Friday, March 06, 2015

Presentations: creating a lasting impact

on campus: presentation tips

If you are a student, then presentations must surely be an unavoidable part of your life. But impending presentations can often generate dread, and the fear of failure can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, what is the best way to overcome anxiety? Preparation, of course! Here are some tips that might help you deliver a better presentation:

Know your topic well
Choosing a topic you have significant knowledge of and are passionate about will be the best first step in your presentation preparation. If you pick an interesting idea, you’ll find it easier to focus on the subject matter and will add a natural enthusiasm to your delivery.
You won’t always have the option to pick the topic of your choice though, but that is a snag you can easily overcome by developing a complete understanding of the topic you have been assigned. (You are likely to benefit from mastering the area that is slightly broader than your actual, specific thesis. Extra knowledge can come in handy, but make sure you stick to the point and don’t needlessly wander off into adjacent territory during the actual presentation.) Being confident in your grasp of the concept will help you feel more in control as well as improve the chances of an accurate delivery. Know your topic inside out, and you’re off to a good start.

Prepare a succinct slideshow
The purpose of a slideshow (PowerPoint presentation) is to providing a basic summary of your presentation and its flow. Don’t use too many slides or write your entire speech up on the screen. Slides are a visual aid. The idea isn’t that you read what is up there. The bullet points are meant to provide the basic structure to guide you through your delivery while helping the audience follow along with what you’re saying. Instead of overlong, busy slides, go for brief and to-the-point text in a suitably large font that will be visible to everyone in the room. Focus on the content. Use tables, charts, and diagrams as needed, but remove unnecessary elements. Don’t add animations or flashy transitions to your slideshow. You can have as many swirly letters as you want (and seriously, you shouldn’t want any), but if the content is subpar, then a fancy layout won’t make that better.
Slides can also serve the additional purpose of sharing the spotlight with you and deflecting the attention away from you, helping decrease the intensity of the “OMG, everybody is looking at me!” effect. But make sure the slideshow doesn’t take over the session. If no one is paying attention to you, then you aren’t very likely to make a positive impact and win over your audience.
(Also, if you are using a slideshow, don’t risk being a victim of technology failure; arrive well ahead of time and set up the presentation before everyone else gets there.)

Plan out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Work on your delivery. Time yourself and ensure that your content fits your time limit. Rehearse your speech out loud. Reading it silently in your head isn’t the best way to go about it. Many people suggest rehearsing in front of a mirror or your friends. An excellent way to assess your delivery is to record yourself (either audio or video), and review the file to figure out what is and isn’t working; you will definitely notice an improvement in your performance after you play back the audio/video; reassess your material and style, and repeat the process.

Dress simple and neat
Presentations are about your presentation as well. If you want somebody to take you seriously, then you have to look like you have actually put in some effort. Choose the appropriate attire for the occasion and try your best to look smart. If your educational institution has a uniform, make sure your uniform is neat. If there is no uniform and the environment is formal, then sticking to neutral colours is generally a safe choice (unless the occasion specifically requires you to stand out and make a mark). If you have a tendency to fiddle with your accessories, like jewellery, and if you, for instance, have obtrusive bracelets that clink and make noise, then don’t wear them (unless your presentation is on the topic of jewellery itself, obviously). Be mindful of your subject matter and environment and dress appropriately.

Avoid unnecessary handouts
Give anyone a random paper and they are obviously going to be curious about its content. That is why handouts can be distracting. Distribute a paper or worksheet just as you begin your presentation and you risk losing your audience immediately; instead of listening to you, many might start trying to read the printout and figure out what the paper says. Handouts aren’t necessary when your class fellows have access to the same information already. If you do feel like you can legitimately use handouts as a positive tool to impart additional information and explanatory examples, then distribute them at the appropriate time that doesn’t divide attention or hamper continuity.

Make notes on cards
It might be tempting to just write down what you have to say in its entirety, and then simply read everything off your notes when you’re in class, but don’t do that unless you want to bore your audience and make a bad impression on your instructor. Looking at a paper all the time makes you seem insecure and prevents you from making eye contact with the audience. Eliminate the temptation of reading altogether; simply don’t go to the podium with page upon page of a lengthy speech written down. Feel free to write down what you want to say while preparing for the presentation; just don’t rely on those papers when you’re actually speaking in class. Instead, prepare cards that you can use during the presentation. Write down brief notes on small cards, and consult them as you speak.

Engage the audience
Look at your audience. Make eye contact. Present an amicable visage through your gestures, posture, and movements. Be lively and energetic. Smile, speak clearly, and don’t hunch. Don’t exceed the allotted duration or drag the presentation on needlessly till everyone loses interest. See the situation from the audience’s perspective. Sum things up as you go, returning to key points of focus, add pauses for emphasis, make the content as interesting as possible, and help people remember why they are listening to you. Try using examples that your audience can relate to. And appear confident. You may be nervous but everyone doesn’t need to know that. Besides, if you’ve done your prep, then you have no reason to be nervous anyway.

And no matter what, don’t panic. Keep calm and carry on. Good luck!

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 6th March, 2015 *

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