More and more courses include presentations as a form of assessment, so this section contains some useful tips on how to preparing for and delivering presentations.
It was terrifying. I was so so nervous about it. We had to do a poster, so I had to go and get it printed off. I did all that, I was fine with that, and I was waiting outside, I was ready to go in and I was shaking, and so nervous. Reading through my notes because I had a five or ten minute presentation, and then I went in and I came out and I thought, ‘what was I worrying about that?’ It went fine. I didn’t know what I was worrying about. And then the second time I did it, I wasn’t worrying about it at all, because I knew that it was fine, because obviously, it is easy to say it will be fine, but you will still feel nervous. The people that are listening are so understanding. They know it is difficult, no one likes to get up in front of people and talk about their work. It is not something that before I came to university that I had ever been used to, but it is something that I think is a really, good skill, to be able to stand up and do that. But as I said, it was completely fine. It was a really relaxed environment, very friendly and very warm and they weren’t standoffish, they were very enthusiastic about what I was talking about, so that really helped. So I went in there and it went so much better than I thought, because I was so nervous, but I had nothing to be nervous about really because they were all friendly.
I think that being prepared. We weren’t allowed to take any notes in with us, other courses might have. Obviously I had my poster as a kind of prop, so to speak, so I could point to certain aspects and expand on certain topics. So, that is really important, to know your poster well, to really know which points you are going to talk about well. So point to the area that you are going to talk about more, and that will kind of cue you to talk about other points. And go through it logically. Start at the beginning and go through to the end, so that the reader really understands.
And make sure you introduce it well because you know your topic really well, but the person listening to it may not, so you really need to introduce it to someone who might not have any specialised knowledge in the area at all. So, yeah, just keeping it really clear and there was also the opportunity to allow anyone to ask me questions as well, so that was quite interesting actually, it was nice to have someone ask you topics and for you to be able to answer them about your topic. That’s just from knowing well. So I would just say, know what you are talking about well and then you will be fine.
I have had to do both whilst at university, once I had to do it, just me in front of my lecturer, and another time, it was me and my group in front of the whole of our lecture/class.
You need a clear direction. Either a power point, or, you need your own notes. Otherwise, you will find that you just go off the topic. You also maybe need some rescue remedy or something, because I shake and I get really nervous. And just keep it concise as well. Because a lot of presentations at university are timed, and lecturers will sit there with a watch and time you to the second.
Calm, calmness. Practice it in front of either your housemates or your family. Especially for people who don’t do your subject, because they are even better at being more critical and to just make sure that you are clear and that you don’t go off topic, laugh. Especially when it is in front of your whole class, I have seen people laugh, and then nearly cry because they are laughing too much. And I have also seen people, because a lot of presentations, they ask you questions at the end, and you need to be prepared for that, because if you are not, you are just left, standing there.
If someone tells you that you have to present something, the first thing you should ask is ‘who am I presenting to?’ Then, you tailor your presentation to them. So, if it is senior lecturers, they may already know what you are talking about, so you don’t need to give them too much background information, in terms of ‘what this term means or what that term means’. If you know it is your class mates, some of them may know something, some of them may not, so you may need to give a bit of background information. So, target audience is important. Structure is important, as I have said. The slide show, because people tend to think that just because it is there, they are just helping power point along, where as it should be the other way around. Power point is actually helping you out. So people tend to just read off power point when they should be addressing their audience instead. The less you have on power point, the more you are going to talk to the audience. So, instead of cluttering power point, and making the audience focus more on the power point and instead of just reading what is on there, you should be, just purely, just using power point as a tool, as a key. You should maybe just have one bullet point there and then maybe have a whole paragraph that you are going to speak about that bullet point. For aesthetics, it shouldn’t just be cluttered. Use pictures, but be quirky. Some people add their own little personalities to it, they may add sounds and things like that. That’s a presentation for friends I think.
You definitely need to run through it many times. The best presentations that I’ve had are those that, I’ve got with my group and we have presented 6 times, again and again and again. And time yourself. Timing is so important. There is no way, there is no substitute for it. You may think that ‘ok, so this is only one slide’ and it should take 2 minutes, maybe 5 minutes, you will never know until you have actually talked through it. The more times you practice it, the more you are actually going to understand what you actually need and what you don’t need.
And the other thing that I have found out this year is that it is good to record yourself, so, if you get your whole group, if you know that they are not shy or anything, you could tell them ‘ if you don’t mind, we could just record this’, and you can see the time obviously on the recorder, if it’s your phone you’re using, it’s fine. You can hear yourself as well, and that makes you think ‘that doesn’t sound right’ or ‘I don’t know what I am talking about’, and then you could change it. ’
Presentations are something that have been introduced into university curricular over the last few years, and I think that has partly been because of the increase in the use of power point. So it is very rare that you actually get a presentation that isn’t accompanied by a power point slide show of some sort. So, what I think you need to work out from the beginning is ‘what is the relationship between you and the power point presentation?’ Are you just reading what is on there? Or is the power point presentation just there to support what you are saying. I think really that you should be going for the latter. What is on the power point should enhance what you are saying, but should not be the same as what you are saying. And I think that leads to the second point, which is that most slides that we see have far too much information on them, and that if you are just using the power point to support what you are saying, rather than to be what you are saying, you will then immediately reduce the amount of stuff that is up there. So think about your slides, think about what they are doing, think about how much is on them, think about maybe making them interesting and lively, although, not too lively, and think about the use of English on them. There is nothing worse than seeing a lovely slide marred by spelling ‘biscuit’ wrong, or something, because it jumps out, because it is up there. So do check, make sure that you put the spell check is on, make sure that the grammar, and the spelling and that you have full stops and commas in the right places, and all the rest of it.
