Presenting is one of my favourite things in the world. Besides the fact that I get to do some deep research, I also get to present it in my own unique way and prove to my peers that I know what I’m talking about. However, this past semester, I’ve noticed that not everyone has been taught how to present, so I decided to do a little post with some tips for all the presentation probies out there.
- Know the expectations of your audience. If you’re giving a presentation for a grade, study the rubric if you’re given one. Make sure you know the ins and outs of your assignment. And if you’re doing a presentation for something else, say a conference, make sure you meet all guidelines or requirements.
- Keep it short and simple. Five to ten minutes is plenty of time to get your point across. Any longer than that and people start to lose focus and interest. Plus, it gives them the impression that you’re not focused, or you don’t have the tools to effectively articulate what you mean.
- Familiarise yourself with the 7 x 7 PowerPoint rule. No more than 7 bullet points per slide, and no more than 7 words to a bullet point. If you paste a block of text on each bullet point, your audience won’t even bother to read it.
- Don’t read directly from your slides. This is a huge no-no. If you want to insult your audience’s intelligence, go right ahead and ignore this. They can read it themselves, and you’re not telling them anything they don’t already know.
- Don’t go overboard with design, pictures, or fonts. Minimalist is definitely the way to go. A too-colourful slide theme or hard-to-read fonts will distract your audience from the ‘meat’ of your presentation. And for God’s sake, please don’t use clipart on every slide. It’s tacky.
- Make notecards with smaller points. For my senior seminar presentation, I had to discuss psychoanalysis as a literary theory. In one of my introductory slides, I included a bulleted list of concepts but no definitions. I’d written the definitions down on a notecard and told my class what each concept meant in bitesize sentences. They actually had to listen to what I was saying in order to understand the terms. What a radical idea.
- Also, don’t read directly from your notecards. Basically the same idea as #4. Glance down at them if you need to, but don’t stare at them. If you write an entire script on your notecards and read directly from it, your audience can only assume you’re not comfortable with them or your ideas.
- Make eye contact. Too many people stare at the back wall when giving a presentation. You’re not talking to the wall – you’re talking to each individual person sitting in the room, which leads me to my next point.
- Be charismatic. Your audience can appreciate that you’re a human being up there doing your thing. They love seeing your humanity come through. They don’t want you to spit complex definitions and statistics at them like a robot. Make your concepts relatable. Joke around a little. Talk in layman’s terms when you can.
- Practice, practice, practice. I’m not afraid of public speaking; doing two English degrees has squandered that fear. But if you are afraid to talk in front of people, practice your presentation several times. Find your comfort zone. I used to practice in front of my mom, and she’d give me feedback at the end, which made my actual presentation stronger.
- Find a way to include your audience. Going back to my senior seminar presentation, I actually included a small passage from Frankenstein for the whole class to analyse using psychoanalytic theory. At the end, one of my classmates asked me, ‘So what is the point of doing [psychoanalysis]?’, to which I answered, ‘I honestly don’t know.’ Later, my professor emailed me and said something along the lines of, ‘You helped me answer a question that’s been bothering me for a long time – students get frustrated when they can’t find the hidden “meaning” in a text, and that idea comes from psychoanalysis.’ I hadn’t even thought of this, so we all learned something important from doing that activity.
And there you have it. I hope these tips serve you well in your next presentation, and I wish you luck, charisma, and confidence. Now, go forth, young grasshopper, into the scary and untamed wild that is academia.