Giving Presentations

Tips for giving an effective and memorable seminar

At some point in your college career, you’re probably going to have to give an oral presentation in front of your class. Many people find public speaking the most frightening thing imaginable. Others, albeit a minority, thrive in front of a live audience.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a natural performer, we’ve compiled a list of things that you can do to improve your presentation skills.

Elements of a Great Presentation: Planning

  • Do your research. Know your material inside and out. If you believe what you are saying, others are more likely to buy into it.
  • Give it structure. Ensure that your presentation follows a clear path from introduction to conclusion.
  • Go easy on the stats. Unless you’ve been specifically asked to, don’t include too many facts and figures in your presentation. You don’t want your audience to worry about remembering a lot of names, dates and statistics. Make a printed handout that includes this information and pass it out before you begin your presentation.
  • Use visual aids properly. Visual aids can be a good thing, but it’s easy to go overboard. If you’re using a program like PowerPoint, limit the information on each slide to a few short bullet points. You want your audience listening to what you are saying, not struggling to read 500 tiny words on every slide.
  • Get real. Include real-life examples that your audience will be able to relate to. Planning a joke or two is always a good idea, provided they aren’t offensive to anyone and they are relevant to the subject matter of the presentation. Self-deprecating humor works well. Maybe include a story about an embarrassing moment you’ve experienced.
  • Have a backup plan. Always prepare more presentation material than you plan to actually use. Memorize one or two extra examples. This way, if your presentation is too short or you forget some parts of it, you’ll have something to fall back on.

Elements of a Great Presentation: Practice

  • Practice, practice, practice. Go over your presentation as many times as you can. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with your presentation. Give your presentation in front of a mirror. Pay close attention to your facial expressions and body language. Use your family or friends as a test audience. Ask them for feedback about what you can improve. You may even want to try taping yourself while you give a practice performance. This will allow you to go back and carefully scrutinize every element of your delivery, including how frequently you use filler words like “um” and “uh.”
  • Memorize as much as you can. Never type out your entire presentation. If you do so, you’ll be tempted to stare down at your paper and read it word for word. Instead, print out a list of bullet points or use cue cards. This way, you can take quick glances down to make sure you’re moving from point to point in order, but most of what you say will be from memory.
  • Time your presentation. Make sure it’s the correct length. Keep in mind that many people have a tendency to speed up when they are speaking in front of an audience.

Elements of a Great Presentation: Performance

  • Make eye contact. Look around the room, and try to look directly at some members of the audience. Ensure that you make eye contact with your instructor (or whoever is grading your performance) at least once.
  • Be emotive. Be sure to speak in an expressive way when you give your presentation. Even if you’re saying amazingly insightful things, no one will be impressed if you say them in a monotone voice.
  • If you make a mistake, don’t panic. Don’t acknowledge the mistake (chances are that most people didn’t even notice it in the first place). Simply move forward and focus on making the rest of the performance the best it can be. Never ask to start over.
  • Remember to breathe!
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