Standing up in front of other people and sharing your ideas can be a stressful experience, but also the most satisfying intellectually. In formal presentations, you make immediate and public both the strength of your knowledge and any gaps in it. This is risky and rewarding, because it means you are both teaching others and can learn from them (that is, you can do what education is all about). Also, the way you communicate and how you present yourself will influence the response of the audience (and that can make you 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.
Are you presenting individually, or as part of a group?
Spoken reports detailing one’s work can take place in a range of settings: the small group classroom, the workplace as a section of a large lecture, in a one-to-one tutorial, or in a team meeting. Presentations take different forms, from a read-out mini-lecture to an improvised explanation or elaboration of a series of key points, to a question-and-answer session, to an audience-activity workshop, or a blend of all of these. The format may be flexible or fixed (often teachers will determine this).
Group presentations share many of the demands of the individual format, but collaboration brings its own benefits and challenges. Strength in numbers, and the sense of comradeship that working in a group can bring help relieve 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. These demands are especially focused when a presentation forms part of university coursework.
Good group presentations result from taking and sharing responsibility, and from finding strategies to manage group disagreement and solve problems with any participants. Effective communication comes from making the best use of individuals’ abilities, but also by allowing each member the chance to develop their weaker skills. 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.
Planning your presentation
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.
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: tell them your audience what you are going to tell them, tell them, then 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.
Use the horizontal planning template 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 identify the main body of your message, before moving on to identify how to introduce these points to your audience and summarise them again at the end.
Most importantly, 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 practiced presentation, so don’t worry, take a deep breath, and you will now be ready to go!
Once your presentation is done, 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.
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