From college classes to board meetings, you may need to give public presentations dozens of times or more throughout your career. Even if you’re a world-class expert on your topic, you won’t be able to “wing it” – crafting an informative and interesting presentation, and knowing how to present it, takes hard work and careful planning.
Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your next presentation – they’ll help you to get the most out of your words, your audience, and yourself!
Prep, proofread, and practice!
- First, start by editing and fact-checking your presentation as much as possible, well before the day of your presentation. If you’re forced to revise it hours before it’s due, you’re likely to second-guess yourself during the presentation and your delivery won’t be as smooth as it could have been.
- It may go against most of the advice you’ve been given, but you should also try to memorize your presentation. Once you’re familiar with it, you can try adding extra information, jokes, or even improvising a little.
- Practicing your presentation with friends, family, coworkers or classmates will help – plus, you’ll be more confident and relaxed during the real thing. You might also want to consult a speech coach, who can help you control your voice, interact with your audience, and make good transitions between topics.
- Be sure to practice often, but don’t overwork yourself – stress will only make your job harder.
Choose your aids wisely
Depending on the style and subject of your presentation, a visual aid can be a real asset. They can help your audience better understand your message while adding a little variety and aesthetic appeal, but they come with some important rules.
- Your aid should be visible to your entire audience, colorful and attractive, and relevant to your presentation. Don’t use too much text – your aid should provide facts, figures, and summaries, but not entire paragraphs. All of the text you include should be in a large and legible font (at least 20pt), ensuring that your audience can easily read it.
- Likewise, don’t depend too much on charts and graphs, as they could be too difficult to read or understand. The most effective visual aid is eye-catching and immediately understandable – like photographs, models, or even film excerpts.
- The format you choose for your aid matters, too. PowerPoint is a popular choice – it’s easy to use, easy to read, and doesn’t require much setup. Still, PowerPoint has few features and very limited interactivity; plus, it’s so overused, your audience may begin rolling their eyes as soon as you pull down the projector screen. You may want to consider cloud-based tools like Prezi or Google Presentation for your next public appearance – these programs work similarly to PowerPoint, but are often more customizable.
- Whichever format you choose, remember to keep it simple and on-topic – using too many animations and weird color schemes will probably annoy your audience instead of helping them.
When the big day comes…
- If you’ve followed the steps above, you should have a quality presentation that you’ve thoroughly practiced and spiced up with facts, examples, visual aids, and even a few jokes. Still, you’ll need to be in a good physical and mental state for your audience. This means getting a good night’s sleep, eating a healthy & filling breakfast, and arriving early to practice and set up your materials.
- When it’s finally time to present, start with a short but strong introduction; let your audience know who you are and why you’re qualified to speak on this topic. Once you’ve done this, proceed with the information.
- Speak slowly and carefully – this will help you and your audience better understand your words. If you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it or apologize – your audience may not have even noticed.
- Try to make time for questions and comments throughout the speech instead of yielding your leftover minutes at the end. Lastly, give some original, thought-provoking closing statements that sum up your arguments in a significant way.
Public speaking can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when your career and reputation is on the line. You’ll need to get the most out of your speech, your sources, and yourself if you hope to inform and entertain your audience. So, rewrite and revise, practice often, and choose your resources carefully. And remember, great speakers are made, not born – and those who do it well put in a lot of time and practice behind the scenes to make it look easy.
So get started, get practicing, and get on your way to becoming a presentation pro.
This article was approved by Dr. Curtis L. Odom
- “Different Types of Visual Aids.” University of Surrey. libweb.surrey.ac.uk.
- Gallian, Joseph A. “Advice on Giving a Good PowerPoint Presentation.” University of Minnesota, Duluth. d.umn.edu. April 2006.
- Harkins, Susan. “5 Top Alternatives to PowerPoint.” Tech Republic. techrepublic.com. 8 December 2011.
- Jacobs, Lynn and Jeremy S. Hyman. “15 Strategies for Giving Oral Presentations.” US News & World Report. usnews.com. 24 Feb 2010.
Photo by Jurvetson