In any presentation, the delivery is almost as important as the content. If you cannot relate to your audience, they may not hear what you have to say.
Getting practice and support
For many public speaking and even presenting in a group environment can be daunting. The best way to overcome the fears and to learn is by doing and through practice. Get into the habit of speaking in seminars. As a participant you can do so by finding things to ask, even prepare questions ahead.
Many people are nervous about oral presentations. Nerves can be a good thing -a bit of adrenaline can help good performance. However, too much nervousness can make it difficult to organise thoughts and retrieve ideas.
Radio National broadcast on performance anxiety : Dr Susan O’Neill, psychologist and musician, talks about musicians’ performance anxiety. Most of what is covered applies to oral presentations.
Tips for overcoming nervousness:
- Remember that nervousness is normal. Allow yourself to be yourself, nervous if that is what you are. Some of the most accomplished public speakers feel nervous before and even during a talk. The skill is about not communicating your nervousness, and not letting it take over.
- Breath deeply and slowly. This will calm you down and help to control the slight shaking that you might get in your hands and your voice.
- Smile! Nobody can see you are nervous. Your audience will react warmly to you if you smile and at least look relaxed.
- Treat your audience like friends. Start with something the audience might enjoy or find useful.
- Remember that in practice, in terms of content, explaining something to 20 people in a room is fairly similar to explaining things to one person.
- Set up some interaction with the audience early on in the presentation. Ask a question, make a comment. That will set up a more relaxed atmosphere and a relationship.
- Slow down! If you are nervous, you may speed up your speech and be less clear as a result. Use pauses: force yourself to stop at the end of a sentence, of an idea and breathe. The use of supporting material (e.g. slides) can also help you slowing down.
- Practice: use all possible opportunities to speak in public. Start practising in a familiar environment, in front of family, friends.Be really well prepared and organised. If you have rehearsed your prsentation, anxiety and nervousness will not stand in your way. But if you are disorganised, your notes get out of order…you may get flustered, and more nervous and then easily confused.
Playing the part
An oral presentation is a performance – you have to play the part. If you act the part of someone enjoying him/herself and feeling confident, you will not only communicate these positive feelings to the audience, but you will also feel better. Consider
- Your body language
- The language you use
- Your voice
- The audience
When you are speaking in front of an audience, you become an object of scrutiny. The larger the audience, the less individuals feel the need to provide reassuring feedback to the speaker. This makes speakers very self-conscious.
- Stand straight and comfortable. Do not slouch, shuffle about or pace around.
- Look at your audience. Point your feet towards the audience to avoid turning your back on the audience.
- Hold your head up. Look around and make eye contact with people in the audience.
- When talking make sure you look at all people in the audience, do not just address the one person nodding!
- When you are talking to your friends, you naturally use your hands, your facial expression, and your body to add to your communication. Do the same in your presentation.
- Dress to look your best, but also to adapt to your audience.
Spoken language is different from written language.
- Words are short, less technical and familiar
- Sentences are shorter.
- Speech tends to be more repetitive. Only few ideas need to be communicated and repeated consistently so the audience will remember them.
- Speech makes extensive use of examples and anecdotes.
Keep it simple. The aim is to communicate, not to show off your vocabulary.
Emphasise the key points. Make sure people realise which are the key points. Repeat them using different phrasing.
Use your voice
- Speak loudly: aim to be heard in the back row.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t rush! Speaking fast doesn’t make you seem smarter; it will only make it harder for people to understand you.
- Vary your voice. If you always use the same volume and pitch (e.g. all loud, or all soft, or in a monotone) your audience will switch off. That is also why it is important not to read.
- Slow down to emphasise for key points. Supporting material can help.
- Key words are important. Speak them out slowly and loudly.
- When you begin a new point, use a higher pitch and volume.
- Use pauses – don’t be afraid of short periods of silence. (They give you a chance to gather your thoughts, and your audience a chance to think.)
