Presentations are something you will probably have to do several times throughout your student life. Whether in high school, university, or even during workplace training, presentations are a great way for a student to display their knowledge to their teacher, and the rest of their class. While getting up and speaking in front of everyone may not be your favourite thing in the world, it can be great practise for things you may do in the future in your career, such as client presentations or speaking at conferences.
It's important to go into presentations prepared, so you don't feel stressed out and you are able to present to the best of your ability. We take a look at some tips to help you get ready for your presentations to make sure that you show off the best work possible.
Write it Out
The first stage of any presentation is to write it all down. It's important to make sure you have all the points you want to cover written out clearly so you're confident you are covering everything you need to.
The best place to start is usually with a rough outline of all the points you want to cover. Mark out your introduction and conclusion, as well as the main topics you want to talk about. Once you have the skeleton in place, it will let you expand on the points, and add in additional content. You may find it good to write it out word for word what you want to say to begin with, as this will help you learn it and also show you exactly how much time it will take to you to cover everything. This is especially helpful if you have a time limit, as it will show you whether you need to cut down or add additional points to make your presentation last the required amount of time.
Once you have your content set, you may want to try and cut down your notes. This will prevent you from reading it word for word on the day, which isn't the best way to deliver a presentation, as it can feel quite wooden. Additionally, your teacher may have requested that you only use a certain amount of notes, so it's a good idea to try and remember as much of your presentation as possible, without having to read it from a sheet of paper.
A great way to do this can be to mark out your main points on small cue cards. Use each card for each main point you want to cover, or perhaps write down a reference you may find hard to remember otherwise, so you don't have to stress about forgetting it. Cutting your presentation down to just a handful of cards should mean that you talk in a more natural way, and connect your points more fluidly than if you were just reading it word for word. Plus the whole point of a presentation is to show off your knowledge on the subject, so reading a pre-written sheet isn't going to impress your teacher.
Another part of the planning process is organising your visual aids, and it's a good idea to do this in tandem with planning the actual content of your presentation. You may just be giving a speech, and not be required to provide any visual element, but in most cases presentations are accompanied by something like a PowerPoint slideshow.
When you are creating your slideshow, you'll want to think of it in roughly the same way as you did your cue cards. Your slideshow should present your audience with the main points of your presentation, but not overload them with information. You don't want your audience to pay more attention to the screen than you, and you also don't want to them to be able to read ahead of what you're saying, or they'll probably pay little attention to you directly.
You can also set a timer to work with your slides, so they change automatically after a certain amount of time. This will be a great way to help you practise your presentation, as you can set the ideal times of how you want to split your speech, and then see where you are running over a little. Getting used to practising with the timings should make your final presentation much easier as you'll get used to have much time you have to discuss each topic.
You can also use visual aids such as pictures, videos, charts, and graphs throughout your slideshow to give your audience a little something extra. If you had to take the time to explain a whole chart or a graph in detail, it may end up using a lot of your time which could have been better spent on something else. However, if you can display the graph on the screen, and discuss only the key points while giving your audience an overview of what the whole graph looks like, it means you can spend more time on the specific topics you want to.
Make sure that you have a few copies of your slideshow with you on the day of your final presentation, so that nothing goes wrong. You may want to email it to yourself, as well as having it on a memory stick so you have a backup should one method fail. There would be nothing worse than planning a presentation around a slideshow, only for you to have to present without it, as some elements of it may just not work without the visual element.
Once you have your content set, and know exactly what your visual aids are going to be, the only thing you can do now is practise! Try and use any spare time you have to get in some extra practise, as you want the final speech to be something you are clearly very knowledgeable in, and to achieve this you have to know your content inside and out.
While you may not be able to have your entire set up with you all the time, you can really practise the speech part of your presentation anywhere. Whether you're in the shower, on the train, or at the gym, you can practise your speech out loud or in your head, depending on the environment, whenever you get the chance. Constant practise will help you become very familiar with the material, so you'll sound like a real expert by the time the final presentation comes around.
You may also want to grab friends and family who you feel comfortable in front of, and have a go at practising with them as your audience. Not only will this give you a closer experience of what the real thing is going to feel like, but it will also give you the chance to gather feedback on your performance, so you can make any necessary changes before the big day.
Even if you've done it dozens of times before, getting up and speaking in front of a group of people can be an unnerving experience. Even the most seasoned speaker can still get a little stressed, but it's important to be able to keep it under control so it doesn't affect your performance.
Here are some tips for keeping calm before and during your presentation:
- Stay Hydrated. There is nothing worse than getting a dry mouth when you're trying to speak, and ending up coughing and spluttering through the rest of your speech. Make sure you stay hydrated in the run up to your presentation to prevent this from happening. Also taking some time to just sit down and have a drink could be a nice chance to relax before you hit the stage.
- Take a Breath. If you can feel yourself getting more and more worked up during your presentation, it's important to just stop for a second and take a breath to regroup. A great place to do this could be when you switch topics, or move to a different slide. There will be a natural break in your flow here anyway, so if you take a little bit longer to catch your breath and feel more in control, chances are no one will even notice.
- Smile. Make the effort to smile at your audience, and make eye contact with different people around the room as your presentation progresses. If you appear overly stressed to your audience, they may reflect that back at you, which in turn could make you even more stressed! Making sure to smile will make you seem more at ease, and your audience should mirror this same feeling back at you.
- Embrace it. You're always going to be a little nervous, no matter how many times you have done this before, so in some cases it can be just as important to embrace the fear. Being scared means we are doing something that is challenging, but that doesn't always need to be a bad thing. Use that extra nervous energy to convey your excitement for the topic instead, so at least you're putting a little bit of your fear to good use.
Public speaking can be very scary, but the key to giving the best presentation you can give is preparation and practise. If you feel ready to go and are extremely confident in the topic you are talking about, this should show in your work, and also help combat any worries you might have beforehand. Just make sure you take the time to really get to grips with what you are presenting on and everything should go off without a hitch!