Postgraduate study skills
Giving a presentation
There's more to giving a successful presentation than just standing up and reading from a script; you need to consider who your audience is, how you can communicate well and how you are going to prepare the content.
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Understanding and engaging your audience
When you speak, your approach depends on who you are talking to. The way you speak to your friends, for instance, may be different to the way you speak to your children or to a customer or client at work.
You do this because you understand that different people have different amounts of knowledge about a subject and you therefore have to engage them in a relevant way. You may also be more familiar with some people than others. The same is true when presenting a piece of academic work. You need to consider the following points.
- Think about those you are speaking to. Does your audience already know about the subject or are they coming to it fresh?
- Think about the aims of your presentation. Are you telling them what they already know? Are you telling them something new? Are you giving your personal opinion?
- Judge whether or not you should use specialised terminology and how much of it you should explain
- Assess whether it is a formal occasion or a more casual one
- Consider how many people will be attending. If there are many, a lecture style approach may be suitable. If only a few, a more intimate and casual round-table discussion may be appropriate
- Cater for all needs. Do any of your attendees have hearing or visual disabilities?
- Think about how long you are speaking and what you can do to keep people's interest
- Think about how you are going to present. Will you refer to notes on cards? Have PowerPoint slides? If you are able to speak fluently off the cuff you will appear confident, knowledgeable and engaging
Many of these points can also be applied to when you are working with others in a tutorial or study group. Working with others calls for you to explain what you are saying in a clear manner, to engage with people using eye contact and a friendly tone, and to respect other people's opinions.
Giving a good presentation is about more than what you say; it is also about how you say it. Confidence is the key to this. You can improve your confidence by preparing well and by staying calm on the day. Here are a few tips to make presenting less stressful.
- Practise your presentation beforehand. Time yourself to make sure it's the correct length and adjust if necessary.
- If you are working from prompts (on index cards, for example) make sure they work the way you want them to. While you don't want too much detail because you'll end up simply using them as a script, you don't want so little that the words won't mean anything to you.
- Make a list a few days before the presentation of everything you'll need.
- Remember that technology can fail. If you are working from a PowerPoint presentation, have a spare copy on a memory stick in case the first doesn't work. At the very least, have a paper copy as a last resort.
- Arrive early so you have time to see the room and prepare yourself.
- When presenting, try and pace yourself. It is very easy to speak too quickly.
- Act the part. You need to smile, look your audience in the eye, move freely, and not fidget. You also need to dress appropriately - this may be formal or casual, depending on the occasion.
- Observe how others do their presentations. You may be able to pick up some useful techniques.
Ways to present
There are different ways you can present your work to an audience, and pros and cons to them all.
If you present your work using PowerPoint slides or prints, or an overhead projector, there is the danger of relying on them too much and simply reading what's in front of you, or of your audience not paying enough attention to you. Writing on a flipchart or board involves turning sideways to the audience. You also need very clear handwriting. It could be better to ask someone in the group to make notes, if these are the recorded decisions or views of the group.
In a formal speech, where you stand at a lectern or in front of your audience and read from a script, there is the danger of not engaging your audience. It may be a good idea to use slides as well.
A round-table discussion, where you present your work and then ask the audience to comment, is a great way of involving people in your presentation, but it can easily run out of your control. Even though it is informal, it still needs to have structure so this doesn't happen. You do need to have a good command of the audience.
You can of course combine two methods, such as a speech and then a round-table discussion, or a PowerPoint presentation followed by board work. To decide what's best, take into account your audience, your aims and how much you have to say. The type of occasion is also a factor, as is the timing and length of the presentation. For instance, a talk for 20 minutes uses the natural concentration span, and could then be followed by taking questions from the audience.
Whatever the method, you can supplement your presentation with handout. Handouts should be concise and easy to understand. There is a danger that the audience will try to read a handout as you talk, which is distracting for all. One way of getting round this is by giving out your handouts at the end of the presentation as an aide memoir, rather than at the start.