back without seriously injuring yourself along the way. For presenting, it can be more complicated. I always highly recommend defining what your goals for each presentation, and also for your career as a speaker. Without those goals, it can be hard to define the mistake you need to eliminate and how to get the feedback you need to find them in the first place.

However, that being said. All of this is simply about improving one technical skill in a given area, whether it is hiking or presenting. I said earlier that skill is not enough. To be good at anything I think that you need to be aware of the four levels of Learning. These are:

  1. Data
  2. Information
  3. Skill
  4. Talent
  5. Habit

Most stop at either at 2 or at 3 in most things.

Data And Information

Remember that Information is simply data, facts, figures, etc. if you have not processed in a way that you can understand and use.  It will just junk clog up your brain if you do not organize in some fashion. Your brain hates being cluttered up so like Marie Kondo it will consider all that data, facts, figures as not sparking joy and quickly get rid of it. If you are having trouble remembering stuff it probably you have not organized it a way that useful and meaningful to you.


Skill is Information + Physical /Mental Ability.  Skill come into two groups mental and physical. For example, one skill would be to quickly multiply numbers in your head. It is not enough to know a simple math trick to quickly square numbers. That is just information, But, you when you see 75 x 75 = ?. You recognize the need for that rule, use it and then communicate that the answer for 75 x 75 = 5625.

A good example of a physical skill would be swing a golf club. Practice and training is important so that your body will behave in the way you want it to.  You have to examine your form and adjust as needed. By doing so, you can improve the distance and accuracy of your swing.

However, where most people trip up is that they do not properly analysis what is needed. Presentation is not one skill. You have get good at body language, connecting with the audience, creating power point, etc. Each of these can be a skill by itself and each of them can even be further sub-divided. You don`t need to get good at all areas. But it helps to have an idea of the skill map for a particular area and what you want to achieve.


Talent = Energy + Skill + Confidence

I deliberately separate skill from talent as two very different things. Also, many people tend to confuse talent with innate talent. Like, he is naturally creative or she is naturally funny. No one is naturally either of these things. Both took time and energy to develop those abilities.

So where does Energy and Confidence come in? Confidence is the mental permission you need use your skill. If you have low confidence then you cannot use your skill to the fullest ability. Stage Fright is a perfect example of this. So, is the immediate loss of confidence when you are staring in front a very tall ladder up a mountain cliff.

So, confidence building is a very important part in developing a skill and using your talent. A good teacher knows this. A bad teacher will just push you out on stage.

Energy comes into two groups: Mental and Physical. If you have a bad diet, did exercise enough, or did not drink enough water on a hot sunny day, you will not have enough physical energy to use your skill. A talented person knows this and prepares their diet and exercise way before the big day.

But it is more than just the physical side, you still need to be able to concentrate, be in control emotionally, and have enough mental energy to make good decisions. Meditation, Yoga, and even getting a good night’s sleep are great ways to creating more mental energy. Staying away from emotional draining people is also a plus.


Habit is simply learning that has been automatized. You do not need to think much about it, you just do it. I see this as the ultimate goal of learning. You do no need to put a lot of energy into do it, it just seems “natural” or “intuitive.”

This is not to say that all things that seem “natural” or “intuitive” are because your talent have become habits. There can be plenty of misinformation, mistaken beliefs, etc. that have become habits of the mind or body.

Also, I see talent as potential ability until you consciously decided to use it. This requires both Confidence and Energy. Both are precious limited resources. On the other hand, habits don’t enter your consciousness.  If it is habit, you can use a lot of your talent without using up much of your energy or confidence.

However, that being said, turning talent into habits take time and dedication. It is not a complicated process. It is a matter of working on the small steps many, many times until you do not have to think about it. Also, developing triggers can help if the activity itself in infrequent.

Energy + Confidence + Skill = Talented Presenter

In the scheme of things, just having the skill is not enough.  You need to have the energy and the confidence so that you use your skill to its fullest potential at any time that it is needed. There have been many time when a more skilled speaker lost to a lesser one. Not everyone knows how bring their “A” game on a consistent basis. But, by carefully managing your Energy, maintaining your confidence, and improving your skill you will be able to let your talent shine on the stage or in the mountain tops. So have a great week and I will see you next time.