It’s bad enough that we have to pass exams and write essays without having to give presentations regularly as well. And that’s why these are rarely popular with students. But you can learn how to give a presentation successfully. I have put together ten top tips to help ensure that your next presentation is the best one you’ve ever given.
Tips 1-3: A good presentation begins at home
- Of course, the most important thing is… to start preparing in advance. I know that everyone knows this, at least in theory; but we don’t even manage to stick to this one simple rule. Your audience will notice whether you are well prepared or not. If you don’t prepare well you will be less convincing. And the better you know the material, the less likely you are to get stage fright.
- When you are preparing for the presentation, it is important to structure the content right from the beginning and to include only the most important points. It’s not about proving how much you know and packing as much information in as possible, it’s about filtering out the right information. It is a good idea to talk to your tutor beforehand, then nothing can go wrong. A good tip is to start at the end: so formulate the conclusion first. This should sum up the most important information as compactly as possible. If you get this done first, you might find it easier to compose the ‘rest’.
- You might have heard this a thousand times before, but it’s true: practice at home! Whether on your own (some people swear by practicing in front of a mirror, but you don’t have to do this), or with a friend who can give you tips: it is essential to practice your presentation 1-3 times beforehand. This will also help you to ensure that you keep within the set timeframe. Reading what you have planned out loud might take longer than you think.
Tips 4-7: The basic rules for a successful presentation
- Use visualizations whenever possible: images trigger emotions and really help to drive your message home.And if you think that emotions have no place in a scientific presentation, you’re wrong! The most important thing is that the content can be understood, and understanding and ‘grasping concepts’ is easier when you use verbal imagery (or metaphors). This can make abstract concepts much easier to comprehend. Verbal imagery is like herbs and spices: a meal without herbs and spices might fill you up, but it just doesn’t taste as good.
- The first 60 seconds are the most important! This short period of time at the beginning is the time it takes your audience to decide whether it is worth paying attention to you or not. Right at the beginning of the presentation, all eyes are on you: your audience is asking itself “who is this?”, “how does s/he speak to the audience?”, “what is this presentation about?” Good speakers use this opportunity to make a point so interesting that the audience is spellbound. Bad speakers say something that everyone already knows “it’s great to see so many people here… etc.” A great way to start might be to use graphic anecdote, or an appropriate quote (always good), or the so-called information deficit. The point of this is not to disclose what the presentation is about right at the beginning, it is about keeping the audience’s attention. For example, you could say: “In the next 20 minutes you will discover…” and then say something really exciting.
- Feel free to include the audience in the presentation and not just in the form of a discussion at the end. During a long presentation it is likely that the audience will not be paying attention 100% of the time. You can keep members of the audience interested by asking questions now and then or by asking a member of the audience to read a text out loud.
- The use of handouts or integrating PowerPoint into the presentation can help you to score points. But the golden rule for both of these is: less is more. There is nothing worse than PowerPoint slides that simply repeat everything you are saying. This just encourages the audience to read whilst you are talking and no one will actually be listening to you. Slides should be used for images rather than text as this makes the presentation more dynamic. If you can use visualizations, then do that rather than using ten bullet points. The same applies to the use of handouts. These should contain the most important aspects of the presentation, as well as sources of information, but avoid too much text.
Tips 8-10: It’s Showtime
- It might be a good idea to have a plan B, in case the technical equipment doesn’t work. It is always possible that the internet is down, or that your USB stick won’t let you open files, or that the projector isn’t working. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a plan B.
- Clothes matter: You don’t have to turn up in evening dress, but jogging pants are not a good idea either. If you are suitably dressed you will also feel more comfortable and make a better impression, as well as communicating to the audience that the presentation is important to you.
- Look at the audience, take a deep breath and get started. But a good presentation also requires the correct body language. How should you stand? Should you even stand at all? What should you do with your hands? Of course, it’s great if you can give the presentation without reading from a piece of paper or using cards, as this leaves you free to make eye contact. But index cards are acceptable if you need them. Though if you do use these it is still important to move your hands slightly. Fold them, or place them down by your sides. Moving your arms or any gesticulations should be used deliberately to help explain something. So don’t let your arms hang stiff at your sides the entire time: or, even worse, don’t put them in your pockets.
And a few other absolute no-goes: it might sound obvious, but don’t turn your back to the audience. This is something you see a lot when someone projects slides onto the wall during a presentation. A lot of people don’t even realize they are doing it. Although they know what is on the slides they still turn to face the wall. Focus on your audience and make your presence felt!
And don’t forget, it’s OK to be a little bit nervous. This only shows that the presentation is important to you too and as long as you try your best everything will be fine!”