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Presentations

Throughout your university and professional career, public speaking will be one of your key assets – if you can do it well! You may be required to report on the progress of a project, conduct meetings with supervisors and colleagues, or conduct workshops for a group. Many find public speaking and presentations stressful, nerve-wracking events; however, with practice and a few basic tools, you can improve your self-confidence and ensure a high-quality presentation.

Preparing my presentation

How do I conduct research for my PowerPoint presentation?

You will use different presentation styles depending on your audience and purpose. Many presentations will require the use of visuals in order to communicate your data well, while others will be more like a speech. However, before you can start to think about a presentation method, you must first plan out your presentation by brainstorming ideas and then creating an outline. The first few steps are similar to those for writing a research paper.

  1. What is the purpose of your presentation? Are you seeking to inform your audience, persuade them to do some action, or convince them of your argument (or theory or hypothesis)?
  2. Brainstorm
    1. Choose a topic you care about and use a mind map to track your ideas
    2. If your topic is broad, narrow it by choosing a smaller section from your mind map
  3. Analyze your audience
    1. How much will your audience know about your subject?
    2. Will your audience be biased for or against your topic?
    3. What do you know about the age and background of your audience (e.g. children, teens, adults, educators, etc.)?
  4. Create your thesis
    1. In one or two sentences, write out the main idea and the position you are taking
  5. Conduct your research and organize your facts
    1. Select the most important information
    2. Organize that information into manageable chunks and place it in a logical order
    3. Keep in mind the time limitations for your presentation
    4. Ensure that your points in your speech coincide with those on your slides and that you are fulfilling the purpose of your presentation! Do you answer your thesis question or make a good, cohesive argument?

Once you have a detailed outline of what you want to say, it is time to prepare your information into a presentation layout.

What are some tips for designing a PowerPoint presentation?

PowerPoint is among one of the most common software tools used when giving a presentation in the university and the workplace. PowerPoint is easy to use and allows you to see your presentation exactly as it will look as you create it.

Tips:

  • Text and image size – make sure those at the back of the room can read it.
  • Use contrasting colours that are likely to please eyes both from far away and close up – will the audience get a headache or have to squint because of your colour choices?
  • How are you going to engage your audience – will you ask questions, give out prizes, survey your audience, or simply change your pacing and tone of voice?
  • Location of text and images – will things at the bottom of the screen be visible at the back of the room?
  • Limit number and complexity of words, pictures, diagrams, graphs, etc. – in other words, avoid information overload. Be selective about what you use on your slides.

How do I design my slides?

Choose designs and layouts for your slides that are visually appealing to your audience. Make sure the backgrounds are not too busy – this may overshadow your text and make your slide difficult to read.

Tips:

  • Use a defined background and colour scheme within PowerPoint; use a simple background, with no distractions from your information.
  • Test your presentation on your friends in a similar room to the one in which you will be presenting.
  • Be sure to check from multiple locations to ensure the slides are readable from the back, front, and both sides of the room.

What information should go on my slides?

Placing information on slides requires a bit of perfection. Too much information will make your slides too busy and overwhelming, but too little information will make the slides seem empty and bare. PowerPoint presentations should only contain information in point form or visual representations of that information (e.g. a diagram or graph). You will expand on the points as you speak. Therefore, slides should not contain a lot of text or too much detailed information.

Tips:

  • The “Six Rule”: No more than six points, and no more than six words per point on each slide.
  • Practice your presentation with a friend or two and get feedback on the amount of information on your slides.

Delivering my presentation

Choosing your words

Speaking in public and making presentations is a skill that can be developed through practice. Effective public speaking requires the ability to think on your feet, quickly recall your research and provide a clear and concise explanation of your research in your own words. With a few key strategies and practice, you can give a great presentation.

Tips:

  • Create a speech for your presentation and draft relevant bullet points.
  • Practice your presentation multiple times: practice makes perfect.
  • Use cue cards with more information than what appears on your slides.
  • Do not read your slides word for word.

Speaking clearly

The delivery of your presentation and the clarity of your slides are the two most important parts of your presentation. The tone of your voice, the speed of your delivery, and the volume of your voice are all important. If you speak quickly, quietly, or monotonously, you will quickly lose the attention of your audience.

Tips:

  • Speak, without shouting, to the person at the back of the room.
  • Practice in front of your friends and, if possible, have them sit in different areas of the room to test your voice projection.
  • Video yourself practicing your presentation.
  • If you feel yourself going too quickly, take a deep breath and consciously slow down your pace.

Eye contact

Making eye contact with members of your audience will enhance your presentation. It is fine to look at your presentation slides when pointing out a specific image or diagram, but try to speak as if you are talking directly to different individuals in the audience. Smile at people, make eye contact, and so on. You should arrive early to set up so that, as people arrive, you are able to make a point of greeting them and introducing yourself if necessary. All of a sudden, you will have a friendly face in the audience. If you start feeling nervous, look directly at that person and smile. Most likely, that person will smile back. With practice, you will be able to gauge the reaction of your audience so you can modify your pace or delivery as needed.

Tips:

  • Practice your presentation in front of a mirror and make eye contact with yourself.
  • Video yourself practicing your presentation.
  • Present to your friends and receive feedback from them as to your eye contact.
  • Smile at your audience now and then – you can even write little reminders on your note cards so that you do not forget to smile and make eye contact.

Encouraging audience participation

Engaging your audience will always enhance your presentation; however, it may be the scariest part of your presentation. You can engage the audience throughout the presentation, depending on how long you have.

Tips:

  • Ask the audience their opinions;
  • Survey them (e.g. by a show of hands);
  • Ask questions at certain points about what they remember from your presentation (and even give out a little prize if they answer correctly); and
  • At least ask rhetorical questions to vary your presentation style.

If there is a question period at the end, you can never be sure what types of questions will be asked or if you will know the answers. Usually, you are the expert in the room. You have completed the research and presented on it. The only way to prepare is to thoroughly know your subject material.

Tips:

  • If you are asked a question outside of your topic area or if you just do not know the answer, do not make something up.
  • Be honest and open with your audience.
  • If you have an idea, give your best answer or say that you are unsure, but then open the question to the floor. Perhaps there is someone else in the audience who can provide an answer.

Dealing with nervousness

If you are nervous about your presentation, the best strategy is to prepare exceptionally well (i.e. do not try to just wing it) and to practice.

Tips:

  • Know your topic thoroughly.
  • Try to anticipate where questions might arise and answer them in your presentation before they are asked.
  • Practice in front of friends, family members, and the mirror – more than once!
  • Remember that a bit of nervousness is good – it keeps you on your toes and keeps the adrenaline flowing.
  • Be excited about your topic and your audience will be excited too.

On the day of your presentation, make sure your technology will work and everything is ready; then, distract yourself with something that incorporates 100% thought.

Tips:

  • Exercise (e.g. go for a walk or run)
  • Play a game
  • Do something you must do anyway (e.g. chores)
  • Do something you truly enjoy doing

If you are unable to do one of these things before your presentation (e.g. if you are sitting in the classroom waiting for your turn to present), keep yourself loose by stretching out your legs or going for a walk between presentations. You want to take the focus off your nervousness and transfer it somewhere else.

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