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How to improve your presentation skills

It's normal to feel nervous when giving a presentation, but a bit of preparation can help you find the confidence to do well


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in education


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Whether you're about to give your first presentation in college or you're a budding entrepreneur pitching your idea to possible investors, having the ability to present your project or idea with enthusiasm, passion and clarity is a great skill.

Many people feel nervous about presentations, even if it's only in front of a small group, and the stress and anxiety can sometimes take over. Being prepared is the best way to combat these feelings.

How to give a great presentation

Find out how you can best prepare for a presentation and reduce your stress levels with these tips:

Do your homework

Know your topic, make sure that you understand exactly what you are talking about. You will feel far more comfortable standing in front of a crowd of people if you are knowledgable on the subject you are presenting on.

You generally won't be expected to be an expert for a college presentation but you should know enough to be able to field general questions or be able to direct people to where they can find the answers.

Try and stick to a few key points

Although you may have a lot you want to say, it's best if you try and boil everything down to one to three main points. Any more than this and people may find it difficult to follow, and you might also end up speaking for too long. Think about the top three things you want everyone to take away from your presentation and focus on those. Make sure to return to these three points in your summary at the end.

Practice in advance and know your slides

If you are using Powerpoint or another presentation tool, it is best to be very familiar with your slides. Practice reading your content out loud at least five times. If you are juggling notes with your presentation make sure that you have earmarked the exact points where you need to change the slide. This means that once you get into the presentation, you'll know what's coming up next.

Find your presenting style

Some people like to memorise everything they're going to say before their presentation, while others like to use anchors by listing their key points on their slides or in their notes, and using that to remind them of what they want to talk about without learning it all off by heart.

Think about which style would best suit you and try it out. If you can, do a few practice runs to try different ways of presenting and go with the one that feels most comfortable to you. You can also try a different style with each presentation you give until you find what works.

Use images and visual aids

The images, graphs, and videos that you choose to use in your presentation are important. Visual aids can help retain your audience's attention. They can also inject a little colour and hopefully help to hammer your points home.

It is important to choose visuals that illustrate the points you are making effectively. If you are trying to explain a concept, statistics or a product to a room full of people it is best to explain your point verbally and then show a visual to accompany what you are saying.

People take in information differently, some will remember visuals better than writing or vice versa. Using different mediums in your presentations can help make your content easier to digest.

Avoid too much text

Following on from the point on visual aids, it's generally a good idea to avoid having too much text on your slides. If the slide seems overcrowded or the font is too small, people may struggle to read it and could become distracted by trying to work it out instead of listening to you. It can also be hard to keep a group engaged if the slides are too text-heavy, so try to keep text to a minimum and keep extra information in your own notes instead so that you won't forget your points during the presentation.

Engage your audience

Rather than standing in front of everyone and presenting in a lecture-style, try engaging your audience. This could include asking them questions about the topic during the presentation, getting them to try an activity or to think about something relevant to the subject, using images to grab their attention, and finding ways to make them relate to your presentation on a personal level. This will not only make the presentation more enjoyable for them, but it will be more fun for you too.

Know your audience

Not every presentation will be the same, and the people you're presenting to will probably be different each time. Think about the situation and decide if it's more formal or informal - this can help to determine the approach you take. An informal presentation might be more relaxed, have more engagement, and use more humour, while a formal presentation might stick to simply presenting the facts. However, formal doesn't have to mean boring, so don't be afraid to bring some of your own personality into it - just think about who you're presenting to and what's appropriate first.

Use humour wisely

Humour can be a great tool in a presentation, it keeps your audience engaged and makes the whole process more fun for everyone. This comes back to knowing your audience - jokes can be great in presentations to a small group of peers like a college tutorial group, but a major formal presentation for work might not be the best place for them. Don't be afraid to use humour, but make sure you only use it when it's appropriate.

Include a summary

Make sure to include a summary when you wrap-up at the end, covering the key points you made throughout the presentation and how they all link together. People can lose track even during short presentations, so it's important to add this in as your conclusion so that everyone finishes on the same page. 

If you want people to do something after your presentation - sign up for something, for example - include a strong call to action at the end. Let them know exactly what you want them to do and why they should to it. 

Divide up sections in group projects

This may seem obvious, but it isn't always as simple as it sounds. Some presentations will have clear divisions that will allow you to easily appoint different members of the group to different topics, others won't.

If you are thrown into a group with people you don't know, it is advisable to meet up at least three times before your presentation day. Google Docs and Word Online have made working apart easy, but you still need to physically meet your group to discuss points, organise your presentation's layout and to practice.

You may find that when you meet up to practice your presentation together for the first time that some parts do not flow properly, that there is a bit of repetition, or that it doesn't make much sense. Performing your piece in front of the group can also provide you with valuable feedback, so it's important to turn up to the meetings.

Arrive early to set up

If you are presenting at college or in a specific venue, make sure that you get there early to take a look at the room beforehand. Figuring out simple things like where the plugs are located and how the projector works may save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress.

Try to find out in advance if you'll need a USB or if you can download the presentation from your email. Knowing how the set-up will go allows you to focus on other things when you prepare. If possible, try and have both a USB and a copy of the presentation online so that you have a back-up if anything goes wrong.

Handling nerves in a presentation

It's natural to feel nervous when having to present in front of people, but your nerves don't have to get in the way of a good performance. 

Breathing

It's a good idea to try some breathing exercises before you go for your presentation - you could even work on this throughout the day if you wake up feeling nervous.

In the moment, try and stay grounded by feeling your feet on the ground or your body in the chair, and pay attention to your breathing every time your mind begins to wander and you start thinking about your nerves.

Practising

Practising your presentation is another great way to avoid nerves getting in your way. Spending time making your points out loud will make it easier to say it in front of everyone else when the time comes. 

If you keep working on it and try something new every time, your presentation skills will improve and you'll be confident in your ability to perform well and get across the points you want to make.

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Published Feb­ru­ary 25th2015
Tags education college presentation
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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