How to Ace a Presentation

Presentations.  They're either a walk through the park or the bane of all nightmares.  Some people are extremely comfortable with public speaking whilst others may feel intimidated and nervous.  I've been both.  When I was younger, I would be shivering in fear at just the idea of presenting.  I could barely get words out; let alone trying to be coherent and clear.  I would crumble under the pressure.  Eye contact was non-existent as I was too busy clenching my cue cards until my knuckles turned blue.  My grades were far below average. 

Now, presentings my biggest strength and favourite component of assessments at university and my extra curriculars.  During my undergraduate degree, I realised the techniques required to deliver an effective, informative, and engaging talk.  Prior to this, I had little exposure in presenting during my high school career.  However, anyone and everyone can succeed in public speaking.  It is an asset to any career and here's how to ace a presentation:

Slide decks.  I know this goes without saying, but some individuals still cling onto paper flip charts or conduct their talk without any props or tools to guide the viewers.  This doesn't engage the audience nearly as much, especially if your presentation is more informative and academic based in comparison to motivation speeches.  Slides also act as great pointers and cues if you want to ditch holding any paper or notes, making you appear more professional and prepared.  Slides also give you an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity in the text, figures, or images which can aid in your explanations.

Key points and lots of pictures.  It's super easy to overwhelm slides with words.  However, it is very difficult for people to read something with full focus whilst you are talking.  Odds are, no one is going to be reading your slides word-for-word.  Instead, opt for key points with a corresponding picture if appropriate.  Simplicity is the aim.  This will ensure a more effective presentation as individuals can read a few key words or short bullet points instead of blocks of text.  Therefore, they are more likely to understand and take home the message.  Remember, everyone learns differently.  Some individuals will respond better to visual or verbal cues, whilst others prefer reading text.  If you can somehow incorporate all methods into a slide (i.e an image and short bullet points which you can expand on whilst speaking) will be a huge plus.

Memorise your talk.  This is crucial.  If you want your talk to be successful and engaging, practicing and memorising what you say is vital.  Some people argue that it makes one appear more robotic but this is not the case.  If you memorise your talk and know what you want to say on each slide, you are more likely to communicate with the audience through your intonation and body language.  You'll focus less on what to say and more on how you say it.  There will be far less filler words such as 'like', 'uhm', 'so basically' (my personal favourite) which will make you appear more professional and captivating.  Whenever I deliver a talk, I memorise the presentation word for word so I can capture the audience through my play on intonations, body language, and using the space around me.  

Timing.  Alongside practicing your talk, it is vital to ensure you are within the assigned time frame.  Ensure that you are not rushing to get the last sentence out in the final second and that you do not have too much time left over.  You want to memorise your talk in such a way that you speak clearly and within the allocated period of time.  There is no harm in leaving information out but making notes of it in case questioned later.  Staying within the limits is a huge part of presenting effectively.  

Outline, Background, and Summary slide.  This is something I only really began doing during my postgraduate degree.  I noticed that a lot of seminars, external speakers, and lecturers would follow this format.  They would outline what the presentation aims to discuss and break down the talk.  You only need to dedicate one slide for the outline.  For example:

Presentation title: How to Make Cake

Outline Slide
-Background: What is cake
-Tools required
-How to serve
-Thank you's

The Background slide will talk about the history or context of the topic you plan to discuss.  Sometimes, this may not be appropriate for your presentation but if it is, it is important to consider providing this information so the audience is well-informed and can follow your talk with ease.  

The Summary slide is useful in pulling all the information together.  The last slide will be the most remembered one so ensure that you cover the key points and reiterate without repeating yourself.  Emphasise on the message you want to give and, if applicable, you can include your own thoughts or opinions on the matter.  For my assessments, there is a marking/grading criteria which requires us, as students, to give our final verdict on our presentation topic to demonstrate wider-breath of knowledge and critical thinking instead of purely stating facts.  

Use the space and make eye contact.  It is really easy to remain stationary and not move about.  This can be a bit dull and, in my opinion, makes it appear as though you are not thoroughly interested in your topic.  Now, this isn't me saying to gallop from one side to the other or break out into Bollywood dance.  Rather, try to walk around and look as though you're really thinking about your topic and make continuous eye contact with random people in the crowd.  Don't fixate on one person. If this is an assessed presentation, don't make eye contact with your professor too much because sometimes their expressions aren't very welcoming and can easily be misinterpreted.  Personally, I find they make me more nervous and worried because their facial expression seems discontented, confused, or unamused.

Stay calm. Remember, more often than not, they don't know what you're talking about.  You are discussing this matter for a reason - to inform people.  Do not worry if you missed out an important fact or mispronounced a word. Most certainly, the audience is unaware of what you didn't talk about.  Worst case, it will come up as a question in the 'question and answer' session which is an opportunity to redeem yourself.  

Appendix.  This may be an odd one but it has saved me in dire situations.  Sometimes, during the Q+A session, there may be questions that overlap with reading you covered during your research but was not included in your talk due to time constraints. Hence, put extra tables, graphs, information, etc. in the appendix after your final slide (usually the 'thank you' slide).  This way, you can refer back to them and demonstrate to the audience or assessor that you carried out wider-reading and research on the topic.  In addition, you do not need to try and recall the facts as it would be laid out in front of you.  This does require some level of question spotting so if you can, try and guess what questions may be asked by the audience.  Practicing in front of family or friends can also help as you can gauge what they didn't understand or wanted to know more about.  Either as a separate slide or within the appendix, include your references.  If anyone asks where you pulled your data from, you have the source and appropriate evidence.  

Those are the biggest tips I can offer in terms of preparation for presentations.  I've found adhere and adapt to these points in every talk I deliver.  It is important to note that the settings in which one presents may result in different needs so context is vital.  Overall, I do hope these have helped you and happy presenting! 

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