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Community Services: During the Presentation

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During the presentation
Research has shown that the personal qualities of the presenter are the most important elements in effective communication in both large and small groups. This means that you should let your enthusiasm for the topic show, because your interest will be infectious. It can be very daunting to present to a group, large or small. The larger the group, the harder it can be to make contact with the audience or to assess whether they have understood and valued the presentation. Don’t forget that giving presentations can be very rewarding and satisfying, particularly if you approach the task with imagination and enthusiasm.

Before you start
Before you start the presentation, take time to settle your nerves while you check that:

  • Your visual aids are set up and working
  • Everyone can hear and see you in a friendly voice
  • You have something to drink while you are speaking. Don’t have ice-cold water because this constricts your throat and affects the quality of your voice. Try a warm, not hot, drink to relax your throat and ease your speaking voice.
  • Make sure you can see a clock or watch so you aren’t relying on your own awareness of time. Nervous presenters can easily feel like they have been talking for 5 minutes, when they have in fact been talking for 10 minutes. The opposite can also happen, so watch a clock to check that it matches the time markings that you have written on your presentation. If you are running behind time, you will need to think quickly and decide what you will leave out of the presentation eg the supporting evidence for your final main point and a part of the conclusion.

Don’t start the presentation until everyone is settled in their seats and are quiet. Remember that you are in control of the event, not the audience, so don’t be afraid to calmly and politely ask for quiet if it doesn’t happen quickly.

Being nervous 
It is normal to feel nervous when you start the presentation. Try to breathe steadily and deeply. If you are anxious your breathing will become fast and shallow, which will affect the quality of your voice and your ability to speak clearly. Take a few deep breaths before you start; slow your breathing down and take in more air with each breath. Don’t be afraid to pause during your presentation, especially at the end of main point sections, so you can restart comfortable breathing patterns. Don’t be afraid to slow the pace of your presentation if your breathing becomes uncomfortable. The audience will expect to see some nerves at the beginning, so allow yourself time to settle into the talk and don’t dwell on little mistakes. Concentrate on speaking slowly and pause to breath more deeply and release the tension in your shoulders. People are generally supportive so don’t worry if you lose your place or a moment to collect your thoughts.

Body Language
If you have a well planned presentation that you have practiced several times, your presentation should be controlled and well paced. An effective presenter needs to be assertive and confident, so use your posture to help you. Try not to appear too formal and rigid, instead have a relaxed and fluid posture. Develop the confidence to fill the space in front of your audience. Have a presence by not standing behind a desk or lectern, and don’t repeatedly
apologise. Be confident that you have something interesting to say and that the audience wants to listen. It is also important to know when to stop talking. Pausing between main points gives the audience time to digest what you are saying.

Throughout the presentation
Don’t be disheartened if you notice that the audience isn’t paying attention 100% of the time. Most audiences won’t be able to. Un-responsive faces and heads propped up by hands are more likely to be caused by audience fatigue than deliberate rudeness. Keep the audience’s attention by making contact with them and giving them the impression that you are genuinely interesting in talking to them. Make contact with the audience via:

  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Spoken contact
  • Your use of language

Eye contact: Eye contact is part of everyday communication and the audience can feel uncomfortable if you don’t make it at all or if you hold it too long. Eye contact can give the audience a sense of involvement in the presentation and helps to convey your objectives on a personal level. Regularly shift your focus around the room and include everyone in your eye contact, don’t only focus on the teacher marking your presentation. If you simply can’t make eye contact, don’t look at the wall or floor, look at people’s foreheads so it appears to others that you are making eye contact.

Gestures: People use hand and arm gestures in every day conversation to add emphasis or to help describe events. You will look awkward if you keep your hands in your pockets or firmly at your side. Use gestures to welcome your audience, to add emphasis to your main points or to indicate an ending. Try to use open gestures which move away from your body and extend towards the audience. Make your gestures controlled and precise; too much movement will make you appear nervous and unfocussed or distract the audience.

Spoken contact: You are making contact with the audience when you speak. Involve them in your presentation by asking rhetorical questions that you will answer eghow do we know this was true? Well, we will know this is true when …” or “So, what does this prove? Let me show you…”. Questions stimulate your audience’s mind, even if you are answering them. You can also use language that involves the audience rather than keeps them at a distance. When you look at visual aids or slides, introduce them by saying “If we look at this slide we can see that…” or “This slide show us that…”. This language is welcoming and forms a relationship with the audience.

Humour: Some people can use
humour to connect with the audience and keep their attention. You should only use humour if you are very confident that it will work. Humour needs to be relaxed and confident. If it is used badly it will make you feel awkward and anxious, so don’t feel pressured to pretend to be someone who are you aren’t.

Use of language: Your voice is a very flexible and powerful tool. You can vary it by your volume, pace and pitch. Practice making your voice loud enough for the audience to hear clearly. If you are too loud or too quiet the audience may find it difficult to follow your presentation. Listen to people speaking in normal conversation – they tend to raise or lower their volume for emphasis. To add energy to your presentation use volume changes to your best advantage: a conspiratorial whisper can draw an audience in; a loudly spoken exclamation can make them sit up and listen.

Speed of speech: Make sure the speed or pace of your speech is easy to follow. If you speak too quickly or too slowly the audience will have difficulty following your talk. To add life to your presentation, try changing the speed of your delivery. A slightly faster section can convey enthusiasm, while a slower one might at emphasis or caution. The pitch of your voice also varies in day to day conversation and it is important to play on this when making a presentation. Your pitch can rise when you ask a question, and it can lower when you want to sound severe. Play around with the volume, pace and pitch of your voice when you practice your presentation. Say sentences different ways, try different ways to add emphasis to your main points. Always try to appear enthusiasm and energy through your voice. Remember two main points:

  • Be yourself – even in the most formal surroundings you will need to be yourself. No one will be impressed if you try to perform a part that isn’t normal for you.
  • Avoid any behaviour that may be off-putting to your audience. Make your voice and physical actions deliberate and clear.

These attempts to create a rapport with the audience are important because an audience that feels involved will view your presentation positively. Aim to get their attention and stimulate their thoughts and understandings. See the presentation as a conversation between two interested parties – the presenter and the audience.

[The text above is based on that provided by the University of Leicester]