This spring semester, you may be asked to make a presentation on a final paper or project for a class. A course-based presentation is an excellent opportunity for practice and feedback before the stakes become higher as you advance in your professional and academic career. It’s better to go down in a ball of flames in front of your professor and classmates than, say, your boss, co-workers, or potential clients, right?
When the fall semester ended a few weeks ago, I did the math and found that I’d sat through roughly 180 presentations in the past three semesters as a graduate student and teaching assistant. I’ve also made several (dare I say successful) presentations myself. While I can’t claim to be an expert on public speaking, I can offer you some tips to make your presentation this spring a worthwhile learning experience and not a complete train wreck.
Review the rubric. Study the rubric prior to designing your presentation if one is given. Your professor gave you the cheat sheet. Use it.
Show up early. Be in your classroom at least 15 minutes prior to your talk. Bring a copy of your presentation on a USB drive. Your professor has to squeeze several talks into a short window, so you don’t want to be the cause of any delays.
Set an agenda. Offer an overview of what you’ll be discussing, possibly as an agenda slide. It lets your audience know where you’re going with your talk, and allows your professor to gauge how much you have left to cover as you approach your time limit.
Keep it simple. Don’t rehash your entire paper. Just give the highlights and keep it interesting. In his blog post, “How to Create a Captivating Presentation,” Mark McGuinness notes that a great presentation only needs “one big idea, three key points, one compelling story, one idea per slide, (and) one clear call to action.” All else may be fluff.
Cite your sources. Attribute key ideas and statistics to sources and include a reference page. Let your professor know where you’re getting your information.
Slow down. Avoid talking too fast and using “um” and “uh” as you gather your thoughts. This is much easier said than done, so practice until you’re fairly comfortable with the material. But don’t over prepare to the point you sound too robotic.
Address the audience. Talk to specific individuals in the room – not your slides or note cards. As you look around the room, don’t make too much eye contact with the professor. It gets uncomfortable, trust me. Check out professional presenter and trainer Olivia Mitchell’s discussion on Conversational Presenting for more advice on addressing the audience.
Edit your slides. Proofread your text. You don’t want glaring typos to harm your credibility. Poor design can also detract from your presentation. Check out Really Bad PowerPoint and PowerPoint Presentation Advice for tips on design.
Use technology sparingly. Employ videos and online presentation software, such as Prezi, with caution. While useful, technology can fail, cutting into valuable presentation time. I wish I had a nickel for every time a student has said, “But the video worked before when I practiced my talk.” Always test videos and online presentations in the room where you’ll be presenting prior to your talk.
Close your presentation. Give a brief overview and call to action to finish your talk, and then offer time for questions. Just like your final paper or project, you need a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. Don’t leave your audience hanging.
While derived from experiences in a traditional classroom setting, these tips can also be useful for online presentations. The online environment, however, creates a host of other challenges. Here are a few good articles specific to online presentations:
Do you have any advice for either in-class or online presentations? If so, post a comment below.
This spring, try your hardest to shine in any course-based presentations you may have. Take advantage of the opportunity to present when only your grade – and not your job – is on the line.