So that is the kind of technicalities of it, in terms of presenting it yourself, I think that you need to think about the structure. It’s like an assignment really, in a way it is more difficult. In an assignment, the reader can always go back and check what it was that you had written before, as though they are following the discussion properly. With a presentation, the listener can’t go back, they are reliant on what you are saying to them, so it is up to you to make the structure very clear so that the reader is able to follow what’s going on. I spoke a little bit about signposting with writing, and with presentations, you need to signpost as well, so in the first slide, explain to the listener what they are going to hear about, what are the aims of the presentation, or how the presentation is organised. And then, as you go through the presentation, signal to the listener ‘now we are going to talk about this part’ or ‘we are moving on to the next part now, which is ...’ . So, that kind of explicit signposting I think is really helpful, and also, I think that it helps the person who is writing the presentation to work out exactly where it is they are going with the presentation.
Practice is a really important thing. Find an empty class room, or find your bathroom mirror and practice what you are going to say. Look at the audience, try and involve them, make sure that you know what’s coming on the slides, and that you are able to talk around the slides. If possible, don’t read from a script. That’s not to say that you can’t have very clear and quite detailed notes, but if you are reading from a script, it is very difficult for you to keep eye contact with the audience.
Rehearse your presentation with some friends. Get them to give you some feedback. That will increase your confidence, and make you realise that what you are saying is actually valuable, and people understand what it is that you are trying to say.
Speak clearly. Don’t rush. Make sure that there is time for questions. Try, by looking at the audience, try to work out which parts of the presentation are causing problems, because, often, what will happen in a presentation is that the presenter will explain something, but to the audience, it is not clear. Now, often you can pick that up by actually looking at the faces of people, like teachers do. So, keep your eye on the audience. If you can see a sort of ‘puzzled’ look, maybe stop and say, ‘maybe you want me to explain that again?’, or ‘is there any questions about that?’ and that will help you to pick up the problem as it arises, rather than rushing through the presentation.
If you are an international student, I think that doing a presentation is even more scary for some people because I know for many students, they feel that speaking is their least good skill. That they feel more confident in reading and writing than they do in speaking. And I think that some of the things that I have just said also apply to international students: practice, don’t worry too much about making mistakes with use of English, as long as you are making your points clearly and you are speaking clearly, the odd mistake with grammar is really not going to matter. So don’t worry about ‘did I use the right tense?’, or ‘did I remember to put the s on the end of the third person?’ At the presentation level, that isn’t important. It is when you are writing of course, and it is on the slides, but you can prepare those in advance. But when you are speaking, it is much more important to be confident, to get your point across, than it is to be accurate with everything that you say. The tutor will really not be looking for that, unless the English or the use of English mars the point that you are trying to make.
So: confidence, speak slowly, have your notes there, practice beforehand, and make sure that you are not too worried about grammatical accuracy. I think that those are important things.
It’s quite natural to get anxious when you’re about to give a presentation but there are lots of things you can do to help reduce your nerves on the day. Make sure that you’ve understood your presentation task and stick to it because this will help you to focus your background research and planning.
Most importantly if you do begin to get really nervous take deep breaths and think about your audience and the message that you are wanting to convey rather than focusing negatively on yourself. Your audience will empathize with you and they want you to succeed and the main thing about giving a presentation is really trying to enjoy the experience as well.
The presentation is an opportunity for you to share your enthusiasm about your subject and show your knowledge and understanding. Try to keep your content as relevant to the topic as possible and don’t let your enthusiasm get you to include lots of irrelevant information.
A good principle for structuring a presentation is a clear introduction stating your aims and purpose of the presentation and then the main content and a conclusion that recaps and leaves your message in the mind of the audience.
Some students choose to use visual aids such as props, diagrams or PowerPoint to support their presentation. If you choose to do this, it's best to make sure that you're going to use something which will support and reinforce what you are saying rather than take away from your message or distract the audience.
If you decide to use PowerPoint try not to read directly from your slides or load too much information on to your slides because the audience want to hear your thoughts and opinions and talking to them directly will help you to make contact with them and engage them in what your message is. When giving your presentation it's also important you speak as clearly as possible so that everyone in the room can hear you. Keep focusing on your audience so that you can maintain eye contact and they can hear your voice, varying the tone of your voice is also important because speaking in one tone is very likely to send your audience to sleep.
A good presentation will always allow the audience to ask questions. Now this can be quite scary at first as it's of often quite challenging and can be quite unpredictable but your presentation is supposed to be a two way dialog and questions can help you to clarify things if someone has misunderstood anything you've covered and it's also a good way of you being able to demonstrate any of your knowledge that might fall a little bit outside of the brief that was set for your talk. Don't be afraid to ask if you haven't understood the question that's being asked and try to keep your responses brief and focused rather than too much off the point.
When studying in higher education your lecturer will probably want to give you lots of opportunities to work with other students. So you may be asked to give a group presentation at some point. Now, working in a group can be a great experience but it also can be quite challenging. As when you are giving an individual presentation, it's important to keep focused on the task and make sure that your presentation has been well researched and planned. You will all have different strengths in your group so it's good to take time to get to know each other. This will help you to allocate roles in different tasks to different members of your group so that you can share the workload quite effectively. You'll have a timescale to work to so it's important that you meet regularly to make sure you're on track and also see what else needs to be done. It's important to take time to practice your presentation together as a group as well as individually as this will help your presentation run smoothly and it will also improve your confidence. Practicing together also enables you to give and receive feedback from one another and this feedback should always be constructive and focusing on the task. And group work is a great opportunity for you to improve your learning and to make new friends.
Practicing your presentation out loud is also really important, as speaking out loud will help you to build your confidence and it will also help you to spot any areas that you might struggle with or areas that you might stumble over.
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