Presentation skills

Techniques to develop your skills and confidence as a presenter.

A picture of a female teacher pointing towards a presentation on a SMART board behind her
On

Overcoming presentation worries

Standing up in front of other people and sharing your ideas can be a stressful experience, but also extremely rewarding intellectually.

In formal presentations, you make both the strength of your knowledge and any gaps in it immediately and publicly visible.

This is risky and rewarding because it means you are both teaching others and learning from them. That is, you are doing what education is all about.

In addition, the way you communicate and how you present yourself will influence the response of the audience, and that can make you feel self-conscious.

But, by learning more about the best strategies and techniques for formal presentations in academic settings, you can make the most of this valuable learning environment.

This short Study Skills Hacks video offers tips and suggestions on preparing for a presentation and getting it right on the day.


Planning your presentation

Three main focus points

The more you plan your presentation, the more confidence you will have in the information you are delivering. You need to consider three things throughout this process: topic, time limit, and audience.

1. Your topic

Your topic is what your presentation should be about.

This seems obvious, but unless you keep a clear idea of the message you are trying to convey, it's easy to go off on a tangent. You will then lose the clarity of your presentation.

2. Your time limit

Again, this seems obvious, but you will be kept to time and you need to prepare for this.

If you're asked to deliver a short presentation, keep this in mind as you do your background research, to avoid doing unnecessary amounts of reading. You only have a certain amount of time you can spend on your preparation, so make sure you use your time wisely.

3. Your audience

Your audience is key to how you deliver your presentation.

You need to consider what they already know, what they need to know, and the type of language that is appropriate for your delivery.

Structure

Unlike a written piece of work, an audience only gets one chance to engage with the content of a presentation.

With this in mind, your presentation should follow a very simple structure of reinforcement:

  1. Tell your audience what you are going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them again what you told them.

This may sound repetitive, but that's exactly what you want: to repeat the key points so that they are clear to your audience and provide a take-home message.

Having a clear structure not only helps your audience to follow your presentation but helps you to keep track of what it is you are trying to explain.

301 Recommends: Horizontal Planning

Use the Horizontal Planning Template (google doc) to organise your presentation. Start from the middle with roughly three main points, before moving out to complete a plan for your introduction and conclusion.

Starting in the middle is essential as it will allow you to pin down the main areas of your message, before moving on to identify how to introduce these main points to your audience and summarise them again at the end.


Individual presentations

Spoken reports detailing your work can take place in a range of settings: the small group classroom, in a one-to-one tutorial, in the workplace or at an academic conference. 

Presentations take different forms, from a read-out mini-lecture to an improvised explanation or elaboration of a series of key points, a question-and-answer session, an audience-activity workshop, or a blend of all of these.

An individual presentation can feel intense as you take centre stage. However, the advantage of this is that you have complete control over your preparation (see below), content and timing.

If you are finding the prospect of a solo presentation in front of an audience stressful, there are a number of strategies you can use to build confidence and overcome the nerves:

  • Think about how to organise your presentation. Are you planning to present using the slides as a prompt (in which case be sure to look up from the screen to engage your audience)? Or are you planning to use notes or flash cards? Flash cards can be a great way to give yourself some key prompts and something to do with your hands. 
  • If you are finding it difficult to engage with your audience directly, try focusing on a point at the back of the room. This will encourage you to look up and present to the room, while avoiding the pressure of direct eye contact.
  • Think about your physical presence. There is strong evidence that standing tall

Group presentations

Group presentations share many of the demands of the individual format, but collaboration brings its own benefits and challenges. Strength in numbers can provide a sense of comradeship and relieve individual pressure. But working together means you need to find ways to share the burden of work equally and incorporate the efforts and skills of each group member.

The additional pressures of a group presentation can be particularly significant when a presentation forms part of university coursework.

Like any form of group work, group presentations rely on sharing responsibility and developing strategies to manage group disagreements or imbalances. Remember to take time to understand one another's strengths and areas of confidence so that tasks and responsibilities can be divided up in a way that makes the most of individual skills and abilities. 

And just like an individual presentation, making sure you find the time to practice and rehearse the presentation together as a group can be decisive to its success on the day. Consider the following points and build them into your rehearsal time:

  • What order are you presenting in?
  • Who is taking over from whom? Can you stand in a logical order to cut down on transition times?
  • Who is advancing the slides, or are you taking it in turns?
  • Who is managing time and how are you going to warn group members to speed up?
  • Don't forget to build in time for transitions between presenters!

Read more about group work and collaboration here.


Presenting online

Whilst the fundamentals of good in-person presenting remain true when presenting online, there are some important considerations that are unique to presenting remotely. Read tips on online presentations here.


Preparation

Most importantly, for all kinds of presentations, allow time to practice! Make sure you think about how you are going to deliver your presentation and make it engaging.

This is especially important if you are presenting in a group, as transitions can be costly time-wise if unrehearsed. Make sure you have time to revise and edit your presentation, with enough time to rehearse the final edit too.

Make sure you have your ending prepared! Do not simply stop, think about how you will signal to your audience that you are done and ready for questions (if appropriate).

Finally, make sure that you are as comfortable as possible on the day. Plan out what you are going to wear the night before, arrive early to check equipment, and have a bottle of water with you.

The majority of your confidence will come from having a well-researched, structured and practised presentation, so don't worry, take a deep breath, and you will now be ready to go!

Once you have delivered your presentation, seek feedback from your peers or tutors, to help you develop your skills further. Think reflectively about the whole presentation process, as you continue to build this skill.

Learn more about how to use feedback here.


Top tips

  • Preparation is key! You need to consider your topic, time limit, and audience. If you are working as a group, be organised in allocating how this preparation will be done.
  • A strong structure will help your presentation to flow. Signpost and wrap up for your audience, make it easy for them to follow, and easy for yourself too.
  • Practise! Think about what you are going to say, time how long it takes you to say it. Make sure you are fully comfortable and confident before you need to present. If you are presenting as a group, decide who will say what, and practice transitions.
  • Think about yourself as the presenter: plan what you'll wear, take some water with you
  • Build-in contingency plans: know where you can cut things out or add bits in to keep to time, and plan how you will deal with difficult questions.

Resources

Internal

Library- Group work vs collusion 

Student Services Information Desk (SSiD)- Public Speaking and Communicating with Impact 

Counselling Service- Communicating with Impact Workshop 

Counselling Service- Public Speaking Workshops 

Creative Media Team- Production Resources 

Seminar Recording: Powerful Presentation Techniques, ELTC

Speaking Materials and Quiz, ELTC

External

University of Manchester- Working in Groups 

University of Reading- Effective Group Work 

Learn Higher- Group work 

BBC BiteSize- Speaking Skills 

Students enjoying a workshop at 301

Book a Study Skills Workshop or 1:1 appointment

Would you like to explore a study skills topic in greater depth? Book on for a face-to-face or online workshop or 1:1 Study Skills appointment (current students only).

A world top-100 university

We're a world top-100 university renowned for the excellence, impact and distinctiveness of our research-led learning and teaching.