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Many factors need to be looked at before you start writing a presentation. Examine your:
Objectives: Why are you making the presentation? Keep in mind what you want to achieve. Once you are clear about the objectives you are in a good position to make strategic decisions about the design of your presentation.
Audience: They will have a variety of different experiences, interests and levels of knowledge. A powerful presenter will acknowledge these and prepare for and respond to them accordingly. Think about:
This will help you target your presentation to the audience and capture their interest and spark their imagination.
Venue: Look at the room where you will be giving the presentation.
Remit: Has your teacher given you a list of the requirements or goals that you have to achieve? If so you need to stick to them. They may include a time limit, format, content and style. It is common to have a time restriction. Keeping to time shows respect for your audience and ensures that you deliver a focused presentation that makes a positive impact. You will fail to keep to time if you:
When you are clear about all of these points you can decide how you are going to deliver the presentation. Many people use computer software like PowerPoint, Prezi or something similar to allow you to create and show slides to support your presentation. Many people combine slides that are text, images and video. The benefit of this delivery is that it creates the impression of an organised and structured presentation, and you can make the presentation look professional and consistent. If used properly, PowerPoint can improve the quality of your presentations, help you to illustrate your message and engage with your audience.
When you have planned the structure, content and delivery of your presentation you can begin writing the presentation.
Presentations need to be very straightforward and logical. Stay focused on the need to explain and discuss your topic clearly. An ideal structure includes:
Start by writing a simple outline of your talk and prioritise the information that you want to cover. Summarise each of your main points in a few keywords or simple sentences. If you can’t do this you won’t be focused enough to write about them clearly. Good presentations that have an impact on the audience will be sharply focused. Don’t try to cover the amount of information that you would normally address in an assignment.
The introduction is the point at which you explain the contents and purpose of your presentation. It is very important because it is your first point of contact with your audience; you can either capture or lose your audience’s interest in a matter of seconds. Use the introduction to lay a clear foundation for the presentation to follow.
Make a positive start by writing how you will introduce yourself eg Good afternoon, my name is Adam. Then you need to let the audience briefly know:
The introduction needs to be written in confident language and express your energy and enthusiasm for the topic.
A powerful presentation delivers information in a logical and structured way. Make sure each point builds on the previous point and doesn't make large jumps.
The main points are the backbone of your talk. Being clear about what they are helps you to prioritise and focus your presentation. When planning your presentation you should put aside your research notes and produce a list of the main points that you would like to discuss. Ask yourself:
When you are clear about all of the main points you will cover in your presentation, you can then decide what supporting evidence or information you will present to support them. This information helps the audience understand and agree with your main points. It might take the form of factual data or an explanation.
Choose your supporting information carefully. One or two memorable or interesting examples will make a better impact than a large amount of boring detail. Think about:
The supporting information should add interest but avoid confusing your main points by burdening the audience with too much detail.
Linking statements can assist you to make sure that the main section of your presentation flows. They show how your main arguments fit together eg
Linking statements send signals to your audience. They transition the audience to the next point in your argument, plus they link to earlier ideas or clarify the stage you have reached. This is especially important in a long presentation where you have to work hard to keep the audience involved.
It is important to spend time writing a good conclusion because many students neglect this part. The conclusion gives the audience an overview of your main points and reminds them of the purpose of the talk. It draws the main points to a stimulating conclusion and leaves the audience with an impression of a good quality presentation. Key elements to include are a:
Sentences you can use in the conclusion include:
Talk to the audience directly and with confidence.
Make sure you don’t plan to spend large amounts of time talking. It is tiring for an audience to concentrate on listening for long periods. Plan to break up your talking time by pausing to show a new slide or present a short video clip. By varying your delivery of the content like this you will provide new and interesting stimuli and keep the audience’s attention.
Plan to use a variety of high quality visual aids such as diagrams, pictures or video. Visual aids can powerfully enhance the impact of your words. Use visual aids that:
Be creative and very deliberate about choosing visual aids with the most impact.
Your visual aids can be incorporated into a PowerPoint or Prezi or something similar. PowerPoint is the most common system of delivering visual aids. If used well it can really help your presentation, but if used badly it can have the opposite effect. General rules include:
Other visual aids include objects or props, just like a safety demonstration on an aeroplane. Make sure these objects are big enough to be easily viewed and robust so they can be passed around (which will take a chunk of time and distract the audience). Some people like to use a whiteboard and write as they speak. If you use a whiteboard make sure the audience can read your writing, and that you have spare pens and an eraser. Paper handouts can also be useful, but if given out too early they will be very distracting to the audience.
If you use visual aids such as a PowerPoint and video, make sure you are familiar with how they work and how to troubleshoot problems eg check whether the settings on the computer will make it go to sleep while you are speaking. The confident use of visual aids will help you give an impressive performance.
If you are very familiar with your topic and your material, you will be able to inspire your audience’s trust and confidence. Do more than practice reading through your presentation. Stand up, speak out loud, deliver your presentation to the walls and imagine the audience are there. Get used to hearing your own voice filling a room. Familiarise yourself with the words and phrases in your presentation. Above all, familiarise yourself with the main thrust of your argument and explore how the individual elements of your presentation fit together.
