Fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias that people have. Unless you’re an experienced presenter, it’s easy to let your nerves about presenting get the better of you. If you’re someone who feels slightly panicked at the thought of speaking to a room of people, use our tips and tricks to combat that fear, improve your presentation skills and deliver a successful presentation.
1. Understand the brief and follow it
Before you even begin thinking about what to say during your presentation, make sure you know exactly what you are being asked to deliver. You’ll need to know what format your presentation should take (should it be a PowerPoint presentation, or will you need printed handouts for the audience?), how many people you’re going to be presenting to, how long the presentation should last and what questions it’s supposed to answer or topic it needs to address.
There will be a few boxes that your presentation will need to tick, so it’s best to know exactly what your tutor or employer is looking for. If you’re unsure, just ask! It’s better to ask lots of questions in the beginning rather than present something that’s not what they were expecting.
2. Do your research
The best presentations are delivered by those that really know their stuff. Is your presentation focused on a topic that’s been in the news or related to current affairs? Read up on the recent developments to ensure that any questions don’t catch you off guard. If you are giving a presentation as part of an interview, research the company well by having a thorough look at their website and social media.
Are you presenting on a political or historical subject that has a larger context? It would be beneficial to make sure you understand this context, as you may get asked to elaborate or discuss something in more detail.
If your presentation topic is based on research, for example within a field of science, then take some time to read the opinions of other researchers or theorists. Not only will this give you a well-rounded view, but it will mean you can demonstrate your ability to take different perspectives onboard and think critically about a subject.
3. Design it well
Another important aspect of a presentation is its design. This isn’t just about how it looks, but a well thought out structure is key.
We would recommend keeping to a colour palette, for example using the same three colours throughout your slides or handouts, to make them look cohesive. Try to have at least one visual element per slide too, as a presentation that doesn’t make use of imagery can seem a little bland.
As with your colour palette, keep to the same font type and colour for all your text. When it comes to the amount of text, less is more. Don’t write everything you’re going to say on your slides. Include a heading and a couple of interesting facts or quotes to enhance the points you’re making.
When it comes to structure, all presentations should include a slide at the beginning that introduces the presentation, with the next slide explaining what people can expect to learn during the presentation. The end slide should thank people for listening and ask whether they have any questions.
If possible, follow the one slide per minute rule. If you need more time, then dedicate one slide to each topic, as moving onto a new slide indicates to the audience that the discussion is moving on to something new.
It sounds obvious but practicing your presentation all the way through a handful of times will help you to identify any problems that you won’t want to crop up on the day. If your presentation is only supposed to last a maximum of 10 minutes, you’re not going to know whether it goes over that time limit unless you practice.
Are you using software that you don’t have much experience with? Or maybe this is going to be your first time presenting over video call? Practicing helps you to get to grips with how this will work and reduces the risk of there being a technical problem when it’s time for the real thing.
Even though you created it, it’s easy to forget what you wrote in your presentation if you have only looked at it once or twice. Practicing helps you to become familiar with your presentation, meaning you can easily and confidently move through the slides. Plus, words sound different spoken aloud to how they look written down – so having the chance to talk through your presentation lets you hear it how the audience will hear it and gives you the opportunity to reword anything that doesn’t sound quite right.
While practicing, it’s a good idea to come up with a list of questions you may be asked by the audience and rehearse some answers to these too.
5. Write some prompts
You can avoid the awkward situation of getting up to present and being lost for words by writing prompts. Whether you are presenting in person or over video call, note cards are a great tool for jogging your memory.
As crucial as prompts can be for an effective presentation, don’t read from them throughout the whole thing. If you write down what you’re going to say word for word, you’ll be tempted to read directly from your notes, and it will come across as if you don’t know your stuff and have hardly practiced.
The key with note cards is to only write down a couple of words or phrases for each slide. This way you can present in a way that is engaging, making eye contact with who you are speaking to, but your prompts will still be there if you get stuck on what to say next.
6. Be prepared and get there early
Much like a job interview, driving test or anything else important, there’s nothing wrong with getting to your presentation 10 minutes early.
If your presentation is taking place in person, getting there early gives you a chance to scope out the room, get the presentation set up and distribute any handouts. For online presentations, entering the video call early gives you the chance to share your screen, check the technology is working properly and calm any nerves before you start.
In you are presenting in person, cover all bases and demonstrate your organisational skills by having the presentation saved on two memory sticks, emailing it to yourself beforehand and printing out some copies in case technology is really against you that day!
7. Find points around the room to look at
Are you going to be presenting to a larger group of people? If you are, it may be helpful to find a few points around the room to focus on, rather than looking directly at the audience.
We would recommend finding around three to five points across the room that you can alternate looking at. Try to make at least one or two of your focal points people, as eye contact is important when it comes to presenting, but the others can be various points across the wall at the back of the room (for example, a light switch or corner of a window). Switching your gaze between these points will make you look confident and demonstrate you are trying to engage with everyone, rather than only looking at one part of the room.
8. Take the time you need
Nerves can often result in people talking too quickly, making a presentation seem rushed and meaning those listening find it difficult to keep up.
Before you start, take a few deep breaths. This should help you focus, slow down your heart rate and can help you to speak loudly and clearly. During your presentation, leave time for small pauses before moving onto your next point. This will help people take in what you’ve just said, interject with any questions and finish writing notes they may be taking.
Another important thing is to make sure you have a glass of water with you. This will give you something to do while you pause and help you avoid getting a dry mouth if you are going to be talking for a long period of time.
9. Leave time for questions
If you only have a short window for your presentation, try to leave a couple of minutes towards the end for questions from the audience. When introducing your presentation, let people know they will have the opportunity to ask questions at the end. It can be better to ask people to hold off on asking questions until then, rather than them interrupting you while you’re in the middle of making an important point!
10. Show your enthusiasm
The best presentations are delivered by those that show they really care about a topic. Demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your presentation is much more likely to keep your audience engaged and entertained. While presenting may mean stepping outside of your comfort zone, try to see it as an opportunity to shine a light on an exciting and interesting subject that the audience may not be aware of.
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Last updated on 16 December 2022Share this article