Giving presentations

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Many people are nervous about talking in front of an audience, usually because they are afraid of making a mess of it. Ironically, it is uncontrolled nerves that are most likely to lead to a poor performance - so building confidence through preparation and practice is really important.

Giving presentations is one of the skills that employers expect graduates to have, so you should make the most of any experience you can get at university. You may need to give presentations:

  • in tutorials
  • as part of the assessment of projects
  • in Union activities or staff-student committees.

We cover:

a. preparing your presentation
b. practising your presentation
c. giving your presentation.

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a. Preparing your presentation

There are eight stages to preparing a presentation.

1. Objectives

  • Why are you giving this talk?
  • Who will you be talking to?
  • How much do they know about the subject already?
  • What effect do you want your presentation to have?

2. Limitations

  • How long have you got?
  • Do you have to follow a certain format?
  • Where will you be giving your presentation?
  • Can you change the room around to suit your preferences?

3. Main points

  • Decide on your main points: no more than three points in a 10-minute talk
  • Is there a logical connection between these points?
  • What evidence can you produce to support your points and make your case clear?

4. Beginning

  • Briefly introduce yourself
  • Check that they can all see and hear you
    (see: Giving your presentation)
  • Let them know if you are going to take questions as you proceed or invite discussion at the end?
  • You may want to give an outline of the structure of the talk, so the audience know where it is going
  • You'll need to gain the audience's attention, so think carefully how you will introduce your topic - for example, you could start with an anecdote, a question or some contradictory statements

5. Middle

Prepare your talk so you lead the audience through your main points in a logical and interesting fashion. It helps if you plan for variety in the ways you present your case.

Where they are appropriate, you could plan to use:

  • examples, anecdotes and case histories
  • charts and graphs
  • handouts (will you issue them at the start? in the middle? at the end?)
  • slides
  • video clips
  • artefacts which people can pass round.

6. End

Summarise what you have said: ‘In this talk we have discussed...'

Make your conclusions: ‘It is clear that...'

Plan to leave the audience a parting shot to stimulate their thoughts.

7. And then...

When you have written your presentation, look it over carefully, from the viewpoint of your intended audience.

  • Does it meet the objectives?
  • Is the structure as logical as can be?
  • Is the content right for the audience?
  • Is it too long?

Then revise the presentation.

8. Visuals

Prepare your visuals (PowerPoint slides, Overhead Projector foils, etc).

Make sure they are clear, and that any text is big enough (24 points or larger).

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b. Practising your presentation

Once you have prepared, you need to do five things before you actually give your presentation.

Practise

Practise giving your talk on your own:

  • get used to the sound of your own voice, ideally in a room of the size you will be using.
  • check how long your talk is.
  • when you're happy with it, try the presentation out on a friend.

Visuals

Are your visuals effective? Practise using your visuals:

  • talking to the audience, not to the screen
  • combining giving your talk with changing the slides.

Script

Unless you are good at reading stories aloud, it is best not to read from a script - it can sound very 'wooden' and the fact that you are reading it distances you from your audience.

A far better solution is to write key words, phrases and facts on index cards. Make sure that the writing is large enough to read at a glance and take care to keep the cards in sequence.

Space

Arrive in good time. Spend a few minutes getting familiar with the room and any audio-visual equipment you'll be using. Allow yourself time to get comfortable in the space — this is your space where you will give your talk.

Breathing

When people are nervous, they tend to take quick, shallow breaths, which makes their voice sound weak. This makes them feel even more nervous. Here's how to overcome this, and feel more relaxed:

  1. Breathe in slowly and deeply, concentrating on filling your tummy with air with each breath
  2. Breathe out slowly, getting rid of as much air as you can
  3. Repeat five times.
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c. Giving your presentation

There are four things to remember during your presentation:

Presence

As you get up to give your presentation, make a conscious effort to stand tall, take a deep breath and look as if you're going to enjoy being there.

Eye contact

Make eye contact with people in your audience in a friendly way. People respond much better when they think you are talking to them.

In a small room, try to make eye contact with each person in the audience; in a larger hall, make eye contact with different groups in the audience.

Voice

  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Speak loudly enough so everyone can hear
  • Remember to breathe slowly and deeply

Move

You are allowed to move as you give your presentation, but avoid pacing up and down or fiddling with your hands, spectacles or pen. Keep your hands out of your pockets and away from your face.

It can help add variety and interest to come to the front of the podium to deliver a telling point. Try to avoid hiding behind the lectern.

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Further reading

Your next step should be to print out and work through the study guide Giving a talk

There are further helpful tips about presentations in the section on Effective Seminar Presentations on Arts.Net

University of Southampton

last updated on October 16, 2008
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