Q: I’ve been told by my boss I need to do better at presenting, but when I ask for examples of what to do better – he can’t really give me much – just saying I need more presence. What do I do?
A: That is frustrating. Your boss sounds like s/he is trying to help, but lacks the tools to get you more useful information. One thing you might do is ask specific questions around the feedback, for example: I have heard you say I need to do better at presenting and I’d really like to work on that, can you tell me which area of my presentation needs the most work, is it the content, the verbal delivery, my appearance, the medium I use for presentations (like should I use more/less/different slides or agendas..etc)? Asking this way gives your boss some ideas to be more directive with feedback. You can also ask for support in preparing presentation – like asking before the next time you present to run through the presentation with your boss to get feedback BEFORE you do a presentation for others.
Another approach would be to share your plan with him for improving your presentation. Say something like, I heard your feedback about improving my presentations. My plan is to take a class on building better power point presentations (join toast masters, buy a suit to wear for my next presentation). If I improve in that area, would that address your concern? That will give your boss a plan to re-act to and might get him/her to see what kind of specifics you are looking for and he can point you in the right direction.
One other approach is to ask for examples where your presentation was done poorly and what might have made it better. You could also ask your boss for examples of people s/he things are great presenters, so that you can see what a “good” presenter looks like to your boss and work to deconstruct what you see that person doing that you may not be doing.
If your boss can’t or won’t help you with this feedback, see if you can find peers of your boss or your own peers to give you some feedback on your presenting skills and see what you can draw from that feedback.
As you work on making adjustments to your presentations, ask your boss for feedback. Let him/her know what you have been working on and if he/she sees an improvement. Too many times, we get vague feedback so we don’t follow up and unfortunately we hear the same feedback return just as vague on our next evaluation. If you follow up on the feedback with ways you are working to improve, that reminds your boss that you are making changes in this area and provides with things to bring up that you are doing when you get to your next evaluation.