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Exactly how to sharpen essential job skills during your next presentation

Critical thinking, storytelling, and design thinking are necessary skills for any job. Here’s how to get better at each one while delivering a presentation.

Exactly how to sharpen essential job skills during your next presentation
[Photo: monkeybusinessimages/iStock]

Your career success demands that you keep your job skills current and relevant. But workplace disruptions like the gig economy and the increasing use of AI makes the currency of soft skills like critical thinking, design thinking, and storytelling more in demand than ever. Becoming an expert at these will help future-proof your career, as these are skills that AI can’t beat us at (yet).

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So how to get better at them?

One way is through designing and delivering your next business presentation. Becoming a PowerPoint guru won’t be enough to protect your job from the robots, but your business presentations can provide the perfect way to practice these three future job skills.

Asking these questions can boost your critical thinking skills

Critical thinking helps us solve problems by asking the right questions, generating hypotheses, deciding what information is needed, and using all that to approach problems objectively. No wonder the World Economic Forum identified critical thinking as the fourth most important skill in 2015 and anticipate it will rise to second place by 2020.

To become a better critical thinker in your business presentations, start by asking yourself smarter questions about your objectives and your audience.

First, frame your presentations around the main problem you want to solve, which is persuading your audience.

Ask yourself:
• What is my objective?
• What assumptions might I be making?
• What am I missing?

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Then think about that problem from the perspective of your audience:
• What do they know and not know about my topic?
• What are the audience’s concerns?
• What will persuade and motivate them?

This way, you’re less likely to fall prey to your own cognitive biases and assumptions.

Critical thinking is also about skepticism, and making sure we’re not fooling ourselves, so take a skeptical eye to your own work. When I teach presentation skills to MBA students at GLOBIS University in Tokyo, I ask them to always ask, “So what?” about the content they are adding to presentations. Does it add value? Is it relevant to your goal and to the audience? If not, then delete.

Use all that to strengthen your presentation while giving your critical thinking muscles a workout.

Focusing on this will hone your design thinking

Design thinking is a process where you’re creating solutions from the user perspective by focusing on the end user and developing insights into their needs. Your next presentation is an opportunity to fine-tune this complementary skill to critical thinking. Together they can bring logic and empathy to your presentations.

To practice it in presentation design, apply tools like empathy maps to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. You’ll get insights to help answer those questions you generated through critical thinking.

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Design thinking is also a process, a big part of which is developing a prototyping mind-set. Treat the first draft of your slide deck as a prototype, a Version 1.0. Take that prototype and practice giving the presentation to a sample audience, for example, your coworkers. Ask them what worked well, and what would they have liked to see done differently.

Use all that feedback to improve your presentation and make a version 2.0. Then go back and do it again if time allows.

Sharpen your ability to persuade people with this simple tool

Storytelling is an incredibly effective way to persuade, inspire, and lead your audiences. We all need this skill to succeed now, and we’ll need it even more to differentiate ourselves from our future peers, both humans and AI coworkers who can’t match us when it comes to emotion-driven communication.

Storytelling not only makes you a better presenter, it helps anytime you need to persuade others, whether it’s for sales, marketing, leadership, even your next job interview.

Practicing it is simple: Tell more stories in your presentations.

Think about all the stories you have already, those about you, your colleagues, and your company. Develop a portfolio of them so you can selectively build some into your next presentation. Start with a personal story as an icebreaker, then tell a story about your competitors, customer, or product.

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Build on the insights you’ve got about your audience by choosing which of your stories will resonate most with that particular audience.

Practicing these three skills will make you a more effective presenter and communicator, and that alone can boost your career. But when we all need to face the prospect of automation hitting our jobs, these skills will also keep your career safe and you ahead of the pack.


Darren Menabney lives in Tokyo, where he leads global employee engagement at Ricoh and teaches MBA students at GLOBIS University. Follow him on Twitter at @darmenab.

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About the author

Darren Menabney lives in Tokyo, where he leads global employee engagement at Ricoh and teaches MBA students at GLOBIS University. Follow him on Twitter at @darmenab.

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