Making a Presentation
The most important thing about presenting is to remember it is about communication, so always make conveying your message a priority. The following sections are designed to help you think about how to do that.
This guide is intended to work alongside and complement the division's face to face course on Introductory Presentation Skills, which is currently happening virtually. The slides from the course are available and among lots of valuable information, include some very useful advice on presenting virtually.
If you are going to present virtually, make sure you are comfortable with the software you are going to use, and that you practise - not just delivering your presentation, but also practised with the technology.
Giving a talk – making a presentation – is such a practical activity that it seems strange to be writing an online guide. Nevertheless there are many useful hints and tips, and exercises, that we can include here to help you prepare for and practice your presentations.
Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just reading about making presentations will make you a good presenter. It won’t! Learning to make effective presentations is an entirely practical process. So if you are unable to attend a face to face course, make sure you engage with the practical suggestions included in the course slides and these webpages. Get together with friends / colleagues to carry out the exercises and discuss the questions included here.
The Good and the Bad
Making presentations is a day to day part of working in academia. It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that because you know your stuff, you do not need to think about how to go about presenting it effectively. The content – your knowledge – will speak for itself.
Take a moment to think about that. Can you think of a talk you attended where the speaker clearly knew their topic but did not present it well? How much of the subject matter did you absorb / retain?
Answer the same questions about the really effective presentations you have experienced.
With those presentations in mind, make a note of what made them awful / effective / memorable (memorable in both good and bad ways). Think about:
- What aspects of the content did the presenter focus on?
- How well was the content tailored and structured for the audience?
- How was it presented – All talk? All powerpoint? Other audio-visual tools? Involving the audience? What else?
- How was the timing?
- How did the presenter come across? Confident? Knowledgeable? Engaging?
- What did the presenter do? Look at the audience or elsewhere? Speak clearly? How was their body language?
‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ Benjamin Franklin.
So make sure you prepare thoroughly. Poor preparation makes a poor presentation. Try using this framework for your preparation:
THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you must do in preparation for your talk is to rehearse it. The commonest mistake people make is to think that because they know in their head what they are going to say, they don’t need to practice the talk.
In fact you will find that once you start saying the words out loud, it is very different to the way it sounded in your head.
So rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Start by doing it by yourself, then get a friend or friends to listen and give you constructive feedback.
Then time your talk. How many talks have you attended that have overrun? How is that? In very few cases is it ok for a talk to overrun its allotted time. Far better to finish a little ahead of time, so as part of your rehearsing make sure you know how long your talk will take.
Delivering your talk and managing nerves
You might also find it interesting to have a look at Amy Cuddy’s TED talk and research on how our posture influences our confidence.