- Check the pronunciation of difficult words beforehand.
It can be hard to keep an audience’s attention. Since the brain processes information more rapidly than the speaking voice does, listeners tend to wander off in their own thoughts. While people are there to listen to you, they are more worried about their needs, their thoughts than about yours and what you want to tell them.
Make your material meaningful to a diverse group. Remembering that people make sense of new information by relating it to what they already know may help.
Speak to your audience, don’t read to them! If you simply read out a paper instead of giving a presentation, your audience will probably understand very little, lose concentration quickly and may even go to sleep! Use keywords or overheads as prompts, and speak to the audience. Include everyone by looking around and maintaining eye contact.
- Pay attention to the audience. Do people seem interested, bored, confused? Check for signals, such as people leaning toward you or sitting back arms folded. Stop if necessary and explain a point again, use an anecdote, ask a question.
- Get the audience to participate. But only ask people to do things that are seen as relevant, non-threatening, enjoyable, easy to explain and feasible in terms of time, audience size and venue.
- Be open to questions. Questions are good! They show that the audience is listening with interest. Don’t regard them as an attack on you, but as a collaborative search for deeper understanding. If someone raises a hand, or asks a question in the middle of your talk, answer it. If you cannot answer it, turn the question back out to the audience and let someone else answer it!
- Make sure you remain in control of the presentation, do not let the audience take over.
- When feedback is very important, you may want to ask a friend/colleague to take notes, as you may be too overwhelmed to take good note of what is said .
- Clarify and summarise questions that seem complicated.
- When a question is asked , unless you are in a very small group, restate the question to make sure everyone heard.
- Be honest if you cannot answer, eventually ask the audience for an answer or offer to find the answer later on.
Preparing your presentation
Your presentation needs to take into account its purpose.
- In a progress seminar, you might want to show the audience that you have control over your work, while being honest about the unknowns.
- At a conference, you may want to raise awareness of your research and network.
Rehearse your presentation and get the length right
Work on an average of 100 words per minute and allow for the fact that visual aids and digressions might take time. To keep on time, have spare material (extra examples, minor points) that can be omitted if you go over time. Mark them in your notes as optional.
Keep in mind that 5 minutes (500 words) is just enough time to deal with one main idea (accounting for introduction, repetition, summaries). If you give too much information, your audience will get lost.
Visual aids are useful as they help people understand and can focus their attention. People learn visually as well as orally. What people see generally also tends to have more impact than what people hear. Visual aids can also be useful to help you follow the proposed plan,
When chosing visuals, think about why you want them: to capture attention? to reinforce meaning? to signpost the talk? to provide light relief?
Also think about practical considerations, such as availability and affordability. How much time will it take to prepare those visuals? Will they be easily visible (consider venue and size of audience)? Will using them delay or distract you?
Never read your slides word-for-word – people can do that themselves.
Practice operating the equipment before using it.Last minute technical problems will not help you feel relaxed. It may also be useful to have a plan B.
Overheads and PowerPoint presentations
Keep your design simple, uncluttered, with plenty of space.
Apply rule 166:
- 1 idea per slide
- 6 lines per slide
- 6 words per line
Ensure slides are readable and clear:
- Check grammar and spelling – everybody will read your slides and spot mistakes
- Identify author and organisation on first slide
- Put contact details/questions and answers/ conclusion/thanks on last slide. First and last slide may remain visible for longer than the other slides, so make sure they are informative and interesting.
- Font size: less than 24 point is too small to be reasonably read in most situations. Best is 28 or 32 point size, with titles 36 to 44 point.
- Typeface – use a sans serif (easier to read)
- Use no more than two fonts (heading and text)
- Make sure the background image does not interfere with the content.
- Add sounds, action and colour appropriately – remember content is more important than form. Best is not to have slides appear in fancy ways.
