The ability to communicate well is an important skill for any student attending university. In addition, possessing excellent communication skills are highly valued in the workplace. This means, among other things, that you should be able to present your topic and research results fluently; for example, during seminars with peers or with managers and clients in the workplace.
A persuasive presentation not only require thorough preparation of content, but also good style. It takes quite a bit of skill to come across understandable for any particular audience and to stay in control of the situation. For this purpose, the following 10 tips may offer some guidance to help you on the way to delivering a memorable presentation.
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
There is no easy way out. Giving a excellent presentation is all about the preparation that goes into it, and this theme applies to every single aspect you include in your presentation.
2. Think audience
When you are preparing your presentation, there is one thing you should always keep in the back of your mind: the audience. The sole purpose of a presentation is to communicate whatever you have to say to an audience. Position yourself being in their shoes and answer the following questions: who, what, why, how?
Who are they and who are you? It’s essential to know who your audience will be: are they your classmates, professors, professionals, etc. and what do they know about you. Do you need to inform them? Do you need to introduce yourself? Different audiences have different needs, and different audiences may need different communicative approaches.
What do they want? What do they know? What can I tell them? Knowing this information will help you decide what content to include in your presentation. If you are not sure about the answer to one of these questions, perhaps you may want to include it in your presentation.
Where can I take them? Your presentation is very much like a journey. Guide your audience through the content. Use signposts to indicate what you are presenting and where you are going. Examples of signposts are, “Next, I will discuss..”, “Now I’d like to move on to….”, and “Finally, …” or “To conclude..”. Signposts are also great tools to keep you audience awake, focused and engaged. Have you ever listened to a less engaging presentation and the presenter said, “Finally”, surely that was the moment you found yourself waking up. Use signposts throughout your presentation.
A presentation is never a one way communication, despite the fact that you are the only one speaking. Communication is always two ways. Although you do not want your audience interrupting your speech, make it engaging: look at the audience, speak to the whole audience. Your audience wants to be spoken to. Ask rhetorical questions, use short pauses when you are, for example, changing the subject or moving on to another topic. Rhetorical questions will often raise the audience awareness as do pauses. Don’t hide behind a computer, a paper, or a desk.
4. Prepare the little things
There is truth in the old saying “It’s the little things that count”. Often when we are preparing a presentation we prepare the content, the slides, the general story line, but it is often the little things that catch us off guard.
For example, how do you start your presentation? What do you say? In Estonian, as I understood, “Tere!” will almost always do. But what about in English or any other language for that matter? Do you say (or is it appropriate to say) “hello”, “hi”, “good morning/afternoon/evening everybody”, “dear audience”, etc.? How do you end? What do you say? E.g. “thank you”, “thank you for your attention”, etc. Prepare your signposts, “next”, “finally”, etc. Also, think of the specific terms you use to describe what is on your slide. Are you showing a picture, or more specifically a graph, table, chart, etc.?
5. Structure your presentation
The purpose and content needs to be carefully considered. How much detail can you cover in the allotted time? Going back to a point made earlier, what does your audience already know about your topic? What do they need to know, and more important, what is your take-home message? What do you want your audience to remember?
Most presentation will have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. You introduce yourself in the introduction, your topic, and what you will cover during your presentation. Remember, this part can be as short as 30 seconds. The body will include key points, new knowledge, trends in your data, or progress to date. The level of detail may depend on the task and time available. Remember to signpost! Highlight the implications of your discussion or possible applications of your findings in your conclusion and finish with your take-home messages.
6. Finding your voice
Although there are general rules and structures, it is important to find your own voice. Know your strengths and weaknesses. For most of us, giving a presentation is a learning process and definitely not something we do on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.
Therefore, stay in your comfort zone to give you confidence but push the boundaries: explore new techniques, try something different, use a different power point template, try using cue cards rather than reading from a paper, watch what others do and learn from them; try using a different tool such as Prezi. Set yourself a target. What kind of presenter do you want to be? Take your time, prepare, prepare, prepare.
7. Do not read or read like you mean it.
When giving a presentation, from a communication perspective, speaking is always better than reading. However, when you find yourself in the situation where you are going to read, there are a few techniques you can use to make it more enjoyable for the audience (remember your audience).
Always address the audience, even when reading. Make sure you take your eyes off the paper and look at the audience. Highlight parts in the text that you wish to stress, e.g. keywords, signposts, words that evoke, etc. Cut your A4 paper into four parts. The size of cuecards. They are less distracting to hold and most often preparing cue cards helps you to remember your presentation.
PowerPoint comes with a handy print function which allows you to print handouts. Use these so you have an overview which slides comes next. Do you know about the presenter’s view in PowerPoint? If you don’t, you should definitely check it out! If you go through these steps, you’ll often find that you actually don’t need to read.
8. Non-verbal communication
There is a lot to say about non-verbal communication, but what to do with you hands is the focus of this point. There are of course cultural differences as well as individual differences, but in general we use the motions of our hands and arms to support the content of our speech. Our hands also seem to get in the way when we are giving presentations. Where do we place them? What do we do with them? It’s easy when your holding a piece of paper, but can we put our hands in our pocket, or behind our back?
One of my favorite examples of good hand movement is the weather news on TV. You’ll see weather presenters usually holding a remote in front of their body, clasped in their hands, just above the waist. The best place to keep your hands. If you don’t have a remote, keep a pen, or pencil in your hands (be careful, though, not to break them).
9. Slide design
Another ten tips could be devoted on good slide design, but not this time. One essential criteria to remember is, however, the following: don’t put anything on a slide (text, images, pictures, tables, and graphs) if you are not going to talk about them, or mention them. It will only confuse your audience (unless they are either part of the template, or faded in the background).
In addition, respect your audience, do not overload your slides with text and read this text to them. Most likely your audience will have finished reading your text before you. Less is more and remember that you do not need to write in complete sentences on your slides.
10. Practice, practice, practice
Practice and time your presentation. Practice delivering you speech out loud. Record your presentation using the record tool available in PowerPoint. Practice delivering you presentation to an audience, for example, your peers. If you don’t have an audience, practice in front of a mirror.
If all fails and/or you are in need of more advice, you are more than welcome to drop by the Centre of Academic Writing and Communication (AVOK) for help, suggestions, comments, feedback, encouragements, and a wealth of resources to get you through your communication problems. You can find us at the following address, Jakobi 2-131, or contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.