Should you spend time memorising your presentation or should you read it all? You need a balance. If you read the whole presentation you might lose contact with your audience and your voice may be reduced to a monotone. This removes the energy and enthusiasm from your delivery. You need to frequently address your audience directly. If you decide to learn most or all of your presentation, write some notes to have with you because they can keep you on track if you are nervous and prevent you from forgetting sections of your presentation.
As you practice you need to be aware of how long the presentation takes to deliver. Most presentations will have a time restriction. Keep in mind whether the time limit includes time for questions at the end, or whether you need to allow time for this in your presentation. You must not allow your presentation to run overtime because this shows a lack of respect for your audience and weakens the overall impact that your presentation makes.
You will run overtime if you try to incorporate too much information in the time you have allocated. Don’t try to cover the same amount and depth of information that you normally cover in a written assignment, essay or report. In your practice sessions, factor in the time it will take to get settled in front of the audience and set up your visual aids. If you practice your presentation in full several times you will have a good idea of the average time it takes to deliver. When you practice make sure you use the visual aids that you will be using on the day. This means that you will know how much time they add to the presentation and you can cut back on your words to compensate.
If you spend time practicing your presentation and becoming comfortable delivering the material, you will have a greater ability to be flexible while you are giving the live performance. This means that you will be able to problem solve by adapting or reducing the content if the need arises due to unforeseen circumstances eg equipment failure or several interruptions. For example you might not cover some of the supporting detail for your final main point and you may have to shorten your conclusion. It is better to cut material than to speed up your delivery and talk faster because this will negatively impact on the audience’s overall impression of the presentation. Don’t cut out the whole of your conclusion if you are running behind time because this is a vital part of the presentation; it is where you will make a lasting impression on the audience.
Write clear notes on your written presentation to remind yourself about what you should be doing at specific times in the presentation eg a prompt to change a slide or stop to handout an information sheet. You may think it won’t be necessary but it may compensate for your nerves on the day and avoid missing key elements of your presentation. It is also a good idea to write the timing of your presentation on your written presentation eg at the 5 minute, 10 minute and 15 minute mark so you will be gauge whether you are on time.
It is important that you have a full understanding of the material you are covering, are clear about your main points and construct a strong argument. It is equally important to be clear about how you are going to deliver or perform the presentation. Make decisions about your style and practice them beforehand.
Plan how you will physically move around the presentation area. Make your movements purposeful eg step forward to make a point and then step back again. Don’t simply wander around, match your movements to your argument. Emphasise points with your words and your actions.
Plan how you will combat your nerves on the day of the presentation. What will help you to calm down before and during the presentation? Try to get enough sleep the night before, eat well beforehand, have something to drink and don’t dwell on the presentation ahead of you. It is normal to feel nervous when you have to speak publically. Performance anxiety isn’t necessarily harmful; a slightly increased anxiety level can motivate you to do the work you need and be prepared for the event. It can make you alert and energised, however if it runs unchecked it can impair your ability to perform effectively during the presentation.
Performance anxiety and nervousness can be caused by many worries including:
This anxiety will be made worse if you haven’t prepared well for the presentation. You will be helping yourself if you spend time:
When you are nervous, anxious or stressed you will have physical reactions. These may include:
These can be caused by the flight or fight response which makes your body alert and ready for action. It means that your body is preparing to cope with the situation. Once the event is over, your body will gradually return to normal. It can be harmful if you feel this way over a long period of time. Please contact student support if you feel this way for a long period of time.
If you are having negative thoughts in the lead up to the presentation or even during the presentation, they may have a big impact on your presentation. You may feel scared that you will do a bad job and embarrass yourself. This may lead you to not adequately prepare or to give a poor delivery. If this is happening to you, try to control it by concentrating on a positive replacement for your negative thoughts.
'It will be a disaster.'
'I will aim to do the best I can.'
'I never do any good at this kind of thing, it's bound to go horribly wrong.'
'Just because I had a problem with this is in the past does not mean that things are bound to go wrong.'
'They are looking for ways of catching me out.'
'They are giving me an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge of something that I have worked hard to understand.'
'They will ask me about something that is a weakness of mine.'
'How can I talk about this area in the most positive way?'
'I will fail and never get the career of my choice if I don't do well in this presentation.'
'The marks for this presentation are only a percentage of my overall mark. If I don't do as well as I would like there will be other opportunities to improve my marks.'
Try to visualise yourself successfully completing the task. Plan a social event afterwards that is not dependent on the outcome. These tactics can help you to keep a sense of perspective about the event and stop things spiralling out of control. Focus on the present and what you can do now to deal with the situation, rather than dwelling on what you should have done already, or how similar events have gone in the past.
You may find it useful to identify the aspects of the situation that are causing you the greatest levels of anxiety. This might help you prevent them from becoming a reality. For instance, if you are worried about using the visual aids, practice them well before the event.
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 the presentation, take time to settle your nerves while you check that:
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.
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.
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.
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: 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 eg “how 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:
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.