10 Tips for Great Presentations


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Accepted to the Student Perspectives Conference? A little anxious about presenting? Well, as I’ve said before, this conference is a great place to get experience presenting. Your audience is on your side and nobody is there to pick your work apart, but instead to sit back and enjoy it. Nonetheless, here are 10 presentation tips to help you feel prepared . . . These will work for presentations in general, not just the SPC.

1. Show Up Early and Finish On Time
If you show up a few minutes before you are scheduled to present, you can check out the room, make sure the equipment is up and running, get yourself organized, and start your presentation feeling prepared rather than flustered. Of course, at the Student Perspectives Conference you may not be the first presenter in your session and will have to get yourself set up while there are already people in the audience. No big deal – come early to your session anyway, and use that time to prepare yourself and make sure the equipment works OK. Then you can sit back and relax during the presentations that go on before you, step up to the podium when it’s your time, and quickly get set up because you know what you are doing. 

Be sure to finish on time. Nobody is going to love you if you go way over the time limit. Your presentation may be incredibly fascinating, but the bottom line is that we aren’t programmed to pay attention to any one thing for longer than 20 minutes at a time. So finish off within your time limit, and people will remember you fondly, not as “the guy who wouldn’t stop yakking about consonant clusters in Ancient Greek” or something.

2. Believe in Yourself
Your work is obviously of interest – that’s why it was selected for the conference! So when you get up to the front, don’t say something like “Well, I’m certainly no expert on World War II war machines, but I’m going to try to cover the subject anyway”, or “I’m a terrible presenter, so I hope you’ll bear with me and that the next 15 minutes aren’t the worst 15 minutes of your life” and so on. No need to apologize unless somebody says “Can you speak up? You’re way too quiet!” Then a little “Sorry about that – is this better?” could be in order.

Remember to believe in yourself and speak with conviction. Try not to sound unsure of yourself, but present your work factually and honestly. If you’re not quite sure about a point you’re making in your presentation, check it again to make sure it’s accurate or else use a disclaimer phrase like “Some researchers believe that the cause of this mental illness is genetic”.

3. Engage the Audience
You don’t have to picture your audience naked unless you really want to. But remember that you HAVE an audience, and don’t present as if you’re the only person in the world. Make eye contact, and not just with your best friend in the first row, but with a variety of audience members sitting in different areas. Speak to the back of the room so that your voice can be heard by everyone. Use a little humor if its appropriate, but don’t overdo it, and if your presentation is serious and formal in nature, it’s fine to forego the jokes.

4. Don’t Panic Up There!
You may naturally feel a little nervous presenting, but you don’t have to give way to panic. Take a deep breath right before you present and occasionally during the presentation (although try not to be too obvious, breathing right into the mic or anything). Wear comfortable clothes – there’s nothing worse than standing in front of a room full of people and wondering if your pants are a little on the tight side or if your shirt is going to come untucked. I’m not recommending sweatpants – you want to dress nicely but make sure you feel completely at home in what you are wearing – it’ll do wonders for your confidence.

If you really start to freak out, take a moment to pause and “feel your feet”. This is a technique I found here at lifehack.org. You think about the sensations in your toes, your feet, and the weight of your shoes for a moment. This focuses attention away from nervous physiological reactions.

5. We Can All Read, Buddy.
Try to relate your presentation to the audience without rote reading off the page. This applies to essay presentations – make sure you are able to read most of your essay without staring at the page – and to powerpoint presentations – it’s pretty obvious when you’re just reading off the slide along with the rest of us. Of course, it’s totally OK to glance at notes and to look up at your slide to remind yourself of what you’re discussing, but try not to constantly read the words off the page. Pause occasionally so that you don’t get going at 100 mph and find yourself unable to slow down. You don’t have to be an auctioneer up there!

6. Practice
You’ll feel confident presenting if you’ve practiced a couple times already. Practice in front of friends, family, or pets just to know how the presentation is going to flow out loud. You can also practice in front of a mirror, although you might get distracted by your own ever-so-hot reflection, or in front of a video camera. Then play it back and notice if you are speaking too fast, too quietly, or hopping back and forth on the balls of your feet like you have to use the bathroom.

7. Don’t Gesture Like a Shakesperean Actor
Unless, of course, your presentation is a Shakespeare play – otherwise, keep gestures natural looking and minimal. I once saw the notes one of my profs used to read his lectures at the front of the class. He had seriously choreographed gestures in. You know, “Syllables have always been assumed to exist TAP PODIUM but there is new evidence that they may not be present at the prosodic level! SHAKE HEAD”

You can keep your gestures a little more, well, natural than that.

8. Handouts
Some people like to give a one page handout outlining the main points of their presentation. This can help the audience remember what you said and keep them on track, especially if you’re walking them through a complicated study. It’s up to you, though. At some conferences this is pretty much expected, but here the choice is yours.

9. Powerpoint Rule
If you are using powerpoint, you can remember the 10-20-30 rule, also from lifehack: 10 slides, 20 minutes max, and 30 point font.

10. Pretend You Are the Audience
When putting your presentation together, pretend you are the audience. Would YOU be interested by this particularly long paragraph on the history of measles vaccinations? No? Maybe you can cut it down if it’s not the most vital point of your presentation. Make a list of the points that you REALLY want to get across. The surrounding stuff can be edited down to make those points stand out. If you were an audience member, would your presentation be interesting, informative, and understandable? Don’t underestimate their intelligence and “talk down” to them, but don’t get caught up in techno-babble either. Pretend you don’t know about the topic, but don’t pretend you are a five year old who doesn’t know about the topic. You have some native intelligence to grasp concepts you haven’t heard of before.

Now, good luck! You’re going to do really well. If you have any more presentation concerns, email me at alison.morgan@rdc.ab.ca and I can set up a session for you with Jim Martens, an experienced instructor and presentation pro, who can give you some more tips.

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