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Make a presentation

A successful presentation entails good preparation and good delivery 

Once you have spent time and energy preparing your presentation, you will most likely want to deliver it confidently and with conviction. An otherwise well-prepared presentation may fall apart if the delivery is not convincing.  

Below is a list of useful tips on how to practice your performance and what to bear in mind when delivering your presentation. 

Metacommunication

To help your audience follow your presentation, engage in metacommunication – i.e. communicate about how you are communicating. 

When starting your presentation 

  • Clearly explain your topic and how you intend to present it, for example by saying:  
    • “I’ll argue that... Therefore, I’ll present three reasons to support my argument.” 
    • “In this presentation, I’ll explain... First, I’ll... Then I’ll... Finally, I’ll... “ 
    • “I’ll discuss... On the one hand, I’ll present the position that... On the other hand, I’ll present the position that... “ 

During your presentation 

  • Verbalise the transitions in your presentation. Use metacommunication as a kind of sign post to guide your audience so they know where your presentation is going. For example, you could say:  
    • “Now I’ll proceed to... “ 
    • “I'll get back to this in a bit” 
  • Avoid getting side-tracked, as this can make your presentation confusing and difficult for the audience to follow - and if you need to take a detour, make sure you communicate clearly about it. 
  • Reiterate your most important point(s) several times – perhaps slightly rephrased from time to time – to remind your audience about what you said and what is important. 

When ending your presentation 

  • Summarise what you have been presenting to your audience, and the key points of your presentation. For example, you could say:  
    • “Finally, I'll briefly summarise...” 
    • “After this review of... we can see that... “ 
  • Invite further discussion if the situation and the format allow. This will activate the audience and guide the direction of subsequent dialogue on the topic. For example, you could say:  
    • “Based on... how would you assess... in relation to.... “ 
    • “How else could we examine/illustrate ...” 

Your metacommunication is closely linked to your presentation outline and your wording of the material. Consequently, consider your metacommunication when you prepare your presentation

Engage your audience

An engaged audience is an audience that listens and remembers your words also after your presentation, because they found the presentation relevant and interesting. But how do you engage your audience in a presentation that is mainly one-way communication? Essentially, it’s about the audience feeling seen and heard, and having a sense that you’re speaking to them – not just in front of them. Consider the following approaches to engage your audience: 

Engagement is contagious 

If you are energetic and enthusiastic, and if you show that you find the topic fascinating and are actually enjoying making the presentation, your enthusiasm will rub off on your audience. 

Conversely, if you seem disengaged in your own presentation, this will also rub off on your audience. 

Examples 

Examples make something abstract more tangible and easier to understand for your audience. A tangible example will activate the audience's imagination and may trigger emotions and senses. 

It is important to use examples that your audience can relate to - and that are relevant to your presentation. 

Anecdotes and stories 

Stories are the best way for humans to understand and remember. Therefore, anecdotes and stories are an efficient way to engage your audience. Like examples, stories activate our senses and emotions. 

Make sure that your anecdotes and stories are relevant to your topic and presentation. 

Stories can make your presentation more personal, and consequently, again, more engaging. 

Rhetorical questions 

Rhetorical questions are questions that you ask, and then either answer yourself or leave unanswered. They serve to ensure progress, and, not least, they make the audience “think along your lines” during your presentation. 

They are a good way to address the audience without requiring a response. Examples of rhetorical questions are: 

  • "But is the method actually useful for solving this problem?" 

  • “How can we understand this text?” 

  • “But is he in fact wrong when he argues that...? “ 

Relate to the audience or the specific situation  

Relating points, examples or your topic directly to your audience or to the specific context of your presentation will make your presentation more personal and relevant. 

There are many different ways to do this, and even some tiny aside can have an effect. Perhaps a reference to the weather outside, a person or object in the room or the time of day. 

Relate to real-life situations or recent events 

You can relate points, examples or your topic to a real-life situation relevant for your audience, for example political or historical events. 

This will make your presentation more interesting for your audience. 

Eye contact 

Eye contact is important because it builds a relationship with your audience. Eye contact makes the audience feel that you're talking to them, not just in front of them. Consequently, eye contact affects your credibility. 

Try to keep your eyes moving over the audience rather than locking your eyes for too long on specific members of the audience. It may be easier to focus briefly on a person’s forehead or nose if you feel sensitive about looking them in the eye. 

Body language

Your personal appearance has a great impact on how your words will be perceived. 

Your body signals are part of your presentation, and they affect how your audience perceive you and your words. So you should think about how you can signal credibility with your body language, and use your body to emphasise your points. 

Practice by recording yourself to see how you use your body language, and whether it appears natural and supports your words. 

When making a presentation, think about: 

Being natural 

Be yourself. Nothing is more untrustworthy than a speaker who is clearly trying to be someone else. It can seem unnatural, artificial or staged. By being yourself, you signal credibility and you are authentic, and this makes your audience listen more attentively. 

