Topic 4.5: Making presentations
Oral presentations facilitate knowledge sharing and discussion from small to large groups.
This is a learned skill and one that is frequently called upon in the workplace.
Nonetheless, giving a presentation is not the easiest thing to do. For many it can be nerve-racking and stressful.
However, with practice, your nerves will ease.
Most presentations are done these days using Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote or similar software.
If you haven’t used these before, we strongly encourage you to start with some online tutorials.
To keep within the allotted time, you need to plan carefully and focus on essential points when giving your talk.
Find out what the time limit is and ask yourself:
How much of the topic can I cover?
How much detail can I include? What can I leave out?
What is the most effective way to present the information?
Write a draft script allowing roughly 400 words for each five minutes.
A draft will help you work out the structure, the main points and the supporting information you need to include.
As a rule, you should limit the number of slides to a maximum of 3-4 for every 10 minutes.
You should also rehearse your presentation at home alone in front a mirror, then to your family or friends.
Practise projecting your voice clearly and varying your pitch and tone – don’t mumble or speak in a monotone.
Practise speaking naturally, glancing at your notes occasionally.
You should also rehearse with your visual aids to make sure they – and the technology that supports them – work as intended.
Finally, time yourself to make sure you stay within the allotted time limit.
Given that PowerPoint, Keynote or other digital technologies will be the backbone of your presentation, here are some important tips to keep in mind.
Don’t expect PowerPoint to do the presenting for you
Visual aids are intended to support you, not replace you. Don’t try to hide performance anxiety or lack of preparation behind an elaborate slideshow.
The best way to beat ‘stage fright’ is by rehearsing and developing your presentation skills and delivery.
Don’t spend more time on the slides than on your talk
Focus on writing your presentation, then plan your visuals to support it. If the content of your presentation is poor, no amount of whizz-bang will help.
Don’t ignore the audience
Especially if you are nervous, you can become so preoccupied with your slideshow that you pay more attention to clicking the mouse at the right time than to delivering your talk.
Speak to your audience, not to your screen or your notes.
Don’t turn all the lights off
Dimming the light can increase the clarity of your slides, but don’t turn off every light and leave your audience in darkness unless you are showing a video.
They will always want to see you and may want to make notes.
Don’t hide in the corner
Although you never want to stand directly in front of the projector, don’t stand too far to the side of the room or hide behind a lectern or computer.
This creates a barrier between you and the audience.
If the layout of the room you are presenting in has the computer in the corner, make sure you vary your position when possible.
Don’t read directly from slides
You wouldn’t read a script of your presentation word-for-word, so avoid reading your slides.
Not only is it boring for your audience, but they will stop listening to you and read ahead.
Don’t simply read your slides aloud; supplement or explain text and graphics.
The first few times you make a presentation, you will be nervous.
That is actually a good thing – a bit of adrenaline often helps you to perform well.
Here are some tips to help you overcome those nerves.
Your audience will react warmly to you if you smile and at least look relaxed.
Project confidence by dressing appropriately, using purposeful gestures and movement, and making eye contact with audience members.
It will calm you down and help to control the slight shaking that you might get in your hands and your voice.
If you are well organised, your task will be easier.
If your slides are out of sequence, your notes are disorganised, or the technology fails you, you may get flustered.
When people are nervous, they tend to get confused easily – your mind may start to race, and you may feel panicky.
Make use of pauses: force yourself to stop at the end of a sentence, take a breath, and think before you continue.
The way you perform is the way your audience will feel.
Giving a presentation is a performance – you have to be like an actor.
If you act the part of someone enjoying themselves and feeling confident, you will not only communicate these positive feelings to the audience, you will feel much better, too.
Even accomplished public speakers often feel nervous before and during a talk.
The skill is in not communicating your nerves and not letting them take away from the presentation.
Over time, you will feel less anxious and possibly even look forward to presenting!