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Presentation Skills

Tips for Giving Effective Presentations

Plan: What goals do you want to accomplish in this talk? What main points do you want your audience to go away with? (no more than 5 – aim for 3, the magic number)

Organize: Time your talk carefully and NEVER RUN OVERTIME. Organize your presentation into clear sections: Introduction, Body, Conclusion. An Introduction will tell your listeners what you are going to do while the body will lay out your points and arguments in a clear, logical fashion. The conclusion is to remind the audience what you’ve done and let them know your talk is drawing to a close.

Be Audience-Centred: The key to a good presentation is understanding your audience! Gear your examples based on their demographic. For example, if you are speaking to a group of students use student-based examples. Engage your audience, involve them as much as possible and maintain eye-contact. Remember you are there to help and serve them in some way. Think of yourself as their host.

Be Yourself: Introduce yourself at the beginning of the talk. A brief, personal (but not too personal!) statement or anecdote that fits your topic is a nice way to connect to your audience. Set a tone appropriate to the purpose of your talk, that is comfortable for both you and the audience. Always maintain professionalism, even for student presentations, in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone; just share your information and expertise and be yourself.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!: No matter how good your material seems in written form, until you “talk it” out loud, you can’t tell how it will sound. Especially if you are nervous, practice the talk as many times as it takes for you to feel comfortable with the material. Pay particular attention to the opening, and the segues between points – if you are nervous, these may not flow naturally, so write them out ahead of time and then “talk” them, to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. If there’s a chance to practice in the actual space you’re going to speak in, this is even better –at least try to approximate the setting - eg stand and practice behind a desk or podium if that’s what’s expected of you.

Use Easily Readable Notes: In most cases, it’s OK to use notes, but avoid reading word-for-word from a script. Type your notes in large print; with lots of space between main points so they are easily readable at a glance. Number the pages (in case they get out of order during the talk somehow). You might want to type only on the top half of the page, to avoid looking down too much.

Work on Your Delivery:

  • Eliminate Distracting Habits: Watch for annoying word habits (“umm…”, “like”, “you know” or raising your voice at the end of each sentence as if it were a question) and nervous movements (jingling change in your pocket, rocking back and forth, playing with your hair). It’s very helpful to video yourself as you practice, to see what some of these might be. Then practice and practice, until you can give your talk without a single “umm..”
  • Speak Slowly and Clearly; Vary Tone: Make a conscious effort to speak slowly and articulate clearly, as we tend to speed up when we are nervous. The best speech in the world is useless if the audience can’t hear what you are saying. Don’t mumble or speak in a monotone; vary your tone to emphasize key points.
  • Use Your Body Effectively: Don’t stand ramrod straight; but don’t slouch either or slump onto the podium. Project confidence with your body posture. Step forward slightly to emphasize important points. Use occasional hand gestures if these feel natural to you, and/or if you can practice them until they do, but don’t make these too contrived or rehearsed-feeling.

The more you practice, and the more talks you give, the easier it becomes! Soon you will realize that an audience is just a group of potential friends, ready and willing to like you and hear what you have to say. Enjoy the process!

Additional Resources

Giving Online PresentationsPart of the Student Guide to Remote and Online Learning.
How did my presentation go? (word doc)A worksheet to help you reflect, evaluate, and improve your presentation.
Presentation SkillsLearning Skills Workshop