Positioning and movement 

Consider the best place to position yourself in relation to your audience, visual tools (blackboard, poster, PowerPoint, etc.), rostrum, etc. 

Make sure you have a good view of the room, and that the majority of the audience can see you, but make sure you don’t block the screen if you are showing PowerPoint slides or similar. 

Consider whether you want to and can move around during your presentation. Moving to another place in the room can grab and shift the attention of your audience. In this way, you can use movement to emphasise a new angle or a new point, or you can show that you are reaching the end of your presentation. 

Gestures 

Some people make lots of gestures, while others only make very few. The main thing is that your gestures do not distract or seem unnatural. 

Think about using gestures that match the situation and underline your points. 

Eye contact 

Eye contact is important because it builds a relationship with your audience. Eye contact makes the audience feel that you are talking to them, not just in front of them. Consequently, eye contact affects your credibility. 

So it is important that you look up from your notes or manuscript and that you avoid turning your back on the audience. 

Try to keep your eyes moving over the audience rather than locking your eyes for too long on specific members of the audience. It may be easier to focus briefly on a person’s forehead or nose if you feel sensitive about looking them in the eye. 

Voice

Your voice is your instrument when you make a presentation. Like any other instrument, you have to learn how to use it. When making a presentation, you often use your voice in a different way than when you talk to people in conversation. 

Practice by recording yourself, so you can hear whether you speak clearly, articulately and not too fast. When making a presentation, think about: 

Volume 

Adjust the volume of your voice to the room and the number of people in the audience. 

It is important that your audience can hear you without making an effort as this could move focus away from your message. 

In order to increase the volume of your voice without straining it, it is important that you breathe from down in your stomach and not your chest. Using your abdominal muscles when speaking will generate more sound. 

However, be careful not to shout, as this is exhausting for you as well as your audience. 

Speed 

Avoid speaking too fast. Even when you feel you are talking slowly, you should most likely talk even slower. 

If you speak too fast, your breathing will become superficial and hectic. This will make your speech seem stressed and your words will run together, making it hard for the audience to understand what you are saying 

Slow speech is easier to understand and gives you time to breathe and use your abdominals, and this improves your sound and volume. 

If you have to speak too rapidly to get through all the points you want to make in the time allowed, consider restructuring and shortening your manuscript when preparing your presentation

Articulation 

Articulate your words so that your audience can easily hear and understand them. If you talk slowly, it will also be easier to articulate more clearly. 

If you mumble, your audience may focus on understanding individual words, rather than focusing on your overall message. However, be careful not to over-articulate, as this may seem forced and unnatural. 

Use words that are easy to pronounce, and make sure that your manuscript uses spoken language. If you have to use difficult specialist terms, then practise them before the presentation. 

Read more about wording. 

Pausing 

Pauses are good for three reasons: 

  1. They allow you to breathe deeply. 
  2. They give your audience a chance to let your words sink in. This means you can use pauses to underline a point. For example, if what you are saying is difficult, controversial or abstract, a pause will allow the audience a moment to understand what you actually said before you move on. It only takes a few seconds, so don't be afraid of the silence. 
  3. They allow you to slow down your speed of talking, thereby making it easier to understand what you are saying. 

Stress individual words 

Stressing selected words that are particularly important will draw the audience’s attention to these words. This can enhance their understanding of the key message of your presentation, or it can help them remember the most important words afterwards. 

Stress a word by raising your volume when pronouncing it, articulating it more clearly or saying it more slowly than the rest of the sentence. 

Visual tools

Using visual tools can support your oral presentation. Make sure that your visual tools do not take over your presentation because they contain a lot of text or other content attracting the audience’s attention. Remember that you want your audience to listen to you rather than focusing on something else. 

Examples of visual tools 

  • PowerPoint, Prezi or similar 
  • Blackboard or whiteboard 
  • Handouts, e.g. with an outline of the presentation or a graph 
  • Images or illustrations 

Get feedback

Get feedback - on your content, communication and performance. 

Feedback often focuses on academic content, but if you ask for feedback also on your communication and performance, this may help you to perform better next time. 

After giving your presentation, you will often have an opportunity to ask for feedback from the class or your teacher. If you are not comfortable asking the entire class or your teacher for feedback, you might talk to your study group or study partner and agree to give each other feedback after making your presentations. If there is something in particular that you want feedback on, remember to ask for this in advance, for example: 

  • What was the overall impression of the form of your presentation and oral communication? 

  • Did some elements work particularly well, and why? For example: There was a good structure/clear and articulate speech/good use of the blackboard, because... 

  • Could some elements be improved next time, and if so, how and why? For example: Speak more freely without reading from the manuscript, include less text on the slides or stop rubbing your hands because... 

Be open. Receiving feedback requires that you are interested in improving, and that you are willing to change the way you do things. 

Read more about feedback