Giving presentations in front of a crowd is one of the things you will definitely need to get used to if you are a university or a polytechnic student. It is a crucial skill you simply cannot do without.
There are a few lucky students who don't struggle with this aspect of student life at all. They are naturally charismatic and they are not afraid of the crowd. But the vast majority of students are not so fortunate. In fact, public speaking is one of the most common phobias out there and unfortunately, it is an integral part of giving a presentation.
Luckily for you, there are some steps you can take to improve your presentation skills and get a higher score next time you will need to give one. So without further ado here they are.
1. Practice makes perfect!
Practice! Practice! Practice! And then, when you think you are done, practice some more. I know it can be difficult to devote a lot of time to one presentation especially if you have a busy schedule as most students do nowadays, but if you want your presentation to be perfect there is just no way around it, you will have to make the time for it.
When actors try to learn their scripts they read out their lines in various positions (e.g. standing up, lying down, sitting down, standing on one leg, etc.)
Also, try to rehearse your text in many different settings. Walk from one room to another reading the text out loud. The idea here is to get yourself used to doing the presentation in any possible physical environment so that when the big day comes you are not startled by an unfamiliar setting.
You should feel like fish in water in any environment and that's what these exercises train your brain to do.
2. Arrive ahead of time.
Punctuality is a crucial skill no matter where you end up in life, but when it comes to doing presentations it is much better if you arrive even earlier than needed. This will give you some time to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and with the way the equipment is set up.
Make sure that everything is running smoothly and that you have everything that you need to give the best presentation you can.
If you need to make some adjustments you can do them at that time. Rearrange the chairs if you need to, make sure that the laser pointer is at your arm's reach, practise speaking into the microphone, and adjust the lighting.
Make sure that there are no distractions (such as loud noise coming in from the window). These small and seemingly insignificant things can add up and make a lot of difference to the way you carry yourself.
3. Quality vs quantity.
Of course, your presentation should include quite a lot of insightful and useful information. The more valuable material you include in the representation the better.
But that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to condense 100 pages of source material into one 10-minute presentation. Every student must know how to tell the difference between vital pieces of information and supplementary ones.
So after you have created your presentation sit down and edit it and make sure that everything you have included is actually justified and you're not just trying to pad it out.
4. A picture is worth 1000 words.
If you're giving your presentation in a larger room to a lot of people then there is really no point in including a lot of text in your slides since people in the back row will not be able to see what is written on the screen anyway.
Instead, try to use pictures that demonstrate your point effectively. Not only will everybody be able to see them but your presentation will be more memorable as well.
5. Unleash your inner thespian!
There is nothing worse than sitting there for 10 minutes and watching somebody speak in a monotone voice. Creating your presentation is only part of the job. A much more important part is selling it to the audience.
You need to be passionate and engaging; use your voice to express various emotions or to draw attention to certain points.
Use your body language, hand gestures, facial expressions, etc. to make your presentation more interesting.
And most importantly maintain eye contact with your audience.
Now when it comes to eye contact remember to move from one member of the audience to another every few seconds. Needless to say, don't just pick one person and stare at them intensely for the entirety of your presentation.
6. Know when to pause.
Listening to somebody rambling on and on without stopping for 10 or 15 minutes can be exhausting. So if you want to stay in your audience's graces I suggest you master the art of the dramatic pause.
Where to insert the pause in your presentation depends on the subject matter and text. But in general, pauses can either be used to add suspense and have the audience on tenterhooks or to allow the new information to sink in. If you have practiced your presentation thoroughly enough then you will know intuitively where you need to pause for maximum effect.
7. Don't be afraid of the audience, they won't bite.
Fear of public speaking is the biggest culprit when it comes to presentation jitters. Students feel frightened of speaking in front of their peers because they don't want to do something they were not supposed to and embarrass themselves.
But remember that there is not a single person in that audience who is absolutely perfect. Every single one of your listeners has been in an embarrassing situation. And they do not expect absolute perfection from you. Even if you do make a mistake it's not as big of a deal as you think it is. Just maintain your composure and move on.
8. Listen to other people's presentations.
You might need to sit through other students' presentations before you get to do your own. But instead of ignoring them and obsessing over your own presentation why not actually pay attention to what they are saying? You might pick up something useful you can use in the future.
9. Get interactive!
The students have plenty of lecturers who read lectures to them throughout the entire semester; they do not need to sit through your lecture as well.
Instead of just throwing hard facts into their faces for 15 minutes why not make your presentation interactive.
There are several ways to do this. You can ask students a question in the middle of your presentation to make sure that they have retained the information you gave them.
Or you might ask them to guess the fact you have not revealed yet. You can also encourage them to ask questions about the points of their interest or about the points they have not fully understood.
If your audience knows that they can interact with you they are more likely to pay attention and they are also more likely to retain the information they received.
10. Have a sense of humour.
I know what you're thinking “easier said than done". But if you're one of those people who is naturally quite funny then you have an upper hand when it comes to presentations. Nobody wants to sit through a boring presentation and humor is the best way to spice things up.
However, be careful because humor can be a double-edged sword. Inserting a couple of jokes here and there is fine, but if you overdo it then you might end up setting the wrong tone and even undermining the message of your presentation.
And when it comes to jokes there is also a risk of offending one of the students in the audience (or even worse one of your professors), so before you insert the jokes into your presentation perhaps try them out on your friends and family to make sure they are actually funny and worth the risk.
11. A positive attitude is the key!
And, last but not least, do not forget the importance of having a positive attitude. Take the phrases such as “I can't do it", and “it is too hard" out of your vocabulary! You can do it, and everything will go well! And you should keep telling yourself this before every presentation over and over again. Even if you have doubts just keep saying positive phrases until you actually believe them; fake it till you make it, as they say.
To conclude, you are not the first student who has been frightened of giving a presentation in front of their peers and professors, and you are certainly not the last one.
These tried and true tips have been used by millions of students around the world to conquer their presentation-related nervousness and I'm sure they will serve you well.