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Presentation Skills

It’s Show Time…


It can be a daunting task to stand up in front of your class and deliver a presentation. You are putting yourself in the spotlight, and hence being apprehensive and nervous is completely normal. Most adults will feel somewhat nervous each time they present. Expect to be nervous, and remember being nervous means you care about your delivery and how you come across. Use the nervousness and adrenaline to do your best; it should energize you to get through the presentation. It is often more difficult to present to your peers, than to a bunch of strangers. Therefore, it is a good idea to detach yourself somewhat from your peers just for the duration of the presentation, and take on the role of an excellent presenter. Speaking effectively and persuasively is something anyone can learn and develop with practice. The following will help you along your way to becoming the best presenter you can be!


There are 4 main areas here to consider in advance of your presentation, these are; Planning, Preparing, Practicing and Presenting. 


Planning your presentation:

Find out exactly what the requirements are for your presentation, in answer to all of the following questions:

  • Does it carry marks towards your overall grade or is it just for informational purposes?    
  • How are the marks allocated?
  • How much time is allowed per student?
  • Where will the presentation take place, you will need to access the room before the presentation. It is vital that you become familiar with the venue and the technology such as PC’s, laptops, projector, and cabling, lighting, video cameras, internet access.
  • What will you need – a laptop, a USB key, handouts, a flip chart, visual aids?
  • Who is your audience- your class, lecturers, supervisors, external examiners?
  • What expectations will your audience have? You will need to gauge your audience’s expectations and gear your presentation towards these.
  • In what order will the presentations will be made? The first or second speaker has an advantage as the group is fresh and is paying attention…show your enthusiasm go for it!

Your presentation needs a well-defined structure
A strong structure is one of the most vital points to distinguish a good presentation from an average one. Good presentations have an engaging beginning, a more detailed middle and a final summary ending.

Beginning
This includes a thesis statement or project overview. Try to get the attention of the audience with an interesting fact, a question, or an eye-catching visual aid. The first few minutes can make an impression.

Middle
Develop the argument, positions or explanations that you indicated at the beginning. Try to link your ideas coherently so the presentation flows and makes sense. You need to decide in what order to put each of your key points- for example the most important point first or last, a sequence based on chronological order. Notes: Consider using notes instead of relying on your memory. Rather than writing pages of paper, or using the overheads and slides as prompts, try to use record cards. On each card you might write one of your key ideas, followed by words to remind you of the example you plan to use. Note cards are convenient and allow you to be more mobile during your talk.

End
In the closing, you summarize what you told your audience, you restate your objectives and what you want from them.
This is where you briefly sum up your talk by restating the main points and presenting your conclusions. Make sure to thank your audience and ask for comments/questions.


Preparing

You should prepare the following for your presentation:

  1. Your own notes, which no else sees
  2. Handouts with more detailed information & references
  3. Visual aids (usually PowerPoint) and props that support your talk and help engage the audience.
  4. Avoid the overuse of similar words. Consider using a thesaurus when preparing in order to avoid this.
  5. Make sure that you have a backup of your presentation by emailing it to yourself and having a copy on a memory stick and on your laptop/PC.

Preparing PowerPoint

Here are some guidelines from AHEAD on accessible Power Point slides: (http://www.ahead.ie)
 Minimum font size of 18 (ideally 30)
 Easily read fonts (sans-serif) like Arial, Helvetica
 Limit the amount of onscreen information
 Avoid blocks of text
 Use ‘bold’ to highlight points rather than underlining
 Use both uppercase and lowercase letters (avoid ALL UPPERCASE)
 Keep backgrounds simple, avoid patterns
 Dark text on light background for bright rooms
 Light text on dark background for dark rooms.

You will find some exemplary presentations on: http://www.ted.com

 

