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Essential tips for your first presentation

Essential tips for your first presentation

Posted on: August 28, 2020

As a student, you’ll likely have to give at least one presentation over the course of your university career, and it is something that can make even the most confident person nervous. Standing in front of a group of your peers and talking for ten minutes can be terrifying, especially when your lecturer is sat nearby. Here’s a secret – being nervous is a good thing. If you don’t feel nervous, at least to some degree, then you must ask yourself if you really care about the outcome? If you want to succeed at something, then you will feel nervous and that’s fine.

Of course, there is healthy nervousness, and a state of panic which isn’t helpful. The best way to overcome feelings of panic and worry is to make sure that you are as prepared for the presentation as you can be. This article will help you improve your presentation skills so that you can be ready for the next one that comes up.

Choosing a topic

You may have been given a topic to talk about in your presentation, or you may get to choose your own topic. Either way, be sure of the angle you want to take in talking about it. What is the aim of the presentation? Do you need to have a narrow focus on one area of the topic or a wider, more general focus? Understanding what is expected of you in the presentation in essential as getting it right will have an impact on the marks you receive. Knowing what you are working towards and will ensure that your presentation is clear and to the point.

Woman pointing to a white board during presentation

Structuring your presentation

In some ways, the structure of a good presentation is like that of an essay. It needs an introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction should inform your listeners of the topic you will present and give an idea of the outline of the presentation. The body will present different areas of interest in your topic, and the conclusion will round up your points and offer final thoughts. Keep this in mind when planning and you will find the presentation begins to take on a natural flow.
Once you have established the structure of your presentation, take some time to ensure that there is a logical flow to your work, a natural thread that runs between each point. Doing this well will make sure that you don’t lose your audience while they try to associate points to each other, and it will be easier to keep them engaged.

Do the research

Remember, simply putting information on a slide and reading it aloud is not enough for a successful presentation. You need to make sure you fully understand and have properly researched the topic you are presenting. Read a range of book chapters, journal articles, and other sources to make sure you fully understand the subject.

Pay attention to time

It is important to be realistic about how much information you can include in the time you have to speak. You’ll be surprised how fast the time goes, so keep your presentation speech concise. Time yourself reading your presentation aloud a few times so you know if you have enough material to fill the allotted time, if you need to cut some information or if you need to do more work. It is also worth getting a friend to listen to your presentation in advance; they can point out if there is anything that needs more explanation or that doesn’t make sense.

Getting your slides together

Your presentation may require that you create slides in PowerPoint of another program. Creating your slides should come after you have done all your research and written work. Look at the information you have gathered and develop your slides point by point. Include a small number of bullet points per slide, 4 or 5 is about right. The slides should serve as a guide for you, with each bullet point working as a prompt which you then expand upon. Make sure that you use a large enough font size so that your presentation will be clear from all parts of the room.

Don’t forget that you don’t need to stick to simple bullet points for each point of your presentation. Think about using images to illustrate your points, or you may have useful graphs or tables to include. There are plenty of stock images free to use online, and a powerful image may reinforce your point better than a brief bullet point will. But remember, if you do use images they should not detract from your presentation.

Man pointing at computer screen giving a presentation

Before the presentation begins

Always have a back up option just in case things go wrong. For example, if your presentation is saved on the university network, bring a copy on a USB memory stick, just in case you have problems accessing the network. Make sure you know in advance what equipment will be provided to you. Will you have to bring your own laptop or will you have access to a computer and projector?

During the presentation

The first thing to remember when giving the presentation is not to just read your notes aloud or read your bullet points directly from the screen. Your notes should act as nothing more than a guide and a reminder of what you want to say for each point. If you have specific statistics to read out, or a quote to read, that’s fine, but, as much as possible, speak from memory. You will come across more confidently and your knowledge of the subject will be clearer to your lecturer.
Don’t be afraid of pauses. It is perfectly ok to stop for a sip of water (your mouth will go dry if you’re nervous so make sure you have water to hand), or to remember your train of thought. When you need to, pause, take a breath and glance at your notes to ground yourself. Don’t forget that pauses can be used for emphasis too. They can give your audience a moment to think on what you’ve said, to formulate any questions they have, and you can use the moment to still your nerves and recentre yourself too.

Tone of voice

It’s easy, particularly when you’re nervous, to present in a single, monotonous tone. Make sure you vary your tone of voice to keep your audience engaged. Remember to smile here and there too – it will relax you and relax your audience, and a more relaxed, responsive audience will help you stay calm too. Look around the room as you speak, rather than focussing on your lecturer. And don’t stand in front of the projector screen – it is easy to do so make sure you’re stood to the left or the right of the screen before you begin.

Answering questions

You will be expected to answer questions from your audience at the end of the presentation so do your preparation in advance. Be aware of areas in your presentation that you may not have been able to expand on as much as you would have liked; it is likely these areas where you will be asked questions. Have a few answers prepared in advance and you’ll be ready for those questions if they do come up.

When you’ve finished your presentation and your audience are asking questions, don’t panic if you don’t know the answer, just let them know that you will get back to them later. Even the greatest expert on a subject will have questions they can’t answer. Don’t let not knowing panic you, it really is ok not to know. If you feel comfortable speculating a little, that is fine, but admit you’re not sure and let the questioner know you’ll be happy to respond to their question at a later point.