- Blank the screen when you don’t want people to look at your PowerPoint presentation. To do so: press the B key on the keyboard to have a black screen, press the B key again and the image is restored. OR press the W key to have a white image.
- You may want to draw on your screen. To do so press Ctrl-P and using the left mouse button, draw on the slide as you wish. To erase what you have drawn, press the E key. To hide pen, press the A key or Ctrl-H.
Handouts can be a great idea OR a waste of paper. They are probably good if you are providing information participants might want to follow up on.
If you use them, think about whether you want to distribute them before or after your presentation.
Writing on a board is also time-consuming. Use alternative visual aids wherever possible. If you really must use a whiteboard, come prepared with whiteboard markers and write in large neat writing.
If possible, put your information on the whiteboard before the talk begins, otherwise you will have to turn your back on the audience and break your eye contact with them, which is never a good idea. You may also ask members of the audience to take note for you.
Checking out the facilities
Whenever possible, check the facilities of the room where you are going to deliver your talk.
- Does the overhead processor work? How does it turn on and off?
- Where is the plug for the computer? Do you have the right cables?
- Is there a whiteboard?
Nothing is more irritating than a presentation that is delayed because of technicalities such as a computer than won’t start or open the right program, missing markers.
Structuring the presentation
- Your talk should be focused and coherent
- Try to have one central proposition, supported by clearly defined ideas
- Make sure there is a logical connection between the different parts of the talk
- An average audience member should be able to understand and repeat your arguments
- Have a clear structure – everything should develop smoothly and fit together. You need a clear introduction, body and conclusion.
The introduction- tell them what you are going to tell them
Introduce yourself, build a rapport with the audience and tell them what you are going to tell them. First impressions usually determine an audience’s response.
- The introduction serves to capture your listeners’ attention make a link between you and the audience. Try to start with something everybody would listen to: begin with a question, a funny story, a startling comment, or something that will make them think.
- The introduction is where you state the purpose of your presentation. It tells the audience what the presentation is about, what the main argument is. It then locates the specific topic within a wider context.
- You might also want to explain why your topic is important.
- The introduction should also contain an outline of your talk. The main points of your talks should be introduced. It should indicate how the presentation will develop. Foreshadowing your structure helps the listeners to understand where you are at. Clearly indicate the structure by using words such as I will concentrate on the following points: First of all – Then –This will lead to – And finally
- Keep it simple, the more you say, the less will be retained . Displaying an outline can be useful: you can keep referring to it as you move through the presentation.
In brief the audience needs to know
- why it needs to listen
- what it will be listening to
- where the presentation is going.
The body – tell them
- Present your main points one by one in logical order.
- Pause at the end of each point (give people time to take notes, or time to think about what you are saying).
- Make it absolutely clear when you move to the next point, say it. For example:
- The next point is …
- To follow up, I will explore …
- Now I’d like to explain …
- Of course, we must not forget that …
- However, it’s important to realise that...
- New knowledge is best assimilated when hooked onto something familiar. Look for useful examples and evidence. Give concrete examples, abstractions are often hard to follow. People relate more easily to everyday examples. Evidence and examples that can be presented visually work very well.
- Make sure you know your audience and unerstand what you can assume the audience knows and what not.
The conclusion – tell them what you told them
It is important to leave the audience with a clear summary of what was covered. At the end of a presentation, summarise the main points again. Use appropriate vocabulary (signposts), so people know what you are doing, e.g. to sum up, So, in conclusion ; To recap the main points.
You can also restate the purpose of your talk, and say that you have achieved your aim:
You can see that…
It should now be clear that …
Thank the audience, and invite questions: Thank you. Are there any questions?
Nottingham, Anitra (2014) Making effective slides
Jones, Simon L.Peyton, Hughes, John and Launchbury John (1993) How to give a great research talk
Reynolds, Garr (2008). How presenting well can make a difference (70′)
Reynolds, Garr (2014), 10 ways to make better presentations lessons from story tellers (15′).