Power Point Tips

  • Keep it Simple: Your slides should have plenty of “white space” or “negative space.” Do not feel compelled to fill empty areas on your slide with your logo or other unnecessary graphics or text boxes that do not contribute to better understanding. The less clutter you have on your slide, the more powerful your visual message will become.
  • Limit bullet points & text: Your presentation is for the benefit of the audience. The best slides may have little text. Your slides are not meant to be an eye-test! Therefore avoid heavy textual slides. Aim for short effective key points. 
  • Limit transitions & builds (animation): Use object builds and slide transitions judiciously. Some animation is a good thing, but stick to the most subtle and professional (similar to what you might see on the evening TV news broadcast). A simple “Wipe Left-to-Right” (from the “Animations” menu) is good for a bullet point, but a “Move” or “Fly” for example is too tedious and slow. Listeners will get bored very quickly if they are asked to endure slide after slide of animation. For transitions between slides, use no more than two-three different types of transition effects and do not place transition effects between all slides.
  • Use high-quality graphics including photographs: You can take your own high-quality photographs with your digital camera, purchase professional stock photography, or use the plethora of high-quality images available on line. Never simply stretch a small, low-resolution photo to make it fit your layout – doing so will degrade the resolution even further. Avoid using PowerPoint Clip Art or other cartoonish line art. Again, if it is included in the software, your audience has seen it a million times before. The inclusion of such clip art often undermines the professionalism of the presenter.                                                                                         
  • Have a visual theme, but avoid using PowerPoint templates: You clearly need a consistent visual theme throughout your presentation, but most templates included in PowerPoint have been seen by your audience countless times. Your audience expects a unique presentation with new content. You can make your own background templates which will be more tailored to your needs. You can then save the PowerPoint file as a Design Template (.pot) and the new template will appear among your standard Microsoft templates for your future use.
  • Use appropriate charts. Pie Charts: Used to show percentages. Limit the slices to 4-6 and contrast the most important slice either with color or by exploding the slice; Vertical Bar Charts: Used to show changes in quantity over time. Best if you limit the bars to 4-8; Horizontal Bar Charts : Used to compare quantities e.g. comparing figures; Line Charts: Used to demonstrate trends.
  • Tables. In general, tables are good for side-by-side comparisons of quantitative data. However, tables can lack impact on a visceral level. If you want to show how your contributions are significantly higher than two other parties, for example, it would be best to show that in the form of a bar chart (below, right). If you’re trying to downplay the fact that your contributions are lower than others, however, a table will display that information in a less dramatic or emotional way
  • Use color well. Color evokes feelings. Color is emotional. The right color can help persuade and motivate. Studies show that color usage can increase interest and improve learning comprehension and retention.
  • Choose your fonts well: Fonts communicate subtle messages in and of themselves, which is why you should choose fonts deliberately. Use the same font set throughout your entire slide presentation, and use no more than two complementary fonts (e.g., Arial and Arial Bold). Make sure you know the difference between a Serif font (e.g., Times New Roman) and a Sans-Serif font (Helvetica or Arial). Serif fonts were designed to be used in documents filled with lots of text. Serif fonts are said to be easier to read at small point sizes, but for on screen presentations the serifs tend to get lost due to the relatively low resolution of projectors. San-serif fonts are generally best for PowerPoint presentations, but try to avoid the ubiquitous Helvetica. I often choose to use Gill Sans as it is somewhere in between a serif and a sans-serif font and is professional yet friendly and “conversational.” Regardless of what font you choose, make sure the text can be read from the back of the room.
  • Use video or audio when appropriate. Using video clips to show concrete examples promotes active cognitive processing, which is the natural way people learn. You can use video clips within PowerPoint without ever leaving the application or tuning on a VCR. Using a video clip not only will illustrate your point better, it will also serve as a change of pace thereby increasing the interest of your audience. You can use audio clips (such as interviews) as well.

Practicing
Practicing is essential. It gives you a chance to do a trial run before getting it right on the day and gives you confidence. Are you presenting alone or sharing a presentation? If you are sharing a presentation, then practice together and divide up your time at a logical break. The Academic Learning Centre invites you to make an appointment to practice presenting. We have had some success in the past with students who have used this service and subsequently topped their class!                To make an appointment email: academiclearning@cit.ie


Presenting

If you've followed the previous steps, then on the day you can focus on delivering your presentation in the most engaging way.

  • Dress comfortably and appropriately
  • Organize your slides and props, visual aids.
  • Welcome your audience. Smile. Use a conversational tone. Be aware of your voice. Talk louder than normal and try to vary the pitch of your voice. Project your voice to the back of the room, not down at the table in front of you. Speak slowly enough for the audience to capture the meaning of what you are saying.
  • Maintain enthusiasm throughout
  • Try not to “read” your talk. Use cue cards to prompt your memory.
  • Be aware of your body language i.e. maintain eye contact. Face the audience and try smiling occasionally! Use your hands in a variety of gestures. Use your hands to describe and reinforce your verbal message. Be aware of your posture. Stand straight, with assurance, chest up and shoulders relaxed. A little movement is helpful.
  •  Make sure to pause between points, indicating to the audience a change and helps to slow down your pace.

 

References:
Argyle, M (1988) Bodily Communication London: Methuen
Mandel, S (1988) Effective presentation skills London: Kogan Press
Tierney, E.P. (1994) Show time: a guide to making effective presentations Dublin: Oak Tree Press
http://www.garrreynolds.com/Presentation/prep.html
Tips on PowerPoint slides by Garr Reynolds.