You'll almost certainly be asked to give a presentation at least once during your time at university. This expert advice will help you conquer your nerves and deliver an accomplished performance...
Depending on your degree subject, you might be expected to summarise your reading in a seminar, deliver the results of a scientific experiment or provide feedback from group work.
Whatever the topic, you'll usually be presenting to your tutor and fellow students, which some people may not find that daunting. Others will understandably be apprehensive – getting up and making your case in front of an audience is never easy, especially if you're not used to it.
However you feel, though, it's worth trying to develop your skills and become as comfortable with the format as possible. The experience will be useful when it comes to giving a presentation in an even more high pressure situation, such as a job interview.
To help you, academic skills tutor Andrew Edwards and careers adviser Andrea Hilditch, both from Glyndwr University, provide their top tips for making your presentation stand out for all the right reasons…
1. Prepare carefully
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare thoroughly, as a last-minute rush will leave you flustered when it comes to delivering your presentation. Gather the information you need and set it out in a logical order, with a clear introduction and conclusion.
As part of your planning, make detailed notes if it helps, recommends Andrew. But don't rely on these on the day, as reading from a prepared text sounds unnatural.
Andrew suggests that if you make memory aids to take with you, you should use small index cards. This is because referring to A4 sheets of paper during your presentation would be distracting and highlight your nerves if your hands were to shake.
2. Use visuals wisely
'Visuals should complement your oral presentation, not repeat it,' says Andrew. 'You are the main focus - your slides should offer a brief summary of points, or an illustration supporting the concept that you're discussing. Don't fall into the trap of merely reading aloud what is written on the slides.'
Make sure you use a clear and suitably sized font. Andrew adds that you should use short phrases or sentences so that you don’t overcrowd your slides.
As Andrea says, images can be a great way to grab the audience's attention. 'Can you use humour to make a point? Can you use a thoughtful question instead of a sea of words?' She emphasises that slides are a starting point from which you should expand and develop your narrative. 'Make sure the substance is there over the fancy fonts and animations.'
Meanwhile, if you intend to provide hand-outs for your audience, distribute them at the beginning or end of your presentation. Andrew says that doing it halfway through can be distracting and disrupt your flow.
3. Consider your audience
'Show that you have thought about the audience,' advises Andrea. There are many different elements you can include in a presentation - sound, video, hand-outs, time for questions at the end - so you'll need to think about which are suitable. For example, whether your tone is serious or light-hearted might depend on factors such as the subject you're studying, or whether the presentation is an assessed piece of work.
You should also determine how much background information your audience will need. Do they already have some knowledge of the topic you're presenting on? Go into too much detail at the beginning and they'll be lost, but spending the first half of your time telling them what they already know will be frustrating.
4. Practise with a friend
It's essential that you give your presentation in full more than once before doing it for real. 'Practise with a friend,' says Andrew. 'Visit the room in advance if you can, and ask your friend to sit at the back, checking the speed and clarity of your speech. Check that the visuals of your presentation are visible too.'
You'll be able to work out whether your presentation is the right length when spoken aloud, and get used to expressing yourself in front of others. 'Vary your tone and pitch,' recommends Andrew. 'Speak normally - do not sound monotonous.'
5. Be positive
This might seem obvious, and easier said than done if you're shy. But pull it off and it will make a huge difference to how you perform.
'Acknowledge your nervousness, but don't give in to negative thinking,' says Andrew. 'Counteract it by telling yourself, "Yes, I'm nervous, but I can do this".' He recommends that you try to develop a positive attitude over the few days before the presentation.
Andrea suggests a technique for achieving this. 'Think about a time in your life when you are more confident. It could be on the dance floor in a club, in a workplace mentoring others or helping a class of small children. In the days approaching the presentation, imagine stepping into that version of yourself. Bring this to mind just before you start, along with a few calming breaths.'
It might feel like the room is against you, but this isn't the case. 'Don't assume your audience wants you to fail,' Andrea adds. 'I meet students who have the absolute dread when approaching presentations, yet their friends in the class are there to support them and really want them to succeed.'
6. Don't rely on technology
We've all witnessed the agony of a presenter struggling with a faulty USB stick or failing to get a projector to work. However, with a little bit of planning, you can minimise the risk of technology tripping you up.
If possible, test your presentation beforehand with the same equipment that you'll be using for the real thing. Otherwise, try to arrive early on the day and have a run through. Andrea advises that you bring back-ups of your documents and print out a few copies of the slides so that you can share them if things go wrong.
However, you shouldn't rely too heavily on your slides. Always be ready to give your presentation without them if necessary, using your notes or index cards as memory aids.
And if a piece of technology does fail, don't panic. It will happen to everyone in the room at some point - and if you get through it without being fazed, it might even impress your tutor more than if everything went perfectly.
In conclusion, Andrea relates a real-life example. 'I had a problem with a lecture theatre screen not working, so quick thinking and a little humour meant that I flipped the small screen around on the lectern and asked the class to move closer until the technician arrived to help out,' she says. 'We worked through it and the audience were able to see that I did my best to work around a tricky situation.'
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