How to give a great presentation | Varsity Education

How to give a great presentation

Giving presentations is a fact of life for students in many different disciplines, and is also something you’re quite likely to need to do later in life in the course of your career. This can be daunting, and studies in the United States suggest that more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of spiders, heights, or any other phobia. Whether you feel the same way or not, there’s no denying that creating a presentation which combines visual information and your speech effectively is a challenge, as is keeping the attention of a room full of people for any significant duration of time.

Here are some tips and guidelines for you to consider when you’re tasked with doing a presentation.

1: Don’t make your slides very detailed. The more information on the slide, the more people will be focusing on it and ignoring what you have to say – they can’t concentrate on both at once. Conversely, they might just ignore your slides completely, rendering the work you’ve put into them pointless. Information overload also means you’ll have to make everything smaller and harder for people to read. Stick to fewer words with big font, nice high quality images, and simple charts and graphs. Your speech should contain any extra details that you need to communicate.

2: Another point to make about your slides is that they should compliment what you’re saying, but they should not be the same. There’s no point in someone reading something off a slide which you’re about to tell them anyway. Similarly, you should never read off your own slides! You may want to look at it them from time to time to help jog your memory, but you should have what you need to say memorised as much as possible, with a print-out in case you stumble (but don’t just read off of that, either).

3: While we recommend writing a speech to help you formulate your presentation, you don’t actually need to memorise it word for word and then recite it precisely. This is hard to do, and comes off as less natural too. All you need is to understand your material and know the key points that you want to make. As long as you do that, your presentation will be successful.

4: Try to engage with your audience, rather than giving them a dry recital of the facts. Asking them questions will refocus their attention and make them think. Telling jokes and sharing (brief) personal anecdotes will also help lift the mood and make people more inclined to listen. Your tone and body language are an important part of being an engaging speaker. Move about, be expressive, and don’t talk in a monotone. If you’re presenting about something you care about, make it show. Even if you’re not, a bit of enthusiasm will go a long way towards keeping people focused.

5: Preparation is key to delivering a good presentation. Make sure you practise your presentation before the day, preferably in front of someone, but try running it in front of a mirror if that’s not an option. If you’re giving a presentation outside of the classroom, you might need to set up the projector and so on yourself. If this is the case, on the day of you presentation, arrive at the venue and set up early. It’s vital that the IT systems you need are working properly. If they’re not, hopefully you’ll have time to get it fixed. If you can’t, make sure you have a backup!

Wherever your presentation is taking place, try to prepare for each eventuality. Maybe the internet won’t work and you can’t rely on emailing or downloading your presentation from Dropbox or Google Drive? Bring it in on a USB too. And, vice versa, if you were thinking of just bringing it on a USB, it’s a good idea to have it downloadable too, because sometimes, for technical or security reasons, you won’t be able to use it. What if the projector doesn’t work? Make sure you printed out copies of your slides beforehand so you can hand them out if there’s no way of showing people on a screen. You should always have a backup plan. If things aren’t working, don’t let it put you off. Explain to the audience that you have to make do, and move on.

6: Don’t make your presentation complicated. There’s only so much information people can take in, and if the presentation stretches on for too long or is unclear, people will zone out. Instead, concentrate on a few key points. Simplify complex data as much as possible: if you feel like people need more detailed information, like in-depth graphs or charts, you could include them on handouts for people to look at later.

7: If you need guidance deciding the length of your presentation, there are a few different ‘rules’ out there to follow. One example is the 10/20/30 rule: A presentation should have no more than 10 slides, take no longer than 20 minutes, and have no font smaller than 30pt on its slides. Sometimes it’s not always possible to stick to this, indeed, you may be set very specific guidelines, especially in a school or university project, but the main point is to avoid giving people unnecessary amounts of detail and to keep the slides as legible as possible. The majority of the information contained in your presentation should be expressed by you, so you shouldn’t need hundreds of slides.

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