Presenting to your fellow classmates and tutor is a big part of university life, as much as they may be nerve-racking they need to be done. There will be times when your grade hangs in the balance between a good or a bad presentation. They don’t end when you finish university either, pitches are common in a lot of jobs and very important in communicating information across different departments in a company. Thus, learning how to deliver a good presentation is a crucial life skill. Here are some useful tips that I use when creating and delivering a presentation.
Use transitions – These may seem a little outdated as you may not have used them since secondary school. However, as cringey, as they may be, they do have their uses. The first being that they break up huge blocks of text to stop your slides from looking text-heavy. Write one huge paragraph and then separate them into smaller ones, adding transitions to those smaller paragraphs so they enter the slide at different times. It will keep the presentation shorter and may stop that nagging feeling that you are droning on. They will also help with your speech. Seeing a massive block of text can rank up the nerves, you may rush your speech and result in messing things up. Let each sentence transition onto the slide, read it out and take the time to explain it. With no other words on the screen, there is no rush to read them.
Use images – Instead of using text, use a picture and write the text you would have written on the slide on paper. It breaks up the presentation and prevents it from text-heavy slides repeating. Make sure the image is interesting and relates to the topic you are talking about to keep your audience engaged with your presentation. You could even annotate the picture (depending on the subject and degree), just a one or two-word annotation to act as a speech prompt. It does not have to be an image, it could be a type of graph. Statistics are hard to explain when there is no visual representation, so give them one and it will make your speech less complicated.
Practise makes perfect – It is very professional to get up in front of all those people and deliver a pitch with no slip-ups or awkward silences when you are trying to think of something to say. Readout your script in front of a mirror so you can practise what hand gestures to use and whether parts of your speech sound ok. If you stumble on any parts of the speech, whether a word is hard to say or the sentence sounds like a tongue twister, then you can change it. It is better to find a flaw before you conduct the presentation rather than when you are actually doing it. Alternatively, you can practise in front of your flatmates or family. Then they can spot anything that may not make sense in your speech that you may not have spotted. Practise will help with your confidence and the more confident you are, the more engagement you will have from your audience.
Ask your audience questions – Another trick to boost the engagement with your presentation is to ask those who are listening some questions. Instead of the pitch being 5-10 minutes of you talking, read out a slide and then ask someone a question. Let your audience know that you will be asking questions at the beginning of your presentation so they are prepared. It will increase the engagement you have as people will be paying attention to what you are saying and what is on the slide so they will be ready for a question. You are also helping them learn more about your chosen topic as they are more likely to remember what you are teaching them when they are contributing to the learning.
It is all about the introduction – If you have a boring introduction then immediately people are going to be switched off. Open with an anecdote about you and the topic, or simply the topic itself. Instead of asking questions throughout, why not use them to kickstart the presentation? If they get an answer wrong, do not correct them. Let them focus on the presentation to find out whether they got it right or wrong. It also needs to be clear, your audience needs to know a rundown of what you are going to talk about. Ease them into the pitch and do not hit them with all the information straight away.
Actually look at your audience – Maintaining eye contact with the listeners shows them that you are focused and passionate. If they are holding onto the eye contact, then they too are interested and focused on what you are saying. It also portrays your confidence as you will not be hiding behind a computer screen or have your back turned towards them.
Get facts and statistics – You need to back up your points somehow and a long quote by some historian or scholar just will not do it. Have a little fact box on some of the slides instead of adding an image to everyone. Put it in a colourful, shaped text box so it is eye-catching and your audience will be drawn to it. Especially essential if it is something important they need to know. Statistics will help validate your points and explain difficult or confusing elements.
It’s all in your voice – As I have pragmatically stated in earlier tips, the way you deliver your speech is essential. Not only is your audiences’ understanding of the topic on the line, but also your grade if you are being marked for it. Make sure that you speak slowly, in your mind you may think that you are speaking too slow. However, it is much more important that you speak slowly and clearly rather than speaking too fast and no one being able to understand. The next thing you need to do is speak up, you need to fill the whole room with your voice for those people at the back. With the loud volume and slow speech, you will exude confidence and your deliverance will be clear; earning that grade.
No over the top design – Yes, put fact boxes in, images and transitions but no clashing colours or making an eyesore of a presentation. With your fact boxes, use a colourful textbox that compliments the writing and background. When inputting images, use sensible ones that relate to the topic of the slide it is going on. Any memes or irrelevant pictures may be funny to you or a friend in the crowd, but not to your tutor. When choosing how to decorate your pitch, let’s be real – you are not going to keep it a simple black and white one, use appropriate backgrounds or colours. Similarly, when picking what transitions to use, use the ones that simply make the text come from one side of the screen. While having the sentences spiral into position or fade in and out, you have to think with a professional mind and treat this like you are pitching an idea in your future workplace.
Pick an appropriate outfit – Not a suit and tie, this is university we are talking about but you want to be comfortable with your outfit. It is the worst feeling to stand up in front of everyone and start thinking ‘I should not have worn this top’ or ‘are they laughing at my shoes?’. The last thing you need when speaking is anxiety kicking in. Also, I know I keep mentioning confidence, but if you are wearing an outfit that you feel good in and feel happy in then you are bound to feel comfortable stood presenting.